Ep 395: Walla Walla, Washington's Caprio Cellars and Its Estate Wines - Wine For Normal People
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Ep 395: Walla Walla, Washington’s Caprio Cellars and Its Estate Wines

Ep 395: Walla Walla, Washington’s Caprio Cellars and Its Estate Wines

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Caprio Cellars makes wines from estate vineyards in the Walla Walla viticultural area of eastern Washington. Owner and winemaker, Dennis Murphy crafts wines mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from his three Walla Walla vineyards, one of which is named after his Italian grandmother Eleanor Caprio, and another for his great grandmother Sanitella Caprio.

In the show, Dennis shares some good information about Walla Walla and its climate, soils, and the region’s unique position in the wine world. The bulk of the show is dedicated to my conversation with him, and he gives us a different perspective from others we’ve talked to in Walla Walla, like Sleight of Hand Cellars (who doesn’t love Jerry Solomon and Episode 295) and Amavi/ Pepperbridge (Eric McKibben rocks out Episode 294). But a lot of Dennis’s references are to seminal figures in the Walla Walla wine industry.

 

Photo: Dennis Murphy, Caprio Cellars

Given that, in the first part of the show, I spend a few minutes telling you about the founding figures in the Walla Walla wine industry.  Not only does this help in explaining the references, it sets you up to understand all of Walla Walla — if you ever talk to anyone about the region or go visit, these names will come up over and over again. They are…

 

  1. Norm McKibben. A founding father of Walla Walla’s wine industry, and he founded Pepper Bridge Cellars and Amavi. His mentorship, forward thinking attitude (he was an early proponent of sustainability), and openness are a big part of the success of Walla Walla.

  2. Jean-Francois Pellet is the Director of Winemaking and a partner at Pepper Bridge and Amavi. He was born and raised in Switzerland, and is a third-generation wine grower. After working in vineyards around Europe and for Heitz Cellars in the Napa Valley, he was recruited by Norm to Pepper Bridge  and also helped start Amavi. He is an active partner in the businessl and an important force in the Walla Walla wine scene.

  3. Marty Clubb is Managing Winemaker and co-owner of L’Ecole N° 41 with his wife, Megan, and their children, Riley and Rebecca.  Megan’s parents, Jean and Baker Ferguson, founded L’Ecole in 1983. In 1989, Marty and Megan moved to Walla Walla and Marty became manager and winemaker of L’Ecole.  Marty, along with Norm McKibben and Gary Figgins (see below) were the three most important figures in starting viticulture in the Walla Walla Valley.  Marty is one of the most revered figures in Walla Walla.

 

  1. Gary Figgins is the founder of Leonetti Cellar, which was Walla Walla’s first commercial winery. The Figgins family has been in Walla Walla for over a century and Gary learned viticulture from his uncles, who were farmers. He is self-taught and has done miraculous things for Walla Walla – Leonetti’s wines were among the first to gain high scores and national recognition for the valley. Gary and his wife Nancy passed on the winery to their kids, Chris and Amy, but Gary is a major figure in the development of Walla Walla and is still active in vineyard consulting.

 

  1. Christophe Baron is a native of Champagne and came to Walla Walla in 1993 while doing an internship at a vineyard in Oregon. He saw the famed “rocks” of the Milton-Freewater district that looked like the puddingstone in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and decided to buy 10 acres for his Cayuse Vineyards. The waitlist for the winery is many years deep, so Cayuse’s wines are only available to us on the secondary market (auctions and stuff – there is a podcast to come on auctions that will make that secondary market easy to understand!). He’s essential to helping make Walla Walla wine a coveted, hard to get luxury!

 

Dennis Murphy mentions other important wineries: Gramercy Cellars, Va Piano, and Hanatoro, to name a few! 

 

Finally, we discuss a few vineyards:

  • Seven Hills and Sevein: These are top vineyards of Walla Walla. They have unique soils and are managed by the founding fathers of Walla Walla – Norm McKibben, Marty, Clubb, Gary Figgins, and a few others, with many top wineries sourcing from this land.

Photo: Seven Hills Vineyard

After the intro, Dennis and I discuss Caprio, and its vineyards and its wines, which are quite tasty. Dennis discusses winemaking techniques, viticulture and sustainability, and his unique, very welcoming hospitality model. He has recently purchased a stake in Pepper Bridge and Amavi, so we discuss that briefly as well.

 

If you haven’t been to Walla Walla, put it on the list. In many ways it represents the. best of the American wine industry — collegial, entrepreneurial, with a focus on hard work and quality. Who could ask for more?

 

Photo: Caprio Cellars

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Session 1, October 21 at 8 PM Eastern

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1 Comment
  • Mike Barer
    Posted at 01:46h, 13 October Reply

    As a native of Walla Walla, I really appreciated the episode.

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