The spotlight for this seventh annual event is on cabernet sauvignon, the Valley’s most-grown varietal.


of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

If the language around wine is a bit confusing, think of cabernet sauvignon, instead, as a character in Game of Thrones.

That’s what Walla Walla Community College enology instructor Sabrina Lueck did during Thursday afternoon’s kickoff to Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine — The World of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In this case, cabernet sauvignon — Walla Walla’s most-grown varietal with 36.4 percent of its 2,932 acres as of the last vineyard study released last year — is Jon Snow.

Since records on cabernet sauvignon only date back to the 1800s — for perspective, Riesling in the Rhine Valley has been documented going back to the 1400s — some details of the varietal are a bit mysterious. Sort of like Jon Snow’s family tree before the pieces, however strange, became known.

As Lueck explained to an audience at the Gesa Power House Theatre, cab franc is cabernet sauvignon’s mother, Lyanna Stark, and sauvignon blanc is its spicy father, Rhaegar Targaryen.

Princely, for sure, the varietal has risen to become the most-planted grape in the world.

“This is truly a global varietal that has branched out of Bordeaux,” Lueck told Celebrate participants at the opening of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance’s seventh annual event.

Celebrate highlights a different wine varietal each year, comparing and sharing the similarities and differences of the Walla Walla Valley with other leading wine regions around the world through a series of panel discussions, tastings, self-guided tours and winemaker dinners.

At the opening presentation Thursday, Lueck and Kevin Pogue, Whitman College geology professor, also were able to highlight the far-ranging landscape of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area to compare different versions of the varietal grown just in this area, too.

Pogue, a master in the concept of terroir and how the geographical elements of a place are reflected in the taste of the wine, said the Walla Walla AVA and subappellation the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are home to four distinct subzones. That means the taste of cabernet sauvignon can vary drastically depending on where in Walla Walla the grapes were grown.

Pogue took a dive into the conditions under which cabernet sauvignon thrives in terms of temperature, water, the average growing season, number of frost-free days and more.

Although the soil conditions here vary — hence the four different subzones of silty loess, cobbles similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the loess draped foothills and the more difficult to farm canyons of the Valley that have started to make its own version of Côte Rôtie — it’s the weather that has a dramatic effect.

“Climate is what trumps everything,” Pogue explained. “With a few exceptions, you can grow grapes in any soil, but not in every climate.”

Thursday’s hour-and-a-half-long presentation led into one of Celebrate’s most popular events, the Vintage Pour.

From the theater, guests were shuttled to Tranche to sample library wines ranging from 1999 to 2012 from over 40 Walla Walla Valley wineries.

Today’s events continue with a panel discussion and tastings this afternoon as winemakers from Italy and California join Walla Walla Valley winemakers in an educational seminar and tasting.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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