2008 Walla Faces Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
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Walla Faces Vineyards A Stone's Throw from Leonetti

It's been four years since we featured a Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon on WineAccess. Why? For the most part, these are small, family-owned operations. Yields are small. As there are no economies of scale, production cost is high. Buttressed by sales out of tasting rooms in close proximity to Seattle, most of the boutique players seem perfectly content to focus their attention on the home market, ignoring the national spotlight.

But recently, with the economic upturn, some inspired young wineries are taking a different tack. Having invested in some of the most precious vineyard sites in the Columbia Valley, they're cautiously spreading their wings, hoping to convince fine-wine wholesalers in New York, Aspen and South Beach to adopt their brands. In the case of the 8.5-acre jewel of Walla Faces, Rick Johnson did one better. He called WineAccess.

In 1999, Rick and Debbie Johnson were vacationing on the Oregon coast. Just married, with the Cannon Beach surf roaring below, Rick allowed himself to dream for the first time since he completed his doctoral thesis. That reverie sent the couple on a years-long search that concluded with the purchase of this stunning, high-elevation perch, set less than half a mile from the Leonetti Mill Creek Upland Vineyard.

"Initially, it was more about the search than the destination. Every chance we got, we piled into the car with Red (their greyhound) and scoured the vineyards of the Northwest looking for a property. We started in the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon and worked our way north. After four years, we'd come close a half-dozen times, but on each occasion, the deals fell through. But when we saw this spot, knowing full well what Leonetti was doing next door, we jumped."

The world's greatest Cabernets come in a variety of styles that are distinctive to the soils and microclimates in which they're grown. The First Growths of Pauillac — Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild — are all about refinement and chiseled elegance. The 100-pointers of Napa's Oakville Grade feature massive concentration and plush black-fruit opulence. Washington's greatest Cabernets, particularly in superb growing seasons, offer deep color, tremendous black-fruit density, and sturdy, age-worthy backbone. Just such a vintage arrived in 2008.

In mid-September 2008, both Rick Johnson and his neighbors at Leonetti were sweating bullets. The vines were well behind. But, quite like what occurred in the Willamette Valley hundreds of miles south, Nature turned on the jets in the latter part of the month, delivering almost six weeks of blue-sky days, filled with bright sunshine. By the time the call was made to harvest, it was the first week of November. The crop load was tiny. The berries were small, with a high skin-to-juice ratio. Just up the road, Leonetti would turn out one of the greatest "Reserves" in winery history, garnering 97 points from The Wine Advocate. At Walla Faces, the Johnsons's 7 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon would yield just 350 cases of the most stunning wine ever to come off this manicured property.

Deep purple/black in color, infused with piercing aromas of blackberry, violets and sweet herbs. Powerful on the attack — not so much jammy as dense and compact — the core is packed with crushed black fruits. Firm and sturdy on the back palate, with excellent vibrancy and tension, arguing for 3-5 more years of cellar age.

Tasting Notes

2008 Walla Faces Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
"Deep purple/black in color with piercing aromas of crushed blackberries, violets and sweet herbs, the attack is filled wild berry concentration — not so much jammy as dense and compact. The finish is tense and energetic with sturdy tannin backbone, arguing elegantly for 3-5 years of cellar slumber."
– WineAccess Travel Log


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