Wheat, Heat, and Cabernet Franc: Walla Walla's Spring Valley Vineyard

September 16, 2013

How do you start a winery in the middle of rolling, endless wheat fields outside of Walla Walla, Washington? In the case of Spring Valley Vineyard, it was born of out necessity. With the low price of wheat in the early 1990s, Spring Valley farm owners Shari and Dean Derby decided to diversify their crops by planting grapes. That was twenty years ago.

spring valley vineyardsFast forward to today and a lot has changed. And much has not. The drive to Spring Valley Vineyard, which took place while on a trip sponsored by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, is notable for a seemingly never-ending stretch of wheat fields along gently rolling hills. And a strangely satisfying complete lack of cell phone service. Well, if you have AT&T. (But how will I Instagram?!?) Eventually, all that yellow turns to green in the form of grape vines. And see that perch standing tall in the back of the vineyards? That's to encourage falcons to hang out, and dine on vineyard varmints. Sadly, I did not see a bird of prey or any rodent-snatching action.

But there was plenty of action in the glass. I was especially intrigued by the winery's interest in Cabernet Franc. I like the savory notes that it adds to a wine. And though my predilection runs towards the lighter side of Cabernet Franc (like how it's done in France's Loire Valley), I can appreciate the distinctness it brings to a blend, like Spring Valley Vineyard's 2010 Uriah Red Wine. It consists of 40% Cabernet Franc, balanced out by about the same amount of Merlot, with a little bit of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec.

spring valley vineyardI got a more insight into Cabernet Franc from a vineyard chat with Winemaker Serge Laville and Assistant Winemaker Kate Derby Raymond. Regarding adding a 100% Cabernet Franc, the Katherine Corkrum, to the family of wines, Kate explained, "Cab Franc is the backbone of our blends." It was a case of a wine being a "...natural addition to our lineup." And though this Seattle resident was feeling the heat of Eastern Washington, Spring Valley Vineyard is, at its base, 1200 feet above sea level. For Walla Walla, it's a cooler site. And Serge is not looking to make monstrous wines with grapes so ripe the finished wine is on the verge of sweetness. His mantra (ok, I call it a mantra) is "maximum flavor/minimum sugar".

spring valley vineyardSo what do the next twenty years hold for Spring Valley Vineyard? Serge reveals, "It's time to experiment [with] rosé and white." It's already started, in tiny, trial amounts of Viognier and dry rosé. (Not for sale. Cue sad trombone.)

For present, available wines, I like ones with labels that tell a story, beyond the "this wine was aged in American oak for 24 months, blah, blah" shtick. Something that, when you put it on the table, allows you to offer an interesting nugget or tale. For instance, the horse that Kate's Gramdmother, Sharilee, is pictured riding on the label of the Spring Valley VIneyard Petit Verdot? It's a Peruvian Paso (named Alandra), a horse with an incredible smooth cadence. "You could carry a glass of wine on this horse and it wouldn't move," Kate reveals. Though curious, given my past issues with horseback anxiety, I'll just take her word for it regarding Peruvian Pasos. You'll just find me under a shady tree with some Cabernet Franc.

There's more than just horseback anxiety on my blog, which was a finalist for the 2013 Savuer Best Food Blog Awards. Read about wines for olive oil poached tuna salad and tater tots.