Perhaps it’s no more than a coincidence, but in the same week in late April that the Walla Walla sweet onion became the official Washington state vegetable (after a knock-down, drag-out battle with the russet potato lobby), a winery named Sweet Valley Wines (also from Walla Walla) claimed the title of Washington’s 500th winery.
Though Washington’s 31,000 vineyard acres are still a drop in the barrel compared with California, the 500th winery (California claims well over 2000) marks the state as a meaningful competitor, in terms of both quantity and quality. Just three decades ago, there were only about a dozen wineries in the entire state.
The three couples who have cobbled together the micro-winery confess they are a bit non-plussed by all the attention it has received. It “certainly wasn’t intentional” co-owner David McDaniels told the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Brother-in-law Kevin DeFord, another partner, explains that David once worked at Continental Can with Leonetti’s Gary Figgins.
“Gary Figgins has been our motivation,” says DeFord, “that’s how our dream began.” Son Chris Figgins has been guiding Josh McDaniels, a high school senior about to enroll in the Enology and Viticulture program at the Community College, on the ins and outs of winemaking. Meanwhile, neighbor Don Redmond (Mannina Cellars) is making the Sweet Valley wines. The first release – 300 cases of a 2005 Double Barrel Red (a Merlot/Cabernet/Syrah blend) seems sure to become a sudden and surprising “collectible.”
“We’re babies in this business,” says DeFord. “We’re getting a lot of help from people that know what they’re doing.”