Valdemar Estates

Director of Vitculture & Winemaking, Valdemar Estates – Marie-Eve Gilla

What is your/your family’s story around your winery?
My family had a practical relationship with food and wine, but still in a French way, we always shared all meals together. There was always wine at the table, but not necessarily the best wines as my dad was not a wine geek. As a child I was the baker of the family and was always fascinated by flavors; I still remember the first time that I tasted a real ripe and flavorful tomato, a simple yet enlightening experience. Bursting aroma, and then an explosion of flavors and freshness in my mouth!

My dad was a chemical engineer who passed his love of chemistry on to me. We lived near Paris during the year but spent all our free time in our country home near Burgundy; that is how I fell in love with farming which led to an interest in viticulture. Once I started studying viticulture in Burgundy, I studied with vignerons who shared with me their fantastic wines and passion for the trade, it was not long before I decided to complete my master in viticulture with a master in winemaking and became immersed in the beautiful wines of Burgundy. I was lucky to study under Jean-Claude Fournioux, an eminent vine researcher who later wrote a book about the vine’s morphology and anatomy. He instilled in his students his passion and energy for all things vine related. Later, I worked under Nadine Gublin at the Domaine Prieur/Antonin Rodet, one of the first female oenologist in Burgundy, strong and very intelligent, she challenged the established rules and taught me not to accept the status quo.

How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
I arrived in the Northwest 30 years ago, in 1991! I came to Oregon since Pinot noir and Chardonnay were my background. I worked mainly at Argyle while also completing small projects at other wineries (Adelsheim, Amity…). The industry was minuscule at the time and there was high demand for workers in Eastern Washington, so I moved to the Yakima Valley and started working at Covey Run, which was still grower-owned at the time. I clearly remember driving my old ford escort full of my belongings from OR to WA state, not even sure that the car would make it. I got to the top of the arid hill late in the day, it was dark and there was a crazy light storm down in the valley. Lightning strikes were coming down hard and I parked my car for a minute, thinking: where the hell am I going to end up? The next day, the storm was gone, and I was delighted by the scenery with all the dry lands, orchards, and basalts bluffs. It seemed that anything could happen, the industry was in its infancy, yet some of the wines were already outstanding, a testimony to the great years ahead.

When Covey sold, I moved to Hogue and started making wine at another grower owned winery, Gordon Brothers. At Gordon we turned heads with an old vine Cabernet Sauvignon which ranked first against Napa, French, and WA Cabs at a blind trade tasting in San Francisco. Fast forward to 2001 when I met a group of investors who wanted to start a small, premium winery called Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla. There I was able to use my experience with the Columbia Valley vineyards and source grapes from the best growers to consistently make Euro-centric and highly rated wines. I was with Forgeron for 18 years, building the wines and the brand, evolving from winemaker to part owner, then managing partner, before finally opening a satellite tasting room in Woodinville. In 2018, I heard about Valdemar opening a new winery in Wala Walla and was immediately interested by the project. The Martinez Bujanda family started making wine in Rioja, Spain in 1889, has a long history and a wealth of knowledge in winemaking and viticulture. I recognized the opportunity for a great alignment and applied for the winemaking position. I now have the means and the tools to make great wines, as well as the support of a dedicated team, and of course a fabulous place to work at!

What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine. Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
The future of WA state is bright. Although we will have to deal with more disease pressure in the vineyards due to a higher planting concentration, the expertise in viticulture is also increasing. Our state is more hospitable and attractive than it was thirty years ago which allows us to bring in big players. Also, not all the premium sites in WA have been singled out and developed yet, so there will be an increase of site diversity, and even better-quality wines. We have within our state some very warm areas as well as cooler, higher altitude locations. The development of the cooler site vineyards will offer unique opportunities to produce different, focused, and appealing wines.
The future of the wine industry is also about transition. Our industry is getting creative with new packaging (wines in cans are getting a larger portion of shelf space) and new ways to sell wine (due to Covid, our industry is finally embracing online sales and promotions). This is very important to stay relevant in a world of so many choices (ciders, wine spritzers…). Additionally, I see a trend for wines showing lower alcohol and oak impact, which allows the purity of the fruit to shine. Our goal at Valdemar is to create fresh, textured, balanced, and vibrant wines. I also love to develop a long, enticing length in the mouth which is the signature of a “grand vin”.

What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Wine with wine! Seriously, I am still a baker, I love to bake quiche and make crepes. I also enjoy being creative with salads, adding goat cheese and other tasty ingredients to bring delicious flavors. I have kept my fascination for wholesome flavors, and love to experiment with spices.
One of my favorite paring is raw oysters with a cool Sancerre, no fuss, just pure flavors.


Emily Star Poole

General Manager, North Slope Management – Sadie Drury

What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing?
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 since I started drinking it. Deciding to start a career growing grapes was a very easy and natural decision for me.

How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
2021 is my 14th vintage working in vineyards. I spent five years on Red Mountain learning from a few of my amazing mentor and I’ve been in Walla Walla for the last nine years.

What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community? My favorite part about being in the Washington State Wine Community is the actual community itself. Everyone I meet in the Washington Wine Industry is amazing.  This is a community of people who build each other up and help each other out. The wines in Washington are outstanding because of the collaboration that happens between everyone in the community. I have felt welcomed and at home since my first job in the industry.

What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine. Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
Washington Wine is here to stay and its future is bright. Washington continues to offer wines that are high quality and more affordable than other regions. With this in mind, I think Washington will only become more and more well-known and we will continue to see growth. One trend that I am seeing in the industry right now is winemakers and growers are becoming more confident playing with new-to-us varietals. I think that 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 haven’t heard from.

What is your favorite wine and food 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. 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 Sauv Blanc or Rose. In the fall, we eat my parent’s freshly butchered Lamb with Syrah.


Vineyard Manager, North Slope Management – Lupe Gomez

What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
I moved to the Walla Walla Valley in 1976.  I worked for various employers and started working with grape vines in 1990. I started my employment with Tom Waliser and Norm McKibben in the mid-1990’s.  I worked for Norm at Whiskey Creek Vineyard in Waitsburg, WA working on irrigation and as a tractor driver.  I also worked in the apples Norm owned back then.  My time would be spent half-time in the apples and half-time in the vineyards.

How long have you been working in this capacity?
In 1997, I planted the expanded Seven Hills Vineyard and Pepper Bridge Vineyard.  Norm offered me full-time year-round employment as the foreman of Seven Hills Vineyard in 2000. I have since help plant more than a dozen vineyards in the SeVein development.

What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community?My favorite part of this job has been planting vineyards and watching the vines grow and come to life. I also enjoy Seeing the grapes as they change colors to prepare for harvest time. We pick only the best grapes for winemaking and we are recognized as having high-quality grapes for the customers we serve.

What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I believe that we will continue to be seen as a state that provides high quality wines.  I also believe that will continue to lead and pave the way for future generations.  We continue to focus on new ideas and ways to be more efficient with the work we do out in the vineyard that will improve the quality of clusters we pick each harvest.

What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
A fact I can share about my job that wine-drinkers might not know is the skill and confidence I have when working with each vine.  I know the number of buds each vine needs to produce beautiful clusters that will be sufficient for the winemaker to use when harvest comes around so that wine-drinkers are able to experience a high-quality wine produced by high-quality grapes that have received TLC!

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