This is part of a report on 2009 Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend. Download a complete .pdf copy of the report here.
One of the most exciting things about traveling to a fast-growing wine region on a regular basis is having the opportunity to sample a new winery’s first releases, talk to the winemaker, and hear his or her story.
Rasa Vineyards was founded by brothers Billo and Pinto Naravane whose story is as compelling as their inaugural wines. Billo – who serves as winemaker – received an applied mathematics degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an electrical engineering degree from Stanford University. His brother Pinto similarly has a bachelors and masters degree in electrical engineering. After working in the technology sector for a number of years, Billo described himself as “burnt out” and so decided to turn his attention elsewhere. With a long-standing interest in wine, Billo decided to learn how to make it.
While Billo studied at the University of California, Davis, he and Pinto began considering where to establish their vineyard. While Napa and Sonoma were discussed, the costs per acre were prohibitive. They soon turned their focus to the Walla Walla Valley, intrigued by the area’s rapidly evolving wine scene. After much exploration, the brothers decided to purchase twenty-eight acres in the “The Rocks” region in the southern portion of the AVA (this area was first established by Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards). The Naravanes’ initial plan is to plant nine acres, principally to Syrah and Roussanne although additional varieties are being considered.
In determining a name for the winery, the Naravanes turned to their uncle who speaks Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, the word ‘rasa’ translates roughly to ‘terroir’ – a French term that lacks an American equivalent. Terroir encompasses all aspects that go into the wine residing in the bottle – such as soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques. Terroir-driven wines are, quite simply, the holy grail of winemaking, giving the wine a ‘sense of place.’ It is what the Naravane brothers seek at Rasa Vineyards.
While the Naravanes are establishing their estate vineyard, they intend to continue sourcing about half their fruit from vineyards throughout the state in the future. The fruit in Rasa’s initial wines come from impeccable sources, including Les Collines, DuBrul, Minnick, and Kiona. In crafting his wines, Naravane focuses on the gentle care of the grapes and the juice, minimizing pump overs and exposure to oxygen. His goal is to avoid harsh tannins, saying he is searching for “cashmere instead of wool.”
Rasa Vineyards inaugural releases are nothing short of breathtaking. The winery currently has released two wines, one called QED and one called Principia. Both names are callouts to the brothers’ backgrounds in mathematics. QED stands for ‘Quod Erat Demonstratum’ that is often written in abbreviation at the end of a mathematical proof. It means essentially ‘I’ve proven what I set out to prove.’ Principia is named after Isaac Newton’s famous work ‘Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.’ Latin for ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’, the work is often referred to simply as Principia. The Principia is a blend of Syrah from five different vineyards. This is a wine that needs time to mature and show itself fully, but the results will be spectacular. Billo Naravane says, “My heart is in this wine.”
Billo is a Renaissance man of sorts. When not focusing on making wines, he paints and plays the blues. He teaches viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. He is also studying for the Master of Wine exam that he hopes to take this summer.
While Rasa Vineyards’ wines are currently made at Artifex, a custom crush facility just north of downtown, the Naravanes’ long-term plan is to have their own production facility and tasting room. Rasa Vineyards will be bottling the second vintage of the QED in March. This wine will be released in June. The winery also has plans to release varietal bottlings of Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Rasa Vineyards produces approximately 1,300 cases annually.
All barrel samples at 55 degrees.
Rasa Les Collines Vineyard Block 39 Syrah WWV 2009 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: NR (Not Rated) Wine has just finished primary fermentation and has not yet gone through malolactic fermentation. It shows beautiful, pure fruit expression along with violet aromas and tastes. This will be a primary component of the 2009 vintage QED.
Rasa Grenache Minnick Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: NR (Not Rated) An exotic, spicy, peppery nose along with strong floral aromatics and red fruit. A fascinating texture.
Rasa Mourvedre Minnick Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: NR (Not Rated) Crazy fresh ground white pepper on an extremely aromatic nose that is also marked by game aromas. Tart and intense on the palate.
Rasa QED Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample (Neutral Oak) $NA
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Les Collines fruit shines through with floral aromas, game, earth, pepper, and streaks of blueberry. Coats the palate with exhilarating game flavors. Predominantly Les Collines Block 35 Syrah. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier. Neutral and new oak to be blended and released in 2010.
Rasa Vineyards QED Walla Walla Valley 2008 Barrel Sample (New Oak) $NA
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark and inky. Nose marked by floral aromas, earth, and game. A distinct spice component comes out on this wine compared to the neutral oak sample. Flavors of earth and fruit. Oak mainly shows up on the feel on the palate. Neutral and new oak to be blended and released in 2010.
Rasa Vineyards Syrah Kiona Vineyard Red Mountain 2008 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark and inky in color. Beautiful floral aromatics pair with earth and game. Quite distinct in terms of nose and taste compared with the other Syrah sampled. More tannic and rich. Will be used for a single bottling as well as a small percentage of the QED.
Rasa Vineyards Merlot DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Lightly expressive oak aromas along with pleasing herbal notes on a nose that shows a lot of espresso. On the taste…Wow! Intense and packed with power with an extended finish marked by mint leaf. Will be used as a single bottling and also blended into the Cabernet. Aged in French oak (50% new). To be released in 2010.
Rasa Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2008 Barrel Sample $NA
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) A wild nose that shows a lot of mint, eucalyptus, herbal aromas, and a touch of bell pepper. Almost seems more like a Cabernet Franc in some respects. A lot of fruit and chocolate tastes on a restrained palate. To be released in 2010.
Rasa Vineyards QED Walla Walla Valley 2007 $50
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Outrageous game and violet aromas pop out on a nose that shows a lot of Les Collines Vineyard elements. Intense and powerful on the palate with a beguiling texture. Give 2-3 years. 94% Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 3% Mourvedre. Les Collines, Lewis, Seven Hills, and Minnick vineyards. Aged seventeen months in French oak (20% new). 14.8% alcohol. 640 cases produced. Sampled at 60 degrees.
Rasa Vineyards Principia Walla Walla Valley 2007 $85
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Beautiful spice and earth aromas on a nose accented by pepper. Lithe and beautifully balanced. Intensely flavored with focused fruit that dances along the palate. An effortless, persistent finish that glides and glides. Will have a long, long life in front of it. Give three to five years. 100% Syrah from five different vineyards (Les Collines, Lewis, Portteus, Double River, and Seven Hills). Aged twenty-three months in French oak (30% new). 14.9% alcohol. 70 cases produced.