L’Ecole N° 41
Owner/Managing Winemaker – Marty Clubb
How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
With the 2022 harvest, L’Ecole N° 41 is celebrating our 40th vintage and anniversary. L’Ecole was started in 1983 by my in-laws Jean and Baker Ferguson and was only the third winery in the Walla Walla Valley at the time, and about the 20th winery in Washington state. My wife Megan and I helped with the first harvest in 1983, and by 1989 took over ownership and management of the winery. I have been running the winery and overseeing winemaking ever since. Today, we are in our third generation of family members working in the winery and helping to shape our future. With our early start in Washington wine, we have been fortunate to participate in, and help develop the industry’s success. We have witnessed the growth from an unknown upstart wine region, to one of the most respected wine regions in the world. I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of the Washington Wine Commission, Washington Wine Institute, Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Community College Enology and Viticulture Center, and WineAmerica during the past 35 years. L’Ecole is proud to have supported the Auction of Washington Wines since its inception (Megan and I served as Industry co-chairs in 2015/2016).
How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
L’Ecole N° 41 has been making wine in Washington state for 40 years. I have been the managing winemaker for the past 34 years. L’Ecole has been fortunate to have been named a Wine & Spirits Top 100 Winery of the Year 16 times, placing our winery in their coveted Premier Cru classification. (Only 18 wineries in the world have achieved such distinction.) In addition, we have won three international trophies, the highlight being the Decanter World Wine Awards for Best Bordeaux Blend in the World for our 2011 Estate Ferguson.
What excites you the most about the wines you’re making?
Washington state has one of the most unique and near perfect growing conditions for wine of any place in the world. I participated in the planting of our Estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley and feel great pride in seeing the wines from these vineyards now reach their pinnacle potential and high critical acclaim.
What is your favorite part about the Washington state wine community?
Camaraderie and collaboration are the cornerstone of the Washington state wine industry. It started when the industry was very small, as we recognized that success for one winery translated into success for others. Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, and L’Ecole worked together in the early days of the Walla Walla wine industry to encourage collaboration. Our mutual tasting groups helped build camaraderie, leading to better competitively driven wine quality. Collaboration and teamwork now permeate the Washington wine industry in all facets and have contributed to our state’s mutual success and reputation.
What excites you the most about what the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
Washington wine has just reached the tipping point of interest at the national consumer level. Sommeliers, wine trade, and specialty wine distributors are all now eagerly looking to buy wines from Washington. Relative to California, Washington wines have incredible value-to-quality ratio, which makes them even more attractive in today’s competitive wine world.
As an industry, we face challenges such as climate change, wildfires, leafroll virus, and now phylloxera. However, we are better positioned to deal with these issues and are now seeing new vineyard developments at higher elevations and on new rootstocks.
Your favorite wine and food pairing?
L’Ecole has been fortunate to champion Semillon as a quality variety from Washington. Our cool nights and low rainfall allow this grape to excel and produce wines with wonderful balance, fruit, and aromatic expression. My favorite food pairing is chèvre or goat cheese with Semillon. The melon, pear, and honeysuckle flavors of Semillon work well with chèvre’s bright, tart, creamy, and earthy flavors.
Viticulturist/Vineyard Manager, Seven Hills Vineyard – Sadie Drury
What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing? How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
While growing grapes isn’t in my family, Seven Hills Vineyard is planted less than a mile from the apple orchards my mother’s parents and grandparents owned and farmed, and only two miles from the cucumber farm my dad’s grandmother owned. I can’t help but feel like I landed in the place where my roots were meant to grow. Agriculture has always intrigued me; my first jobs were on farms, and I have loved wine ever since I started drinking it. Deciding to start a career growing wine grapes was a very easy and natural decision for me.
How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
This year will be my 16th vintage working in vineyards. I spent five years on Red Mountain learning from some of my amazing mentors and I’ve been in Walla Walla for the last 10 years.
How did you first begin working with this winery?
I was hired by North Slope Management as a viticulturist in early 2013 and I immediately began working in L’Ecole N° 41 ’s estate vineyards: Seven Hills Vineyard and Ferguson Vineyard. I took over management of their vineyards later that year, and I have been working very closely with L’Ecole ever since.
What excites you the most about the grapes you’re growing or the techniques/equipment you’re using?
The most exciting thing about growing grapes is quality custom farming; a product I get to see and taste from start to finish. Every winery I work with wants something a little different, and those nuances are always fun to see as they unfold. One of the most wonderful things about being a grape grower is knowing that you’ve planted and tended these vines for years, done everything you can to deliver the perfect grapes to the winery, and then taste the finished result in bottles years after that.
What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington wine community?
My favorite part about being in the Washington wine community is the actual community itself. This is a group of people who build each other up and are always willing to help each other out. The wines in Washington are outstanding because of the collaborative spirit that exists between all of us.
What do you think the future holds for Washington wine? Where are we headed or what trends are we seeing?
Washington wine is here to stay, and its future is still incredibly bright. We continue to offer wines that are of incredible high caliber and yet much more affordable than other regions of comparable quality. One trend that I am seeing in the industry right now is both winemakers and growers are becoming more adventurous in playing with new-to-us varietals. I think consumers will see and embrace that Washington is good at almost everything we produce and that it’s a strength, not a flaw. Cabernet will always be king but there’s also room for those odd-ball varietals that many consumers have yet to familiarize themselves with.
Your favorite food and wine pairing?
I like almost all wine and food, so my favorite food and wine pairings completely depend on the season. In the winter it’s comfort food, like tomato-based pasta and Sangiovese or meatloaf and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the spring you can find me with on the patio with Merlot, fresh asparagus, and a veggie burger. In the summer, it’s seafood and Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. In the fall, we eat my parent’s freshly butchered lamb with Syrah.
Crew Supervisor, Seven Hills Vineyard – Rafael Melgoza
What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
I worked for Blue Mountain Growers in Milton-Freewater for 23 years working as a forklift operator loading railroad cars and semis, stacker, wrapping pallets in preparation for shipping. During my last two years there, I worked as a supervisor overseeing 16 employees. My friends always spoke very highly of Seven Hills Vineyard, so I applied for a position there in 2019 and began working with the crew shortly thereafter. After a year, I moved up to irrigation and was then promoted to crew supervisor.
How long have you been working in this capacity?
I have been working as crew supervisor for two years.
What excites you the most about working in the vineyards?
What excites me the most is seeing the entire process from pruning to harvest and the change the vines and grapes go through. It’s such a joy watching the buds break, seeing the tiny green grapes turn color, and seeing them grow and get ready for harvest. Another component that truly excites me is seeing the finished product in bottle and being able to taste the wine that we helped create.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
My favorite part about my job is the training and support I can provide to both new and returning employees. It’s such a joy to be able to see the team gain confidence in their craft and increase their overall competency.
What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
Although we are seeing changes to vineyard work becoming more technology driven, I truly believe that physical people will still be needed, as there are so many aspects of our job that cannot be accomplished by a machine. We are also constantly trying to improve our processes to identify ways to become more efficient and I believe that will only continue to be streamlined in future years.
What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
There are so many small nuances to grape growing that I think wine-drinkers would love to know more about. Such as the timing of when it is ready to thin (cut) clusters, the importance of when to irrigate, and how that all ties into the final wine. Thinning clusters is such an important part of vineyard work, as that ensures that the clusters that remain on the vines improve in color and flavor.