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“When I started there were only 19 wineries in Washington State,” Dave says. “And now there are over 750 bonded wineries in the state.” (pix by Ira Gardner)

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2013 Vintage Update

Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013 vintage Walla Walla

November 2014

Our harvest is over! — the grapes looked great form both Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge. We have pressed out most of the varietals, only the Cabernet Sauvignon is still perking along in fermentation. As I reflect back on the great grapes we have had from our two vineyards in Walla Walla over the years I am amazed at how many changes they have made to continually make their vineyards better producers of outstanding grapes. They don’t stand by and hope the grapes continue to make great wine; they continually looks for ways to improve the health of the vines (irrigation, pruning, canopy management, soil nutrients, etc.). One of the most important ways is their sustainable farming practices.  I have stolen some comments about their farming and organizations from the website of our friends at L Ecole. I hope this gives you more insight into the wine industry and why we are so happy to call them partners in this venture.

Both of our Walla Walla vineyards — Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge — practice sustainable farming and we think it is one of the most important aspects about our vineyards, grapes and wines. — Dave

A word from our friends at L Ecole about sustainable farming.

With a focus on soil biology and vine health, we are working toward farming with minimal inputs and undertaking friendlier environmental practices.

VINEA – Walla Walla Valley – The Winegrower’s Sustainable Trust  Vinea Logo

The sustainable program in Walla Walla is called VINEA, meaning “vine” in Latin.  It has been designed to take into account the climate and terroir of the Walla Walla Valley.  This holistic program employs environmentally friendly and socially responsible viticultural practices that respect the land and conserve natural resources. They also support biodiversity, exercise responsible relationships with workers, neighbors and the community, and provide continuing economic and biological vineyard viability.  VINEA encompasses a number of the key organic and biodynamic practices with an emphasis on low input, soft practices that nurture soil health by encouraging biodiversity and soil microorganisms through the use of organic composts and compost teas.  The use of newly engineered synthetic applications is permitted, as long as the end result is softer on the vines and health of the vineyard.  VINEA partners with LIVE in Oregon (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) to provide third-party sustainable certification through the European organization IOBC (International Organization for Biological Control).

Benefits of Sustainable Farming

  • Healthier vines more resistant to pest and mildew pressures
  • Reduced erosion by building better soil structure and planting beneficial cover crops
  • Use of minimal environmental sprays, such as biodegradable oils, soaps, and plant extracts
  • Improved plant nutrient cycling, including beneficial microorganisms in the soil
  • Better wines that are healthier for you!

September, 2014

The harvest season is upon us. The Merlot is at 24 brix and will be picked in the next ten days;

The Cabernet Sauvignon is about two weeks ahead of schedule. We anticipate picking it the second week of October.

Our highest rating ever from the Wine Spectator — 93 on the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepper Bridge Vy was followed by a 90 on the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepper Bridge Vy.

We released the 2008 Pepper Bridge Cab and 2009 Cellar Red in May; the 2008 Seven Hills Merlot on Bastille Day; on October 18th we released the 2008 Seven Hills Charlotte’s Cuvee and in November the 2008 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.  2008 was an amazing vintage that both John and I have been waiting to release.  Six years seems like a long time when you inventory each month but it has been worth the wait.  The Spectator says start drinking it in 2016 — it is ready now but the wines have another 7 to 10 years. We are sold out of the 2007 Pepper Bridge Cab and have a few cases left of the 2008 vintage. We anticipate a likely response to the Seven Hills Cab and Charlotte’s. Join us for our release parties and judge for yourself.

JANUARY, 2013  (Update on 2012 vintage)

All of the 2012 vintage is in barrel now. Our first impressions leave us excited about the possibilities of this vintage.  The fruit was intense with lots of acidity and tannin for aging. We picked just prior to the frost in the Walla Walla area. The yield was down in both Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills but still above our normal pruning practices so we don’t feel we were hurt by the weather.  Next update will be in May when we see how the wine tastes.


As we finish the third week of October we have been blessed with a great harvest season. There was some frost damage in Pepper Bridge Vineyard but we calculated it perfectly and picked two days before the frost arrived. The fruit has great balance. Last year our vines froze out so it is a welcome relief to see them bounce back. The Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon will be picked by Tuesday and the harvest will be over in that vineyard. We haven’t had an frost on our old block Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Hills. The fruit and acids are perfect and we are harvesting this week. Until we brought in the fruit we weren’t sure what we would be getting this year but like the 2005 vintage after the 2004 vintage where we got no red wine grapes from Walla Walla the 2012 vintage should be a great vintage following last year’s devastating losses due to frost.

The 2006 Vintage — Current Releases

The spring was a little wetter than normal, but this extra moisture did not cause any problems because it was so early in the year. Bud break started around the April 20th. It was a very warm, sunny summer. We had plenty of heat units to fully ripen the grapes. The wines from the 2006 vintage have incredible fruit intensity, show great natural acidity and are beautifully balanced.  We have released our single vineyard varietals from Seven Hills Vineyard — Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  We will release our 2006 Pepper  Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon in May and on October 25th we will release our 2006 Charlotte’s Cuvee.

2011 Update

2011 — A transitional year?  For thirty years we have seen certain areas effected by the weather in an adverse way.  In 2004 we lost all of the grapes at Seven Hills vineyard. In 2011 we lost most of the grapes in both Seven Hills vineyard (about 60%) and all of the Cabernet grapes at Pepper Bridge vineyard. An arctic cold swept through the area in the fall of 2010 before the vines had gone dormant. It reminds you that wine starts in the vineyard.

Seven Hills Vineyard


Located on the edge of the Walla Walla Appellation you’ll find Seven Hills Vineyard.  The original plantings date back to 1981 and have expanded to over 200 acres of premium wine grapes.  Seven Hills Vineyard is managed by Chris Banek and is the source of fruit for many of the fine wineries in the state and valley.

(Seven Hills West is managed by Tom Waliser who also manages Pepper Bridge Vineyard).

Vineyard varietals that Grande Ronde purchases are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Grand Vidure. (The Grand Vidure is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Cellar Red wine.)

With the exception of five acres of Geneva Double Curtain, all grapes are grown on the Smart-Dyson split canopy trellises, in which the vines are trained both up and down off the cordon, or grape-bearing, wire.

The soil in this vineyard is Ellingford Silt Loam, which is a wind-blown glacial loess that is geologically very young and full of minerals.  This soil, a mixture of all the soils in Western Canada, was moved into the Spokane area between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago by the last glacial age.  The series of Bretz Floods, caused during the glacial period by ice dams, carried the soils into the Walla Walla Valley where their mineral rich, free draining, materials make ideal vineyard ground.

The vineyard reaches 1200 feet in elevation making it one of the higher vineyards in the valley and helping to protect it against the occasional hard winter freezes.  This elevation also helps to protect against frost and in combination with its wind machines, the vineyard has never lost grapes to frost damage.

During the first months of each growing season irrigation is pulled from the Hudson Bay Ditch.  After ditch water is shut off to protect the fish, irrigation switches to a deep basalt well, which is drilled over 1100-feet through hard rock.  Water is distributed from a surge pond to the grapes through both above ground and buried drip lines that can also spread required fertilization along with the water.  Grapes are one of the most efficient crops in terms of water requirement and the drip system of irrigation eliminates waste water.  The moisture monitoring system advises any time moisture gets below the root zone of the grapes.  This allows the farm to irrigate only as much water as will be taken up by the plants and eliminates contamination of the ground water system.

 From the Pepper Bridge Site:

Pepper Bridge Vineyard is one of our two estate vineyards located in the Walla Walla Valley Appellation. The original 10 acres were planted in 1991. Since then, the vineyard has been expanded to almost 200 acres. Pepper Bridge Vineyard has gained an outstanding reputation with winemakers throughout the state of Washington and especially the Walla Walla Valley. Tom Waliser has been the Vineyard Manager since its inception.
The vineyard uses cutting-edge technology on its irrigation and weather systems. Weather data, temperature, humidity, wind and sun energy units are recorded around the clock, and the data is downloaded to computer via phone line. Over sixty moisture-measuring points are spread throughout the farm and moisture data is logged once an hour, 24 hours per day.

The soils in this vineyard are Walla Walla Silt Loam, which is a wind-blown glacial loess that is young and full of minerals. This silt loam contains one-third sand and is very free draining.

At Pepper Bridge Vineyard, grapes are grown on the Smart-Dyson split-canopy trellis system, in which the vines are trained both up and down on the cordon, or grape-bearing, wire.

Norm McKibben is involved in all three vineyard sites – Seven Hills East, Seven Hills West and Pepper Bridge.  Also involved in the Seven Hills East project are Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellars and Marty Clubb of L Ecole#41.

GRC Library Wines — 1997 to 2006

In general we only have a few bottles, or at most a couple of cases, left of these wines. We most often use them for verticals or wine dinners but we do have a limited supply for sale for those of you who are looking for a special occasion.

1997–  Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (Seven Hills Vineyard) are at their peak now. We recommend drinking this wine between now and 2015. We have a few bottles left in the library for verticals.

1998–The Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills Vineyard, is just starting to come around. this has been our most tannic and powerful wine. It is ready to drink but will live for many more years.

Merlot, Seven Hills. Again a big wine. This wine is drinking well now.

1999–  Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills (92 points, Wine Spectator) This wine continues to be a star in the cellar. Drink now to 2016.

Merlot, Seven Hills.  We recommend you decant this wine. It throws a lot of sediment (we don’t filter our red wines) but don’t let that worry you.  It has several years left.

2000- Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills  Slightly less tannic than the 1998 this wine still needs an  hour or more of breathing. Drink now to 2014.

Merlot, Seven Hills.  We are out of this wine except for verticals.

2001– Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills. Lots of fruit up front. Drink now to 2014.

Merlot, Seven Hills (91 points, Wine Spectator)  This wine is still one of the best drinking wines in our library. Drink now to 2014.

2002– First Vintage with additional wines.  We added Cellar Red and Pepper Bridge Cabernet to our list of wines.

Cellar Red– 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Grand Vidure, Walla Walla Valley (90 points Wine Spectator)

Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills, (90 points Wine Spectator)  This is the best drinking Cabernet Sauvignon at the moment. Drink now to 2017.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepper Bridge (89 points Wine Spectator) More tannic than the Seven Hills. Needs some breathing time before dinner. Drink now to 2016.

Merlot, Seven Hills.  We recommend you drink this wine now.

Charlotte’s Cuvee, Seven Hills Vineyard. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. We took our best barrels of each wine to make this Reserve Blend. Drink now to 2020.

2003- Cellar Red 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Grand Vidure, 7% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Drink Now.

2003 — Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard  100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 6. 90 points in the Wine Spectator. Drink now to 219.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepper Bridge Vineyard. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 89 points Wine Spectator. Drink now to 2017.

2003 Charlotte’s Cuvee, Seven Hills Vineyard. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot.  This wine has a lot of up front fruit. We recommend drinking between now and 2015.

2004 — The year of the Halloween Frost.  An arctic wind came through Walla Walla on Halloween 2003 before the vines were dormant and we lost all of our red grapes. We made no red wine in 2004.

2005 Both our Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge Cabernet received 90 points from the Wine Spectator. These wines are showing well now and should continue to age to 2020.

2005 Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard. This wine went through a dumb period much like some Pinot Noirs will do. It is finally starting to come around. We think it is the best drinking of the Merlots that we have any quantity of in the Library. Drink now to 2018.

2005 Cellar Red.  We recommend you drink this wine now. The Grand Vidure was really wild and although we like the pepperiness of the wine we think it should be drunk now.

2005 Charlotte’s Cuvee. Seven Hills Vineyard. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. This could turn out to be the best of our first three vintages of Charlotte’s Cuvee. It has a lot of depth and we believe it will last until 2022 or longer.

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