What makes 11 winemakers make wine

“If we don’t make mistakes, we aren’t pushing our boundaries hard enough.”

— Chad Johnson, Dusted Valley

To celebrate Walla Walla’s 40th anniversary, we asked our wineries about their philosophies, mantras, and approaches to winemaking. What makes our winemakers make wine? What advice have they gotten over the years, and is there any advice they want to share with those who are new to the industry? 
Their answers have taken us on journeys, recent and long ago, into the origin stories of the Walla Walla Valley. The beginnings and the becomings. We’re excited to share our winery’s words with you in this brand new column and platform, The Walla Walla Way. In this first series, we asked our wineries: What makes you make wine? What keeps you in it? What’s your philosophy, approach, or mantra to making wine? 


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1. “When I started Lagana in 2013, my goal was simple: create terroir-driven wines that showcase the unique characteristics of each varietal. Fast forward to today, and that’s still our central goal. Find what you love, do the very best you can, and have fun doing it.” — Jason Lagana, Lagana Cellars

2. “Call us mavericks, rebels, or even crazy, but we like to walk the edge and push ourselves everyday. If we don’t make mistakes along the way, we aren’t pushing our boundaries hard enough. Make the wines you like to drink, because if you can’t sell them, you can at least enjoy drinking them. The rewards always outweigh the risks: when family works together, the American Dream can turn into a living reality.” — Chad Johnson, Dusted Valley

3. “There’s just something about being able to be outside all day and getting dirty, but in a fun way. You’re sweaty. You’re filthy. You’re exhausted all day, but you feel like you’re actually doing something. Life has a funny way of delivering you right where you need to be, when you need to be there. What I love about this business is that there is always some uncertainty in it. By that I mean, there is no black or white. You live in the gray areas.” — Brooke Delmas Robertson, SJR Vineyard.

4. “For me, it’s all about each site and the personality and individuality of each site. That has been my goal since Day One. That’s what I am completely obsessed by. I am always trying to push the boundaries. Push and push and push and push. Trying to really see how far we can go in terms of creating true vin de terroir, a wine of terroir.” Christophe Baron, Cayuse

5. “I designed the vineyard when I was in college. It was fun—I did everything myself—installed the irrigation, drove the tractor every morning, sprayed. It was my height of glory. There is no difference between the piece of land, the wine, the winery and the label. They are just a continuance. Rather than making a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, the goal is to use the varieties as a painter’s palette of color, to lift up the site to its greatest potential, to where it is one of the great estates of the world 100 years from now.” — Chris Figgin, FIGGINS

6. “For me, winemaking is an opportunity to learn more, and certainly to find out what I know, which I already knew was not enough. The best you can do is to try and take what is given to you and hand it back as unblemished as possible.” — Doug Frost, Echolands Winery

7. “I don’t care if my wine tastes like cherry or blackberry. What I do care about is, is there a little bit of magic in it? A little bit of soul? That’s all I’m looking for. I only work with vineyard sources that have a voice, that have something to say. I’m not going to lie and say that being different has made this easier. But what mark do you want to leave in this world, and how to do you want to live your life? For me, I have something to say, and my wines have something to say, which I hope is a low-alcohol, low-intervention window into the soul of the vineyard.” — Keith Johnson, Devium Wines

8. “It all starts in the vineyard. The vineyard people are the faces behind the wines. They are the unsung heroes. If the vineyard team and Mother Nature all work in conjunction and do their job right, winemakers already have great wine before they even touch it.” — Brittany Komm, Sagemoor Vineyards

9. “We believe in the power of community and its ability to uplift and unite. Through our wines, we foster a sense of togetherness, encouraging others to build connections, share stories, and create moments of joy. Respecting our heritage is more than honoring the past; it’s about carrying the torch forward, igniting the passion for winemaking in generations to come. As founding wineries that put Walla Walla on the map, we embrace our role as stewards of tradition and innovation, inspiring others to find their own path and leave a mark in the world.” — Marty Clubb, L’Ecole No. 41

10. ‘You’re always welcome.’ This is what Norm McKibben says every time he visits with guests. As our founder, he has always been the model on which we base our hospitality. In short, our guiding light is, ‘What would Norm do?’”  Pepper Bridge Winery

11. “It’s the community for us. It is such a small community, yet we all lean on each other to support each other. The community also is helping put Walla Walla on the map with steady striving to make better and better wine from our area.” — Sidney Rice, Dossier Wines

We hope you enjoyed getting insight into what makes our Walla Walla winemakers and grape growers do what they love. Stay tuned for our next installment of The Walla Walla Way, celebrating 40 years of making wine and making dreams come true.

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What makes 11 winemakers make wine • The Walla Walla Way