Richard Funk and Anita Funk moved to Walla Walla from Montana in 1991. Upon arriving, Richard Funk took up work as an Environmental Health Specialist for the Walla Walla County Health Department. The position gave him the opportunity to interact with many of the valley’s winemakers. These same winemakers would eventually help him get his start in the wine business.

Why did they help him? Because Richard Funk is the proverbial nice guy. How nice? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to see him and Bob Betz get into a nice fight. No one could possibly win.

Funk exudes enthusiasm, charm, and most of all passion about wine. Of course, all of this would just be window dressing if his Saviah Cellars wines didn’t deliver. But deliver they do. Saviah Cellars consistently crafts some of the highest quality wines at some of the most competitive prices in Washington. And Richard Funk does it all with a smile.

Saviah Cellars was founded in 2000. The winery is named after a family name from Anita’s great grandmother. Saviah had its first release in 2000 and has grown over the last ten years to ten thousand cases annually.

Like many Washington wineries, Saviah has spent a good deal of effort of late establishing estate vineyards. Funk teamed up with the Brown family (Watermill Winery) in 2001 after he was approached by Ron Brown about planting a vineyard. Since that time, Funk has planted six different estate sites. These vineyards are in prime valley locations, such as two sites in ‘The Rocks’ region and three near Seven Hills (both, I should add, are considered occupied areas by this writer).

Funk says of the estate vineyards, “The evolution of our Estate vineyard program has been enabled wholeheartedly with our relationship with the Brown family – Ron, Leonard, Nancy, and Bob. They hired me in 2005 to help them start Watermill Winery which was a huge opportunity to have an even more active role in planning and selecting the stock for the subsequent vineyards…I truly appreciate and enjoy the vineyard aspect more than any other thing I do.”

In addition to planting numerous estate vineyards, Saviah also completed a new building expansion prior to the 2009 harvest. While the previous facility was fairly small and required moving one thing to get at another, the new space gives the winery considerable space. Funk says he now has room to increase to 15,000 cases, with the vast majority of this dedicated to The Jack and his relatives (see below).

While the extra space is helpful, Funk still says, “The biggest impact on the quality of my winemaking is the new estate vineyards…The wines in the barrel right now from the 2009 vintage are exceptional and a step in the right direction, confirming the old theory, great wines are grown in the vineyard.”

Saviah Cellars’ wines have always provided excellent value – for example, you cannot find a better Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $28 than the one below. However, like every other winery in the state, Saviah has not been immune from the downturn in the economy. This is where Funk’s decision way back when to devote a substantial part of the winery’s production to the its value-priced wine – The Jack – has paid dividends.

With an eye catching label and a recession friendly price point, The Jack accounts for more than half of the winery’s total production. While the price has crept up a few dollars to $18 the past few years, the wine can frequently be found on sale making it a recession favorite.

Capitalizing on The Jack’s success, Saviah has recently expanded The Jack brand to include two additional wines. In August, the winery released The Jack of Hearts, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Later this year, The Jack of Diamonds, a Cabernet Sauvignon, will be released as well as well.

Funk says of The Jack program, “Having the ability to really cherry pick the best barrels from the vintage for our high end wines and blend the others for The Jack program allows us to maintain consistent quality year in and year out in both levels.” In today’s economy, Funk says that being able to provide quality at a reasonable price point has been a savior. “Thank goodness for The Jack!” Funk says with a laugh – and a smile.

Saviah Cellars Star Meadows White Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $20
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Almost completely clear in color. Nose is marked by pear, citrus, banana, and tropical fruit. Fresh and fruit-filled on a crisp, clean palate. Very well done. 53% Sauvignon Blanc, 47% Semillon. Stillwater Creek and Rosebud vineyards. Aged 7 months in neutral French oak. 14.1% alcohol. 225 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Chardonnay Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $25
Rating: + (Good) Hay, spice, and light buttery aromas on a moderately aromatic but pleasing nose. Lots of apple flavors on a very clean, evenly balanced wine. 100% Chardonnay. Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Aged 9 months in French oak (25% new). 14.1% alcohol. 224 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Malbec Walla Walla Valley 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) Pleasing varietal aromas of spiced plums and pepper jump out on the nose. Palate shows a lot of fruit and is beautifully balanced. A bit tart on the finish but should even out with some additional age. Seems to show a bit less oak influence than recent vintages. 100% Malbec. Watermill Estate and McClellan Estate vineyards. Aged in French oak (40% new). 14.1% alcohol. 243 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Une Vallee Walla Walla Valley 2008 $32
Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatic nose with plum, spice, and black fruit. A gorgeous palate that shows deft balance with abundant cherry and plum flavors. One of the best vintages made of this consistently excellent wine. Give 6-12 months. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon (Pepper Bridge and McClellan Vineyards), 38% Merlot (Seven Hills Vineyard), and 6% Cabernet Franc. Aged 17 months in French oak (60% new). 14.1% alcohol. 341 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Laurella Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2006 $35
Rating: * (Excellent) A compelling, aromatic nose with coffee, chocolate, cranberries, licorice, and a touch or earth. Tart and seamlessly put together on the palate. 51% Sangiovese (Seven Hills Vineyard), 33% Cabernet Franc (Stillwater Creek Vineyard), and 16% Merlot (Seven Hills Vineyard). Aged 21 months in French oak 50% new). 14.1% alcohol. 144 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Rating: * (Excellent) A very pretty nose with mocha, licorice, black fruit, and earth. A silky, fruit-filled palate that is beautifully balanced. An extremely long finish caps off this wine that punches well above its weight class. Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, and McClellan Estate vineyards. Aged 20 months in French oak (50% new). 14.1% alcohol. 640 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars The Jack Columbia Valley 2008 $18
Rating: + (Good) Light in color. An enjoyable nose with smoke, toast, floral notes, and red fruit. A straightforward, easy drinker on the palate. 88% Merlot (Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley; Milbrandt Vineyard, Columbia Valley; Stone Ridge, Columbia Valley); 4% Cabernet Sauvignon (McClellan Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley); 4% Cabernet Franc (McClellan Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley); 2% Syrah (Lewis Vineyard, Yakima Valley); 2% Petite Verdot (Stillwater Creek Vineyard). Aged in American oak (30% new). 14.1% alcohol. 5,700 cases produced.

Saviah Cellars Estate Syrah Barrel Sample 2009
Rating: NR (Not Rated) Breathtaking aromatics of violets, lavender, game, and rich fruit. The nose is so compelling it’s hard to get past them to take a sip. Delivers on the palate with tart, pure fruit flavors.