itä Wines and Les Collines Vineyard

Owner & Winemaker – Kelsey Albro Itämeri

1. What is your/your family’s story around your winery?
I moved to Walla Walla in 2016 and immediately started helping to take care of a small test plot of vines that my parents had planted on their property in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Lo and behold – I didn’t really know what I was doing and desperately needed some training! Cut to a lovely montage of me getting my butt kicked at harvest internships at Balboa and The Walls here in Walla Walla, and at Domaine Jean Chartron in Burgundy; enrolling in the Institute of Enology and Viticulture at WWCC; and continuing to take care of the vines at my family’s property and making wine from those grapes in my garage. My internship experiences and my time at WWCC allowed me to see just how different the grapes were from the family test plot versus grapes that I was working with from the rest of the Walla Walla Valley and Washington state. I became quite enamored with fruit from the eastern side of the Walla Walla Valley. In that vein, I founded itä wines to really explore the that slice of the valley and focus on making the most thoughtful and beautiful wines I can from as close to my family’s property as possible. The name itä means “east” in Finnish and is a shoutout to how important our grape sourcing is to our finished wines. One day I dream of moving my winery operation and tasting room out to the homestead and growing estate fruit on a commercial scale there.

2. How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
My first year working harvest here was 2016, so I currently have a scant 5 harvests under my belt. It concurrently feels like I just started working in the industry yesterday and that it’s all I’ve ever known. I started itä wines in 2019.

3. What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community?
The people and the wines are phenomenal! Seriously, everyone that I’ve met and had the opportunity to work with have been incredibly supportive and helpful. I’ve found amazing mentors in the vintners I’ve worked for, including Tyler Grennan and Tom Glase at Balboa Winery and Ali Mayfield who I worked for at The Walls Vineyards and is now head of white wine and rosé making at Wahluke Wine Company. On the viticultural side, I would probably still be spending lots of time crying in the vineyard if it weren’t for mentorship from Brad Sorensen of Les Collines Vineyard. He has such a depth of knowledge and patience, and I am grateful that he has been so generous with both when I pepper him with grape growing questions.

4. What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I think the future is bright! Lots of new producers are making wines in different styles, adding a layer to the decades of high-quality viticulture and winemaking that our great state has become known for. Additionally, the profile of Washington state as a premium wine region is on the rise, and we’re becoming known further afield, both domestically and globally.

5. What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Champagne and oysters, hands down.


Vineyard Manager/Viticulturalist, Les Collines Vineyard – Brad Sorensen

1.What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing?
My family has no history with wine grape growing, but a long history of farming. I am from rural Wisconsin and grew up bailing hay, detasseling corn and weeding soybean fields. I knew I was going to work in agriculture in some form, and it wasn’t until a friend of mine “obtained” a bottle of wine from a restaurant he worked at that I realized I had to grow grapes. I chose a major (plant pathology) at UW Madison that would translate directly to grape growing, did a stint in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua working with coffee farmers, then moved to the Napa Valley.

2.How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
2021 will be my 4th season here in Washington. We moved up here after 15 years in Napa and Sonoma, and I was fortunate to have secured a job at a beautiful vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

3.What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community?
It is still a young industry up here, and the various AVA’s are still sorting out what grows best where. Working in northern California, we were only growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We currently have 18 varietals growing at Les Collines Vineyard with 60+ winemakers producing every style of wine imaginable. There is a sense of comradery up here that doesn’t exist anymore down South.

4.What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I hope that wineries producing wine in a particular AVA see the importance of buying grapes grown within that AVA. I have to think that visitors to a wine region appreciate drinking a product that was grown and produced locally. We are seeing a change in this direction with local Walla Walla wineries.

5.What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Venison and Mourvèdre.

 


Vineyard Supervisor, Les Collines Vineyard – Aaron Enriquez

1.What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
I moved up from Oaxaca and began working at a meat cutting facility. From there I started working in apples and began planting grapes in 1985.

2.How long have you been working in this capacity?
I have been working with grapes for 35 years and was responsible for planting part of Seven Hills, Pepperbridge and Les Collines.

3.What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community?
I enjoy training vineyard workers and giving them the knowledge base to care for the vines from planting through harvest.

4.What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I believe that the future of the Walla Walla valley is a good one. There are many new wineries coming in, and I hope that quality continues to improve.

5.What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
I don’t think they realize the amount of work that goes into tending vines.

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