The unusual combination of a dry, sunny, warmer climate with mineral-rich glacial soils, natural rootstock, and industry leaders with an unrelenting focus on quality, has thrust the Walla Walla Valley into the limelight of the wine world. The wines are known for their refined elegance, structure, and complexity, firmly rooted in this unique terroir of the Walla Walla Valley.
Geographically, the Walla Walla Valley is the southeast corner of the Columbia Valley appellation, straddling the Washington/Oregon state line. About the same size as the Napa Valley, Walla Walla is buttressed against the beautiful Blue Mountains on the east, Vansycle basalt ridge on the south, and rolling Palouse Hills to the north. Walla Walla means “many waters” and was the name of the local Native Americans who inhabited the valley in the early 1800s.
The Walla Walla Valley is unique in its climate and geology. Warmer and windier than other parts of the Columbia Valley, Walla Walla is also heavily influenced by the Blue Mountains. The southwest prevailing winds that blow up the Columbia River rise over the Horse Heaven Hills and blow into the valley, right in the path of one of the largest generating wind farms in the continental U.S. Rainfall is minimal, with about 8 inches in the south and western portions of the valley, increasing to as much 20 inches in the northeast foothills of the Blues. Cool night-time air out of the Blue Mountains creates larger diurnal temperature differentials between day-time high and night-time low temperatures, often as much as 50°F, ideal for ripening fruit while preserving natural acidity.
There are four distinct soil micro-climates within Walla Walla:
People have had the largest impact on the reputation and quality of the Walla Walla Valley. An unparalleled commitment to this quality by the early industry pioneers set a high standard for newer wineries and vineyards to follow. Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon and L’Ecole No 41 all started nearly 30 years ago. As friends -- yet competitors -- there developed a strong camaraderie and focus on doing everything in our power to be the best, enologically and viticulturally. State-of-the art vineyard practices include: utilization of sophisticated irrigation equipment and software; vertically trained and balanced canopies; and an intense focus on environmentally-soft, biologically-based sustainable vineyard practices. All of our Walla Walla Vineyards are Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon Safe and are part of VINEA, a sustainable vineyard program tailored specifically to the micro-climate of the Walla Walla Valley. We utilize organic composts and earth compost tea to build soil health and nurture healthy vines, virtually eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides.
Seven Hills Vineyard was named by Wine & Spirits Magazine (Fall 2004) as one of “Ten Great Vineyards of the World!”.
L’Ecole N° 41 is a partner with Leonetti Cellar and Pepper Bridge Winery in the acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard located in the south central portion of the Walla Walla Valley appellation. Approximately one-third of our red wine production comes from Seven Hills Vineyard. The vineyard was originally planted in 1981 and has been expanded to more than 230 acres, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. With an elevation of 900 – 1,100 feet, the site has excellent soil and air drainage and is one of the most technologically advanced in the industry. The vertically trained canopy, controlled cluster spacing, and sunlight exposure generate uniform fruit ripeness. Soil moisture is monitored daily by computer with sophisticated drip irrigation scheduled to augment vine development yet limit excessive canopy growth. Yields are strictly controlled to assure ultra-premium quality. The soils in this vineyard are in the Ellisford Series, which is a wind-blown glacial loess that is geologically young and rich in minerals. The vineyard is managed by Greg Giguiere, a University of California - Davis graduate and seasoned viticulturalist. These vineyard features contribute significantly to the wine’s characteristic rich elegance, earthy structure, seductive aromas and complex, silky finish.
Our newest estate vineyard is Ferguson, named in honor of our founders Jean and Baker Ferguson. As part of the SeVein Properties surrounding Seven Hills Vineyard, this 42 acre prime piece of ground was strategically selected with an appreciation for the property’s natural strengths. At an elevation of 1,300 to 1,450 feet, the cold air drainage around the site is excellent. Above the ice-age flood silts, the soil is a thin mantle of wind-blown loess overlying fractured basalt. At the highest elevation, the soil depth is only 2 to 3 feet, such that the vine roots penetrate deep into the basalt, providing a complex array of rich minerals. This rock formation is partially exposed, revealing a quarry of fractured basalt which we refer to as The Wall. Mixed layers of multiple lava flows are woven together in a puzzle-like pattern, intersected with deep veins of calcium carbonate leaching deep into the basalt. We have 18 acres planted in a multi-clone mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah.
Our best sustainable farming practices were fully implemented in preparing and planting Ferguson. For two years prior to planting, we grew a series of green crops of spring oats, Sudan grass, and arugula, plowing each crop back into the soil. After cross-ripping the entire acreage, we added a complex mix of organic compost and other nutritional elements to help restore soil humus and minerals. Finally, a verma-compost tea was added to rejuvenate a diverse mix of beneficial microorganisms, enhancing the natural soil biology.
Innovative vineyard technology was used to design, map, and plant Ferguson. Using three dimensional contour and topographic analysis, detailed slope and aspect were combined with sunlight cycles, wind patterns and soil characteristics to insure that the vineyard design optimized the growing conditions for each block. A digital map of the vineyard blocks was then used to design an irrigation system for building vine uniformity and sustainability. Finally, the actual vine planting utilized GPS technology to engineer precise row orientations and plant spacing.
Our first harvest from Ferguson Ridge was in 2010.
L’Ecole was the first winery to produce wines from Pepper Bridge Vineyard. The original 10 acre vineyard was planted in 1991 and has been expanded over the years to include almost 200 acres. Closer to the Blue Mountains, it is cooler and wetter than Seven Hills, delaying harvest on Merlot by 10 days and often three weeks on Cabernet Sauvignon. At an 850 foot elevation, Pepper Bridge is planted on the terraced remnants of ice age flood deposits. The top three feet of soils are Walla Walla silt loam, which is a wind-blown, mineral-rich loess. Underneath this layer are rich sedimentary deposits from the numerous glacial floods that inundated the Walla Walla Valley during the end of the last ice age. L’Ecole has acreage contracts on 16 acres of vines, providing specifications on pruning, yield, canopy management, irrigation, thinning and harvest timing. Varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. Tom Waliser has been the Vineyard Manager at Pepper Bridge since its inception.
The attributes of this vineyard contribute to the wine’s characteristic bold and dark fruit flavors, rich structure, well-integrated tannins and long finish.
See our Walla Walla Valley wines.
Les Collines, McKibben Family, Blue Mountain foothills near Stateline – Semillon
Loess, Leonetti Estate Vineyard – Cabernet Sauvignon
Va Piano, south of Pepper Bridge – Cabernet Sauvignon
Yellowjacket, Walla Walla riverbed – Cabernet Sauvignon