Takes winemaking position in West Kelowna

Burgundy-born Marie-Eve Gilla made her first Washington wine in 1992, a year after moving to the US. Now, it’s possible she has made her last.

This summer, Gilla accepted the position of winemaker at Frind Estate Winery in West Kelowna, British Columbia. She is in the midst of her first harvest.

“I looked at Willamette Valley. I looked at California. I looked at Washington, and I visited all those places,” Gilla says of her search for a new position.

What made her decide on Okanagan Valley?

“I immediately fell in love with the scenery and the culture,” Gilla says. “Everything here has a taste of both my home countries (US and France). There are immense lakes and beautiful mountains. Back in town, I can hear parents speaking French as well as many other languages to their kids at the park. The culture is very diverse.”

Gilla was also drawn by Okanagan Valley’s rising star status.

“Its potential for quality reminds me very much of eastern Washington 20 years ago, yet the fruit is different, as it ripens later and seems to have more tension and definitely thicker skins,” Gilla says.

Frind is one of the largest vineyard owners in the Okanagan according to Gilla, and its plantings are expanding. Frind is investing in new estate vineyards and already has an abundance of equipment to make top quality wine.

“We are an all-women team and are having a great time,” Gilla says. “I also get to exchange winemaking practices with the diverse pool of winemakers – English, Australians, Quebecois, and even French from the area.”

Gilla started out in Washington as winemaker at Covey Run Winery in 1992. She subsequently spent two years as assistant winemaker at Hogue Cellars and then another four-plus as winemaker at Gordon Brothers (now Gordon Estate).

In 2001, Gilla, along with a group of investors, launched Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla Valley. She would spend 17 years at the company. During that time, Gilla established herself as, among other things, one of Washington’s premier Chardonnay producers.

Given her Burgundian roots, the variety has always been near and dear to her heart. Few people talk about Chardonnay with more passion. Gilla also made this site’s 2009 Wine of the Year.

In 2018, Gilla joined Valdemar Estatesa new winery founded by a sixth generation Spanish winemaking family. As director of winemaking and viticulture, she helped get the winery launched and on its feet before leaving at the end of 2021.

At Frind, Gilla will be responsible for crafting wines made from Chardonnay (of course), Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other varieties. Frind also has a robust sparkling wine program.

I have long said that Marie-Eve Gilla was a state treasure for Washington. Her experience coming from France and working such a long time in the state – particularly at a time when Washington’s wine industry was miniscule – gave her a unique perspective. Gilla also witnessed a great deal of change in the state’s industry.

“We’ve seen Washington being like a child and then being a teenager trying to find themselves,” Gilla says. “Now it’s mature.”

Perhaps it is fitting then that Gilla lets the state continue on its path while she goes on a new one. Washington may have lost a state treasure, but the young and growing Okanagan gains a winemaker who not only brings decades of experience making wine at a very high level, but also has a distinctive voice that comes through in her wines. That voice, so sweet for so long in Washington, will now be singing in Okanagan Valley.

Update: Between when I interviewed Marie-Eve for this article and it was published, she changed positions from Frind Estate Winery to Nostalgia Wines in Oliver, B.C.

Images courtesy of Marie-Eve Gilla.