A town so nice, they named it twice!
Well, not so much the town in this scenario as the entire appellation. This seems only fair as the this AVA is located in two separate states – Oregon and Washington. The justifications for the establishment of the viticultural area are historic, geologic, geographic and climatic.
Walla Walla translates at “rapid stream” or “many waters” in the Sahaptin language that is shared by the Walla Walla, Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Tenino peoples. Western settlers moved into the area beginning in the 1830s when Marcus and Narcissa Whitman came as missionaries to the Walla Walla people but were murdered by the Cayuse following outbreaks of measles that the indians believed were caused by the whites (they were, but they didn’t do it on purpose as no one was aware of germ theory quite yet). Viticulture began informally with French fur trappers in the 1840s in an area previously known as Frenchtown, now called Lowden.
The geologic basis of the creation of the appellation is based in part on the similarity of the river plain of assorted wind blown loess soils well drained by smaller streams that cut through the area. Being located between the Cascades and the Blue Mountains along the Washington, Oregon and Idaho border means that the area is blocked from the moderating temperatures nearer the Pacific but also in a rain shadow as well. This means that the climate is more intense with warmer days with cool evenings and semi-arid which requires irrigation for cultivation.
Modern viticulture (i.e. post-(the dreaded) Prohibition) began with Leonetti Cellars in the 1970s with Woodward Canyon Cellars and L’Ecole 41 coming along in the 1980s . The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 and amended to extend the territory in 2001. Varietals produced in the area include:
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petit Verdot
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
Oh, and I have actually been to this viticultural area! The Wine Bloggers’ Conference in 2010 was in Walla Walla.
One man’s basin is another man’s valley.
The Umpqua is formed by three mountain ranges: The Cascades, the Coastal Range and he Klamath, but often the area is often known as the 100 valleys of the Umpquas. The Umpqua River runs through the valley but is no way responsible for the formation of this appellation. The soils are a diverse mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks with alluvial and clays dominating the valley floor and clays. In fact, the contains at least 150 separate soil types. The climate of the region is also varied with the northern areas being cool and moist, the southern being warm and dry and the central area transitional.
Viticulture has been active since the 1880s when German settlers left California and headed north. In the modern era winemaking was established in the early 1960s and has grown to at least 60 vineyards and 12 wineries. The appellation also distinguishes itself by being the first place in the U.S. growing Grüner Veltliner. Other varietals being produced include:
- Baco Noir
- Cabernet Franc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Chenin Blanc
- Grüner Veltliner
- Marechal Foch
- Muller Thurgau
- Muscat Canelli
- Petite Sirah
- Pinot gris
- Pinot noir
- Sauvigon Blanc
Continuing my Michigan winery planning I move on to Lake Michigan Shore. Why? Well it contains the Fennville AVA and is the appellation listed on the bottles for the only winery in the Fennville AVA. And frankly, it is the Michigan appellation that is closest to home for me as it takes about 90 minutes (not counting traffic snarls) to enter into Michigan.
Why is this area significant? Well, unlike most northern wine regions, Michigan Shores produces a good number of vitis vinifera grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Lemberger, Malbec, Marsanne, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier. The reason? Something we Midwesterners* call “Lake Effect”. The water in the Great Lakes (essentially small fresh water inland seas) moderate the temperatures and the precipitation on lands west of each lake. Temperatures never become as frigid as they would on the east coast of a lake as they do on the west coast. Anyone who has lived in Chicago and Buffalo or Detroit can tell you how they differ (and this blog has a couple of gals who have experienced the difference. Chicago is much colder). This gives the grapes a longer growing season than is experienced in say, Iowa and a couple of weeks makes a big difference. The soils are a relatively uniform throughout the region, consisting of glacial moraines.
In addition to being relative close to home, there are a good number of wineries in the AVA. How many? Well that depends on who you ask and what you count. Why who you ask? Well, the folks at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail list count twelve wineries as members. Me? I count about seventeen. More is better right? Well, that leads to the what you count part, as several of the wineries have multiple tasting rooms. Tasting rooms are great in a pinch, but frankly I prefer going to the winery directly, at least if it is possible. Given the number of beachfront cottages, condos and other casual getaway places in the area, I would have been surprised if there weren’t tasting rooms trying to take advantage of the numbers of summer people.
I am planning to head out on Sunday (barring teen disasters) to visit a couple these wineries. If you have a favorite? Let me know… contact me at gretchen at vinoverve.com