Before moving here Walla Walla was pretty foreign to us both. We’d both heard of it as a wine region but it certainly didn’t carry the weight of Napa or Willamette Valley to our East Coast familiarities. Yet we both moved here to go to school for winemaking and not only decided to stay in Walla Walla but also start our label here. We want to share what makes this area so different and unique and how Walla Walla’s community helped convince us that this was the right place to launch August Forest.
Start Up Culture
One of the amazing things we both noticed when we first got into town was how many graduates of our program were already working in the wine industry and many of them were doing it for their own projects which were typically small 1,000 case or lower operations. The community itself deserves so much credit. Rather than a competitive mindset so many winemakers and wineries in town have been quick to offer advice or services to help August Forest get up and running. Everything from conversations on the logistics of winemaking, production facilities and the legalities. More experienced and established wineries like Brook and Bull and Dusted Valley have helped us move fruit and allowed us to utilize facilities to get our first vintage made. The Walla Walla valley wine community has a strong dedication to the idea that a rising tide lifts all ships and that we’re all working together to help build Walla Walla wine’s overall brand and stature.
Institutionally as well support for the wine industry has helped small winery start ups get going. The existence of the Walla Walla Community College program, with its hands on, practical approach to Enology and Viticulture has done a lot to build the stature of the region. In addition, the Port of Walla Walla started its incubator program out in the airport district which helps small wineries get started with an already existing production facility and tasting space. Wineries can utilize the space for up to 6 years with rent that starts low and slowly increases each year. Currently all five incubator spaces are being utilized by graduates of the WWCC program and many are only within their first 2-3 years of operation including itä , Hoquetus and Smak.
Lower Barrier to Entry
This community support helps lower the barrier to entry into the industry. Gone are the days you need millions of dollars to build or purchase a facility and properly staff and equip it for production just to start your own wine label. The emerging model that Walla Walla is helping to encourage and build is custom crush or shared production spaces where for a cost a small label can utilize winery equipment such as a press during harvest and store wine in proper cold storage as it ages. Many labels can also pool together to lower costs for bottling services. Both of us come from modest socio-economic backgrounds but this model puts winery ownership in reach for a lot more people than just those with a small fortune or born into it.
Diversity and Culture
While overall the wine industry is still a straight white male dominated industry it’s slowly changing and especially so in Walla Walla. The number of Women, People of Color and Queer winemakers are growing in Walla Walla. C.J. being openly gay wanted to also contribute to this trend with August Forest. The vibrancy in the downtown scene is certainly rare for a town of Walla Walla’s size and the food scene is also growing and diversifying to match the increase in wine tourism.