Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meeting Joel Waite, Winemaker and Owner of CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington State

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Joel Waite,the winemaker and owner of CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla in Washington State.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Waite in Washington DC, the winemaker and owner of CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla in Washington State.

The Wines of Washington State

About half a century ago, there was basically no wine industry in Washington State. And if wine was made, it was not with the noble European vinifera grapes. But the American wine boom that had its origin in California moved to the north, first to Oregon and then it also reached Washington State.

Picture: Wine Map of Washington State

In 1980, four years after Californian wines had out shined the French wines at the famous tasting in Paris, there were about 20 wineries in Washington State that were producing high-quality wines with European vinifera grapes. Today, there are more that 650 wineries. Valued at about $3 billion annually, Washington's wine industry ranks second behind California, which, however, has more than 10-times the acreage and four-times the number of wineries. Few Washington wineries are widely recognized by average consumers outside the region. More than half of the wine produced in Washington comes from wineries owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle.

In the beginning, white wines were dominating. As recently as 10 years ago, 70 percent of the grapes planted were white grapes, with Chardonnay the No. 1 grape. But encouraged by the success of Oregon with its Pinot Noirs, the balance between white and red wine has shifted towards red; red wines now account for almost half of the wine production.

In general, if California’s wines are rich and powerful, Washington State’s wines are more crisp and delicate, reflecting its location much more up in the North. They remind me a lot of the wines I know from Germany. Although a relatively young wine industry, Washington State is now the nation's second largest wine producer and is ranked among the world's top wine regions.

Walla Walla

In recent years, Walla Walla has converted itself from an obscure agricultural backwater into one of the hottest wine growing regions in the US. I have not yet been there, but I plan to visit Walla Walla later this year. Joel said: “Walla Walla is great. I immediately fell in love with it when I was there the first time. It has one of the prettiest main streets in the Northwest with magnificent Queen Anne, neoclassical and Craftsman-style homes. It has a laid-back, small town feel, which I like very much. Our winery is situated right in the town of Walla Walla, close to the airport.”

CAVU Cellars

CAVU Cellars is a relatively new, family owned and operated boutique winery in Walla Walla. CAVU Cellars is owned and run by winemaker Joel Waite, with the help of his parents Jim and Karen Waite. Annual production is about 1100 cases of mainly red wines. CAVU Cellars does not own any vineyards and buys all grapes.

Joel Waite

Jim and Karen Waite grew up in Alaska, where Joel was born. But Joel spent the first part of his live moving around in the world as his father Jim became an army pilot, before settling with his parents in the Washington DC area. There, Joel started his career in the wine and beverage industry, initially as a waiter and barkeeper and later in the retail end of wines at some of best fine dining establishments in Washington D.C., including many years as a private chef and caterer. After a trip to Seattle, Joel visited his relatives in Walla Walla. He fell in love with Walla Walla and signed up for a winemaker program at the Center for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Wall. After he had learned the art and craftsmanship of making fine wines, he was hired as assistant winemaker at Maryhill Winery, about 2-1/2 hours from Walla Walla. In 2008, Joel moved back to Walla Walla and established CAVU Cellars with his parents, who in the meantime, after Jim’s retirement, had sold their Virginia house and also moved to Walla Walla.

With a location of CAVU Cellars at the Walla Walla Airport, and Jim being a former army pilot, the idea of an aviation theme seemed a natural. CAVU is an old aviation weather acronym that means ‘Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited’. Pilots always like seeing that acronym on their weather forecast as it means a good flying day.

The CAVU Cellars Portfolio

Jim took me through his current portfolio.

Picture: The CAVU Wines Joel Waite brought to Washington DC

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cases Produced: 201 $35. This bold, aromatic wine, from Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, has a concentrated spectrum of flavors that provide beautiful balance and structure. It has a silky mouth feel and long finish.

2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Cases Produced: 266 $20. Crafted from grapes grown at Lonesome Spring Vineyard, this wine has undergone tank and barrel fermentation yielding a clean and crisp acidity with an array of citrus and passion fruit notes. The mouthfeel is well-balanced with a hint of vanilla.

2006 Horizon Red

Cases Produced: 290 $26. A 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petite Verdot blend, this wine has a soft tannic structure showcasing the intense aromatics and flavors of these Walla Walla Valley grape varietals.

2008 Barbera

Cases Produced: 340 $30. This bold Italian varietal comes from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. It's upfront cherry aromatics are met with bold and spicy flavors. Sure to be a favorite for those looking for a fun food wine.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller, Joel Waite and Mariam Raz Razavi from Wines by Raz

2008 Malbec

Cases Produced: 259 $30. A 100 percent Malbec from Verhey Vineyard in the Columbia Valley, selected from two sites in the vineyard. Each block was fermented with different yeast strains and barrel aged prior to blending. Aromatics of blueberries, passion fruit and orange peel are a prelude to blackberry, cherry, and all-spice components.

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