Last week as I was putting the finishing touches on another of my amazing articles an important piece of news was breaking in the local wine industry. Whitman Cellars of Walla Walla was taken over by the Bank of Whitman. The locks were changed, and the employees were sent home.
This broke my heart. In the past 10 years they have provided me with many fantastic bottles which I will never forget. Their Merlot was a regular favorite at my table, and a couple of years ago I bought up as much of their Narcissa as I could afford.
Now it’s all gone. Even my dear friend Sara Nelson, the super talented graphic artist who designed their label, has removed the bottle shots from her website.
From all that I read, and all I know of the situation, the bank tried everything possible to keep the popular winery from reaching this place. I know the owners, and know that they also were trying their hardest to reach a resolution up to the 11th hour.
This news follows a few recent closures that are just as devastating to our region. Last week the news was that another of my favorite wineries in the Prosser region was also closing its doors. Olsen winery, famed for its rare Trocken Ice Wine, and maker of many great wines announced that they were closing their tasting room.
Just when you think the news is bad enough, another famous winery in Walla Walla also closed its doors recently. Yellow Hawk Cellars, makers of one of the best Sangioveses that I’ve ever tasted called it quits.
It isn’t that these wineries were bad business people. No. Actually, they were good business people. It wasn’t that they made crappy wine. Actually, their wines scored high enough to bring the averages of our region up. They were pacesetters and artisans in their craft who have nothing to be ashamed of.
So, what happened? In my opinion, 2008 happened. In 2008 we were all more than happy to drink a $30 bottle of wine. It wasn’t seen as unreasonable to offer wines at $50 to $100 in a restaurant and have people shell it out.
Since those fateful days in fall of 2008 when the stock market fell, so did the people who were willing to buy those wines. What has been left is a market of new wine drinkers, who honestly don’t have an appreciation or desire to drink wines in that price bracket.
Recently I walked through a very established, high-end wine shop in Eastern Washington. This is a place that I would regularly find engraved Magnums of Cabernet Sauvignon in the $500 bottle range, and entire flights of Leonetti. Now their shelves were full of bottles under $10.
As a professional photographer I’ve seen this same phenomenon in my industry and I can fully relate to the Whitmans, the Olsens, and the Yellow Hawks. People won’t spend the money they used to on well crafted art. I’ve had several of my esteemed mentors close their doors in recent months because the phone stopped ringing two years ago.
So…What does this mean to you? Unfortunately you won’t be able to drink great local wines anymore if you don’t support the fine winemakers of our region. Personally, I’m going to drink good wines and hope you do too. On the other hand, Boones Farm tastes pretty good ice cold.