Walla Walla Day 3: The Women of the Valley

row of grape vines

Day Three: Starting with àMaurice Cellars

While we were sad knowing our trip was coming to an end, we had an exciting day planned with three of the hottest women in the Walla Walla valley. We were looking forward to re-connecting with Elizabeth Boucier, assistant winemaker, Cayeuse Vineyards and head winemaker of her own label, La Rata. Dave and I also had visits lined up at àMaurice Cellars to taste Anna Schafer’s wines and at the The Walls to taste Ali Mayfield’s wines. 

We started with àMaurice Cellars. Anna Schafer is known for her beautifully crafted malbecs, perhaps influenced by her time spent in Mendoza Argentina with Paul Hobbs’s at Viña Cobos. Her signature malbec has been on and off our list due to distribution challenges. We found a lone bottle from 2010 in our cellar and opened it in preparation of our trip to Walla Walla. It was exquisite. It was youthful with lots of potential for aging. We enjoyed it paired with juicy tenderloin with sautéed wild mushrooms.

Anna’s wines are deceptively feminine. They have a dark purple color and are fruity and jammy, but don’t be fooled – the tannin structure will quickly sneak up on you. We look forward to having her wines back on Coho Restaurant’s list. 

Thanks to Cecilia Pleake, the Director of Consumer Marketing for The Walls for hosting us for a last minute visit. The winery is named after the “The Walls” of the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla’s most notorious landmark, located down the street from where their first wines were made. 

“Concrete Mama”

“Concrete Mama” still sits sentinel above Walla Walla. Life is hard inside her walls, but for those who make it out, a new beginning beckons. One of Ali’s labels, Concrete Mama, is a metaphor for the prison and the grapes that she uses from the Rocks District. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to transform these grapes into wine within similar walls of concrete. Ali Mayfield uses concrete in the winemaking process including tanks to ferment the wine. Her wines have lots of texture and minerality.  

“The Walls” is another metaphor. We put up walls to protect our hearts, we toil within the walls of our work, we build walls to defend what’s important to us. As we build walls we’re also looking for ways to tear them down. Wine will tear down these walls bringing people together and building community.

Prior to starting this new project, Ali’s background included stints at some of the region’s finest wineries including Long Shadows Winery, Corliss, and J Bookwalter Winery. 

Cayeuse Winery

Our last appointment of our trip was with Elizabeth Boucier, the assistant vigneron of Cayeuse Winery. She was gracious to meet us after a busy weekend shipping five truckloads of wines to members. Elizabeth is the winemaker for her own label La Rata, named after the cellar rats that are integral to the winemaking process. 

During our visit with Elizabeth, we tasted several other wines made at Cayeuse Winery that Elizabeth is involved with. The first was a 2013 No Girls Syrah, collaboration between Cayuse Vineyards’ owner and vigneron Christophe Baron and general manager Trevor Dorland using grapes from La Paciencia Vineyards. This textured wine has notes of violets, bacon fat and smoked meats. 

Walla Walla was founded in the mid-19th century. Like most American towns of its vintage, Walla Walla had its share of colorful characters and worldy distractions—including bordellos. And there had been one in the building Christophe Baron purchased in 2002.

When Christophe walked through the doors, he found the scene eerily preserved. Just past the main entrance at the top of a flight of wide, sweeping stairs, the words No Girls was painted on the wall—the wine label is an actual photograph. The decades old sign “No Girls” respects everyone who created the Walla Walla Valley we enjoy today.

Wrapping Up

We ended our tasting with the 2014 En Cerise Vineyard Syrah and their 2014 Impulsivo Tempranillo. As we stood in the concrete-walled cellar surrounded by wooden and concrete barrels, we tasted and spit into a large metal pail that sat on the floor. The reverberations after each taste echoed off the concrete walls reflecting the characteristics of the soil where the grapes got their start – in the stones. 

In 1997 Christophe purchased his first vineyard in Walla Walla drawn to the region because of the familiarity of the stone soil to the landscape of his homeland in the southern Rhone Valley and Châteuneuf-du-Pape. He called his venture Cayuse Vineyards, after a Native American tribe whose name was derived from the French word “cailloux” meaning “stones.” 

Over the past 20 years since Christophe’s “foolish gamble” with the rocks, winemaker’s throughout the valley are quickly buying up land and planting grapes in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-appellation of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. 

As we said our good byes to Elizabeth and to Walla Walla Valley we learned of one more unanticipated connection. Elizabeth’s husband has been on assignment consulting with the vineyard manager of San Juan Vineyards. Winemaking is a very small world and all about people and connections. We look forward to reciprocating the hospitality with all the winemaker’s that we met with. 

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