Walla Walla’s Next Step: The SeVein Vineyard Project

 

Previous columns have argued that a critical mass of wine energy has indeed been reached in Walla Walla and it is interesting to watch ways the four groups I identified, Pioneers, Next Generation, Foreign Legion and Millennials, compete, cooperate and collectively build the region’s reputation.

Walla Walla is a farming community at heart, and probably pretty conservative. So newcomers and old timers don’t always get along. And I suspect they haven’t always got along perfectly here, either. But wine and the challenges of growing it, making it and selling it seems to have taught them the need to work together rather than squabble and the results are easy to appreciate.

I’ve been working on tracing out the multiple over-lapping human networks that I’ve observed, but I think I have only scratched the surface. The pattern of interconnections is complex and evolving. It would make a great project for a business student, human geographer or maybe an anthropologist to try to analyze the Walla Walla wine network.

The SeVein Vineyard project partners

Perhaps the biggest single indicator of the continuing dynamic interaction is the SeVeinVineyard project, which is currently being developed at the south end of the Walla Walla AVA. It shows how the different groups I have mentioned above continue to partner and invest even as they compete with each other in the marketplace.

Here is a list of partners in the project taken from the website. You can see the strong hand of the Pioneers here — they continue to shape the region’s growth —  but if you look closely you’ll see that all the elements of the complex human network are represented.

CURRENT SeVein PROPERTY OWNERS DEVELOPING VINEYARDS

When fully planted the SeVein project will increase the vineyard acreage in Walla Walla by an incredible 50 percent! Just imagine what Walla Walla will be able to do with so many more grapes! I foresee a shift to even more Walla Walla designated wines and perhaps less reliance on Columbia Valley fruit.

I suspect that the reputation of the region will grow with production, because this project seems to be about quality not just quantity. Significantly, the L’Ecole Ferguson Vineyard wine that won an International Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards came from a vineyard in the SeVein project. There is more good news to come from this ambitious initiative.

Michael Porter’s theory posited that it takes the right combination of rivalry and cooperation to make a regional industry work — that, plus insanely demanding consumers, employers and so on so that competition is a race to the top, not the bottom.  Ideally, I suppose, each new generation should raise the stakes and the expectations, and I think that’s part of the story here, although standards were very high right from the start. Walla Walla is still so young — the AVA is just 30  years old this year — but you can see why it has come so far in such a short time.

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Come back next week for my final column in this series on Walla Walla. I will examine the three remaining “pillars” of the region’s success: history, culture and “the spark.”

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3 responses

  1. It’s a stretch to say Walla Walla won’t be as reliant on Columbia Valley fruit. They are three times more likely to freeze out, grape plants are in short supply, the oldest wineries have volumes to meet and risk to spread.

    • You are right on all points, John, which is why I didn’t say that they could cut their ties to the Columbia Valley (that will never happen for the reasons you gave in your comment).

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