Where Do Our Grapes Come From?
When it comes to winemaking, our team (headed by 31 year old Alaina Waller) knows that being a 'jack of all trades and master of none' is not a great way to get something done.
Having grown up on a vineyard, Alaina understands the breadth of knowledge, skills, and labor that goes into cultivating the kind of world class fruit she wants to work with in the cellar. So, it’s no surprise that we tend to stay in our lane, focusing on the “making” of wine, and leaving the “growing” to the experts.
Like the vines themselves, our roots and relationships with regional viticulturalists and farmers go deep. Let’s dive in and get to know a little more about the people and places where our grapes begin their journey to your glass.
What in the hey is an AVA?
An American Vinicultural Area, or AVA, is a defined grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how the grapes within its borders are grown. So in other words, it’s kind of like a “country of origin” for grapes. This is important because the same grapes can taste dramatically different depending on where they are grown, mentioning an AVA on the label is a kind of clue that lets you know what you are in for when you purchase a bottle.
The Columbia Gorge AVA
- Designated: 2004
- Vineyards: Total vineyard acreage: 950
- Top Varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling
- Average Rainfall: 10-36 inches
The Columbia Gorge may not be a wine area you’ve even heard of - Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s Yakima, and Walla Walla have a more well-known reputation. However, the Gorge AVA is small but mighty, straddling the Columbia River and hugging the borders of both Washington and Oregon. It’s a region of strong contrasts and distinct wine styles. Stark differences in rainfall, soils, and temperatures enable growers to produce a wide range of wine varietals. Because of this, the Gorge has aptly coined the term "40 miles of grapes" because of its many micro-climates and diverse varietals. Our tasting room in Hood River is located an hour east of Portland, in the heart of Gorge wine country.
- Owner: Nathan Ziegler
- AVA: Columbia Gorge
- Evoke Varietals: Pinot Gris
Nathan Ziegler comes from a long line of farmers, like really long. A total of five generations of Ziegler's have farmed the western slopes of Underwood Mountain in Washington, just to the west of the White Salmon River valley. These OG homesteaders have been working the dirt on Underwood for so long, at this point, they are practically a part of the landscape. Our relationship with Nathan Ziegler began in 2013 with 8.5 tons of Tempranillo grapes. The family had originally decided to plant Tempranillo vines because, well, they really liked drinking Tempranillo. Lucky for them, and us, those plants are still thriving and it seems to have all worked out in the end. Although we are no longer purchasing Temp from Nathan, we were finally able to get our paws on some of his coveted Pinot Gris. The 2021 vintage is in tank now and we can’t wait to taste it.
Columbia Valley AVA
- Designated: 1984
- Vineyards: Total vineyard acreage: 60,079
- Top Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Syrah
- Average Rainfall: 6-8 inches
The Columbia Valley AVA gets its name from the river that cuts through the appellation. Encompassing more than a quarter of Washington state, the Columbia Valley is by far its largest growing region at over 11 million acres. It's home to over 99% of all of Washington’s grapevines. The valley lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, which means that it doesn’t actually see much rainfall at all. The low desert region has an arid climate with limited rainfall, which is pretty counterintuitive to the gloomy, rainy, Twilight vibes picture of WA most of us have in our heads. Almost all of Washington’s growing regions are sub-appellations of the Columbia Valley.
- Owner: Rob & Brenda Mercer
- AVA: Horse Heaven Hills
- Evoke Varietals: Chardonnay
“Creating harmony in the ecosystem of our farm, and producing wines that demonstrate the unique terroir of the Horse Heaven Hills is the highest form of art that we can accomplish.”
– Rob Mercer (5th generation farmer)
Mercer Canyons lies within the Horse Heaven Hills of eastern Washington, in the Columbia Valley AVA. The Columbia River acts as the southern border to the farm, and the hills extend as far as the eye can see in every other direction – it’s a truly breathtaking view. The Mercer family has farmed the fertile soils of this high desert plateau since 1886. However, it wasn’t until 1972, that they planted the first wine grapes in the now acclaimed AVA. The 5th generation of Mercer’s currently owns and manages an impressive 1,951 total acres of vineyard. If you were to stretch that vineyard out into a single row it would reach from Prosser, WA across the Rocky Mountains, all the way to Chicago… and leave 100 extra miles of vineyard row to tour the city.
Echo West Vineyard
- Owner: Lloyd Piercy
- AVA: Columbia Valley
- Evoke Varieties: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon
“The wonderful part of this is yet to be discovered. It’s generations beyond me. I get to be one of the pioneers, and that’s a fun place to be.” -Lloyd Piercy
Lloyd Piercy, who turned 70 this year, is a self-described adrenaline junky who originally hails from South Africa. He was a bush pilot and a firefighter in his previous lives, that is, before he "settled down" to farm his 3,600 acre ranch in Echo, Oregon in 2002. He and his wife Lois knew right from the start that the windswept and sunny Southeast slopes of their property would be the perfect terrain for wine grapes. Perched on the bluff overlooking the Umatilla River, their 39-acre vineyard began in 2004 with the first plantings of Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. They went on to plant blocks of Muscat Canelli and Orange Muscat in 2005, Zinfandel in 2006, and Pinot Noir and Carmènére in 2009. The steep terrain, 850-foot elevation, and deep volcanic soil make a unique terroir for growing hardy, full-flavored grapes. People that have discovered the fruit from Echo know that Echo has a taste, it has a flavor, it has a smell, and you can find it in the wines made from these grapes.
Waving Tree Vineyard
- Owner: The Atkins Family
- AVA: Columbia Valley
- Varietal: Sangiovese, Granache
Waving Tree is a tried and true Family operation. Terrence Atkins (father), Kimiko Atkins (daughter), Takashi Atkins (son) are all an integral part of the success of the farm and winery. The vineyards are nestled along the Columbia River beneath basalt cliffs in the community of Maryhill, WA, a region renowned for growing excellent wine grapes. Waving Tree also enjoys one of the longest growing seasons in Eastern Washington, so they are able to ripen Southern Rhone and Northern Italian varieties with consistent quality. The Columbia River has a tempering effect on the vineyard site, providing a cool breeze in summertime heat while also insulating the vines from the freeze in winter. The vines, comprised of a dozen different estate varietals, slope South towards the river, providing even sun exposure. While the sand, gravel and sedimentary soil (deposited during the Great Missoula Floods) provides excellent drainage and unencumbered root growth.
- Owner: Dan & Ron Gunkel
- AVA: Columbia Valley
- Varietal: Cab Sauv, Tannat, Syrah
Just down "the block" from Waving Tree, and nestled only 30 feet from the shores of the Columbia River, the Gunkel family has farmed the fertile lands around Maryhill, WA for three generations. Dan Gunkel of Gunkel Orchards, is one of the primary grape producers for Maryhill Winery, as well as dozens of other regional wineries, including Evoke. Gunkel has noted that their vineyards on the southern slopes of the mighty Columbia, bloom earlier and enjoy a longer growing season in the fall than inland vineyards. With warm summer days, cool nights, moderate winters and a gentle breeze, it's no wonder the Gunkel family has been successfully producing world class wine varieties for decades.