Many varieties have gotten their due in Washington. Grenache’s time has finally arrived, with the First Annual Grenache Festival coming to Walla Walla November 3rd.

“Grenache is my favorite variety,” says Carrie Alexander, who founded in the event in collaboration with M.J. Towler, host of The Black Wine Guy Experience podcast. “Something that really excites me about Washington is how much Grenache is planted and being made in a whole variety of styles and places.”

The first hour and a half of the event will feature a seminar where 12 Grenache will be poured, almost all of them from Columbia Valley. The seminar – which is already sold out – will be moderated by Towler. Former long-time retailer Rand Sealey, who now writes Rand Sealey’s Review of Washington Wines, will provide an introduction. AK’s Mercado and Fromagerie Walla Walla will provide food.

Following the seminar, the Grenache Festival will continue with a concert by Stephen Malkmus and M. Ward. The concert will be limited to approximately 400 people.

“We wanted to incorporate both the small, Indie concert concept with the small, Indie wine grower concept,” Alexander says.

At the concert, 24 local producers will feature Grenache or Grenache Blanc-based wines. This will include some producers from Oregon.

“It’s interesting to see when you do something that you’re passionate about how many other people come out of the woodwork and are passionate about it too,” says Alexander.

The Grenache Festival will take place at The Motor Co., an event space located on the corner of Rose and Colville streets in downtown Walla Walla. Built in 1935, the building was formerly an auto shop.

Following the 2023 event in Walla Walla, Alexander and Towler plan to hold the Grenache Festival in other locations in 2024. Sonoma and New York are among the places being considered.

“Because it’s a small, curated event, I think it would be pretty easily transferable to other places,” Alexander says.

Located approximately 220 miles from Seattle, Walla Walla is a 34,000-person town that is home to a remarkable 120 wineries and tasting rooms. The November 3rd date of the Grenache Festival coincides with the valley’s Fall Release weekend, when thousands come to the valley. With the Grenache Festival, Alexander aims to draw even more.

“The hope is to also attract people from outside the area to come to this event,” she says. “I’ve already seen that people are coming from as far away as Texas to attend.”

Grenache remains an underdog variety in Washington. According to the 2017 Washington Vineyard Acreage Report, the most recent conducted, there were 212 acres of Grenache planted in Columbia Valley out of the state’s 55,445 acres at that time. (Washington currently has 60,000+ acres planted.)

In 2022, Grenache was tied for the eighth most-produced red variety. Walla Walla Valley’s plantings of Grenache are also modest, coming in at approximately 67 acres of 2,900 planted.

Still, there is no question Grenache can do exceptionally well in Columbia Valley in general and Walla Walla Valley in particular. Over the years, my highest-ever scoring wines in Columbia Valley have been Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache. That is particularly impressive considering that the production of Cabernet and Syrah dwarf Grenache. There’s also an increased interest in Grenache from winemakers.

“Newer people coming to winemaking in this state are making their own expression of the variety,” Alexander says. “I think that’s super exciting.”

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