by Dennis Cakebread, Owner, Mullan Road Cellars
Many people ask me, “Why Washington?” as a place to start a new winery, especially with my 45-year history with my family winery, Cakebread Cellars. To be candid, I looked at many regions and places to begin this new project and found Eastern Washington to be a great candidate. After exploring most of California, Oregon and other places across the globe, Walla Walla stood out for a number of reasons. Primarily, the people. I knew several key individuals in the industry who had been making wine there for years. They became friends and were open and willing to share their experiences. Next up was the development of the Washington wine industry. Led in many ways by Chateau Ste. Michelle, I found them to be a benevolent giant, interested in helping all in the community grow better grapes and make better wine. Finally, I was moved by the common ground and perspective everyone in the winemaking community seemed to have. Very much like Napa Valley, they all felt we are boats tied to the same dock.
Washington’s wine industry has grown tremendously since the first grapes planted in the early 19th century. Its viticulture reach is now grown 47,000 acres of vineyards, making Washington the second largest winegrowing region in the country. It is nice to be part of a developing and growing wine region, and to contribute as we can.
When I first visited Walla Walla in 2011, one of the questions that came to mind was, “Why was Walla Walla there?” I discovered a wonderful story of an epic effort to connect the Pacific Northwest with the rest of the country. One story in particular stood out to me: Lieutenant John Mullan. In the late 1850’s, Mullan led a team of 200 men in building a 600-mile wagon road connecting the top of the Missouri River (from Fort Benton Montana) to the top of the Columbia River (at Fort Walla Walla). This impressive feat was done in only 18-months of construction time. I found that an amazing accomplishment and so named the winery after the road. Hopefully we honor the effort and historical content.
As we pursued our own journey, I’ve met some valuable people who continue to contribute. Aryn Morell, who is our boots on the ground winemaker, was suggested by friends in the industry and has contributed greatly with his knowledge and hard work. Our growers, including Stillwater Creek with Ed Kelly, Solaksen and Corfu Crossing vineyards with Josh Lawrence and Seven Hills vineyard with Sadie Drury, have all contributed to my education and learning about growing great grapes and making fine wines in Eastern Washington. What fun!
Mullan Road Cellars will host a dinner excursion as well as participate in the Live Red Wine Blogging during the conference. For more information, please visit www.mullanroadcellars.com.