Listening to the echoes of Walla Walla Valley’s Echolands

By |2024-03-21T10:42:51-07:00August 18th, 2023|

Echolands Winery Walla Walla Valley“I certainly don’t think the business of a winemaker is to add something to the fruit,” says Doug Frost. “The best you can do is to try and take what is given to you and hand it back as unblemished as possible.”

This is the guiding principle of Echolands, a winery Frost founded in 2018 with businessman Brad Bergman. The name is a reference to the Greek nymph Echo, who could only repeat words spoken to her.

Frost has spent his life in the wine industry. He started in restaurants in 1970 at age 14, washing dishes. By 20, he was bartending and shortly thereafter was writing wine lists. By age 26, he was a wholesaler/importer.

“I’ve been neck-deep in it ever since,” Frost says.

That is not an overstatement. Frost has written books on wine, created and hosted an Emmy-winning TV series, and founded a prominent wine competition. Oh, and he is also one of three people in the world to pass the examinations for Master Sommelier (1991) and Master of Wine (1993).

Frost has spent a lifetime selling wine, writing about it, educating people, and talking about the subject. That left one thing to do. Make it.

“I will freely admit that I was drawn by the community”

Our story begins in the mid-1980s. In his job as a wholesaler, Frost made a trip to Washington wine country, stopping in the Tri-Cities and then continuing on to Walla Walla.

Doug Frost, MS/MW, Echolands

Doug Frost. Photo courtesy of Echolands.

“I had tasted a Woodward Canyon 1981 Cab, and thought, ‘I need this wine,’” Frost recalls.

At the time, Washington’s wine industry was barely a blip on the radar. What Frost had tasted was actually the first commercial vintage from the second winery in Walla Walla Valley.

In subsequent decades, Frost, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, travelled back and forth to Walla Walla for both professional and personal reasons. Come 2017, a friend asked him if he wanted to go in on a piece of vineyard land he was purchasing.

“It was just a vanity thing where it’s like, ‘I’m gonna have like four rows of Cab. Maybe I’ll make a little wine,’” Frost says.

After that opportunity fell through, he immediately received a call from Norm McKibben. McKibben is the founder Pepper Bridge Winery and a managing partner in SeVein Vineyards, a sprawling, 2,700-acre property in the southern section of Walla Walla Valley. McKibben said he would make Frost a deal on a piece of land.

In January of 2018, Frost and Bergman, who had met supporting local Kansas City charities,  signed papers to purchase 50 acres of land in SeVein. While for Frost the intrigue of making wine was part of the appeal, there was another driver.

“I will freely admit that I was drawn by the community,” he says. “It was a big part of that decision-making process.”

“I felt like there was an opportunity to make wine in an elegant style”

What started out as potentially a few rows in a friend’s vineyard quickly blossomed into something much larger. Fellow Master Sommelier Greg Harrington (Gramercy Cellars) convinced Frost that if he was going to make wine, he should do so right away rather than waiting for his vineyard to come on-line. Harrington also recommended Taylor Oswald, who had been working at Mark Ryan Winery as an enologist, as winemaker.

In 2018, Frost and Bergman sourced fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard, which is located close to the land they purchased. They also got fruit from Les Collines Vineyard, located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, with Oswald making the wine.

Frost didn’t have winemaking experience, though he had consulted for countless winemakers during the process. However, given his background as an MS/MW, he had a strong take on the wines he wanted to make.

“I felt like there was an opportunity to make wine in an elegant style that was not really being focused upon,” says Frost. “Picking earlier, trying to keep our alcohols lower, trying to preserve the acidity where we could, and backing off the oak.”

Fate dealt him a favorable hand for his first vintage. 2018 is considered one of the better vintages in Washington in the last decade.

“I always joke that 2018 was the kind of vintage that an idiot could make wine, and he did!” Frost says with his ever-present, self-deprecating sense of humor. “It’s been a steep learning curve in many ways.”

“We needed to get higher in elevation, and we needed to get cooler and wetter”

Echolands Walla Walla Valley

Site of Echolands future winery and vineyard in Walla Walla Valley. Photo courtesy of Echolands.

Come 2019, Frost and Bergman planted 23-acres of the land they purchased. An additional three acres have subsequently been planted.

They named the vineyard Taggart, after Frost’s mother’s maiden name. Her brother, Gene Taggart, was the person who introduced Frost to wine.

“He poured me the first glass of wine I ever had: Louis Martini Special Select Pinot Noir 1968,” Frost says. “Obviously memorable.”

The next step was to find another piece of land to plant a second vineyard and to build a winery. Frost had ideas what he was looking for.

“I knew that we needed to get higher in elevation, and we needed to get cooler and wetter,” he says.

Oswald found the perfect place in the Upper Mill Creek area of the valley. Elevations at the site range from 1,200 to 1,800 feet above sea level, with the latter quite high by the valley’s standards. The proximity to the Blue Mountain provides ample rainfall. The site is 341-acres, with expansive views overlooking the Blue Mountains and Walla Walla Valley.

“When we walked the property, we were just blown away by the beauty of the place and the opportunity to have a 360-degree view,” Frost says.

Echolands is now in the midst of constructing a winery. The building will be 26,000 square feet and will include fermentation and barrel storage space as well as a tasting room.

The winery, which was designed by Soderstrom Architects in Portland, Oregon, is tentatively slated to open in spring of 2024. The building will have plenty of windows to provide views in all directions. The goal, however, was to have a modest design.

“I want it to be a place that’s fun to visit and not imposing in some way,” Frost says.

“It’s really pushing the limits of elevation”

Echolands building designAs Echolands gets ready to take the next step in its evolution, there are other changes as well. Earlier this year, Oswald left the winery. Frost says he left his mark.

“Taylor was an absolutely crucial part of the team,” he says. “I feel like we really fed off each other’s ideas and notions of how best to proceed.”

The winery subsequently hired Brian Rudin. Rudin brings extensive experience in the Washington wine industry. Most recently, he was the founding winemaker at Canvasback, the Washington brand for Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards. For Rudin, a big part of the draw to Echolands was the opportunity to work with Frost.

“Doug is a master of talking up about wine rather than talking at or talking down,” Rudin says.

Echolands plans to start planting its vineyard in Upper Mill Creek in the spring of 2024. The site, which sits between Bledsoe-McDaniels and FIGGINS, will be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Grenache Blanc. Rudin is bullish about the property.

“This is a game changer I believe in the valley,” he says. “It’s really pushing the limits of elevation.”

The winery’s sweeping views, from the Blue Mountains south to SeVein and west all the way to Rattlesnake Mountain on a clear day, will offer far more than just an aesthetic experience. “We will be able to literally just point everywhere our grapes come from, and I think that’s so powerful as a wine educational tool,” Rudin says.

“I just want to make really, really good wines”

The Upper Mill Creek area is primed to become the next big tourist area in Walla Walla Valley. There have long been wineries there, but soon there will be a critical mass.

FIGGINS is nearing completion of its winery. Walla Walla Vintners is similarly finishing work on its facility. Bledsoe-McDaniels purchased the àMaurice winery and vineyard in 2022 and has renovated it. Finally, Jackson Family purchased property to plant a vineyard in 2022. The area will also be considered for sub-appellation status.

“I love that we’re in a neighborhood that’s suddenly vibrant and dynamic,” Frost says.

One of the goals of Echolands is to be accessible, both in terms of the wines and the physical space of the winery. Prices are modest given the level of quality, ranging from $35 to $52. The winery will also be open to the general public as opposed to restricted to mailing list or club members.

“The wines, it’s not like they are entry level, but they’re not so lofty that they have the feel of exclusiveness. I don’t really want that,” says Frost. “I just want to make really, really good wines, and I want people to be able to buy them and drink them.”

So far, that mission has been a resounding success. The 2019 vintage played directly into the style of wines that Echolands wants to make – fresh and with higher acidity. They are exciting, vivid wines that take some time in the bottle or in the glass to fully get going, but once they do they deliver impressive purity.

The Echolands wines also have that ever-elusive sense of place that defines great wines the world over. If you listen closely enough, you just might hear the echo of the Walla Walla Valley.

NB: The wine reviews below were published March 31, 2023. Use Wine Search to see other Echolands reviews.

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