Walla Walla Wine Experience 2018 was a visit to The Walls Winery, and meeting former tech exec, Founder and CEO, Mike Martin.
The "Walls”, is an imaginative tribute to the Walla Walla regional name and the historic legacy of the Washington State Penitentiary there, also known as 'Concrete Mama', which looms on the outskirts of town, just down the road from some of vineyard sources for their wines.
"Like you, our wines are different."
Legend has it that in the 1880's, the young town of Walla Walla chose to site a prison, rather than a University, within its city limits. While to some this may have seemed an odd decision, to the locals of the time it was more about pride.
The Walls pays tribute to the notorious landmark that has been a cornerstone of the community dating back to 1886. Life behind the “Walls” was memorialized in the book “Concrete Mama”, nickname for the prison, published back in 1981, a compendium of photographs and stories showing the uniqueness of the place including the preponderance of motorcycles behind the gates. The classic book is being republished in an upcoming re-release.
The Walls memorialize the book and stories with a flagship wine, 'Concrete Mama', a big firm Syrah in a large oversized heavy bottle with etched label of an image of Wall's character Stanley Groovey peering over the wall.
"Nevertheless, as we build walls we’re also always looking for ways we can tear them down. Wine is the river that can overflow, subvert and topple these walls. It is a powerful force in bringing people together and building true community, capturing and preserving memories of time, places and people."
The Walls portfolio includes a broad selection of red and white wines with creative and curious names including: Curiositas, The Ramparts, Gaspard, and Stanley Groovy (from Red Mountain); Concrete Mama, and Wonderful Nightmare from the Rocks District of Milton Freewater, and Cheys, Lip Stinger, Martin’s Gold, Cruel Summer from Yakima Valley AVA, and La Lutte and McAndrew from Columbia Gorg.
The Walls also sources grapes from Red Mountain, Yakima Valley and the Columbia River Gorge AVA's.
Yakima Valley was Washington’s first official federally-recognized AVA located along the banks of the Yakima River. The Yakima Valley AVA also has sub appellations of Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain. There are more than 150 wineries with more than 17,000 vineyard acres planted. The Yakima Valley AVA is the largest sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley AVA both in total size and wine-grape acreage.
The Red Mountain AVA is Washington's smallest is typically the warmest growing region in Washington, with daytime averages of 90 degrees and lows dropping below 50. These fluctuations in temperatures promote sugar accumulation with the day’s heat while cool nights promote balanced acidity. Red varietals are dominate in the AVA’s where the sweltering slopes are well-known for Rhone varietals on the upper slopes and Bordeaux varietals on the lower blocks near the valley floor.
The Columbia River Gorge AVA straddles the Columbia River for a stretch of about 15 miles, including 280 square miles in the Cascade foothills above the Columbia River Gorge, near Hood River, Oregon. The Columbia River Gorge is a unique geological site where the mighty Columbia River flows approximately 80 miles from one side of the Cascade Mountain Range to the other. It is the only such passage through any major mountain range in the Western Hemisphere.
The climate and terrain of the wine producing appellation are similar to the French wine regions of Burgundy and the northern Rhone Valley. The cool western end of the Gorge produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; further east provides Pinot Gris and warmer-weather red grapes such as Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernets and Barberas as well as white Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Viogniers.
This wine is a tribute to 'Doc' William McAndrew, Seattle Surgeon who first planted grapes on Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge in 1972.
This is 100% Chardonnay, sourced from cuttings from Doc’s original plants and is made in a crisp, fresh style using the finest concrete tanks imported from Burgundy. Walls offer it both in his memory and with his “if you can dream it, do it” spirit.
The fruit for this was sourced from the Obelisco Vineyard on the higher slopes of the Red Mountain AVA. The vines get increased exposure to the sun and are planted in higher density to further stress the grapes. The result is a wine of great complexity but one that is elegant and lush, yet subtle with tones the winemaker describes as possessing 'freshness that evokes a Margaux-styled fragrant' Cabernet' I grabbed a case of this and am eager to try it home and share with my wine buddies and friends with grilled steak.
They whimsically write about this wine:
This is the second vintage of this label, named for the State Penitentiary near the winery on the outskirts of town, bearing the same nickname as this wine, 'Concrete Mama'.
The Walls draws the comparison between the two:
"In the 1880's Walla Walla chose to site a prison, rather than a University, within its city limits.
While to some this may have seemed an odd decision, to the locals of the time it was more about pride.'
"Walla Wallans were not ones to shy away from hard work; in fact, the harder the work the greater the sense of community pride. “Concrete Mama” still sits sentinel above our little town. Life is hard inside her walls, but for those who make it out, a new beginning beckons. This wine bears her nickname because nature’s struggle of transforming these Rocks District grapes into fine wine took place within similar walls of concrete, with loads of hard work and great community pride. Concrete Mama leaves these Walls full of promise. All you have to do is give it a chance on “the outside”.'
This is dark inky purple plum and ruby colored, big, bold and concentrated dense rich ripe black currant and black raspberry fruits accented by layers of olive tapenade, tobacco and pepper.
RM 94 points.