Sally Johnson Blum The Walls and Páxša, Walla Walla Valley

Sally Johnson Blum, The Walls and Páxša, Walla Walla Valley. Courtesy SJB.

Walla Walla Valley’s The Walls and Pášxa wineries have hired Sally Johnson Blum as executive winemaker. Blum has already started at the position.

“I knew she’d be a tremendous fit culturally for what we’re trying to create, and I knew we would continue to make amazing wines,” says Mike Martin, owner and founder of The Walls and Pášxa, pronounced ‘Pahk-sha.’ “She’s the real deal.”

Johnson Blum, who was also recently hired by Mullan Road as winemaker, graduated from the University of Michigan and has a master’s degree in winemaking from University of California, Davis. She worked at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Kenwood, California for 8 years as winemaker and spent another 15 as winemaker at Pride Mountain in St. Helena.

Johnson Blum had a connection to the winery through The Walls/Páxša new general manager Ben Kaehler. Kaehler, hired in July, spent nearly seven years as general manager of Lemelson Vineyards in, Carlton, Oregon.

“I had deferred the decision on a winemaker until we hired a new general manager, as I wanted them to be involved,” says Martin. He says he was impressed by Johnson Blum’s experience.

“I’ve always been a fan of Pride Mountain wines, the power and elegance of them.”

At the The Walls and Pášxa, Johnson Blum will work with Suzanne Harryman, who was recently promoted from assistant to associate winemaker. Harryman joined the winery in 2020.

“I’ll be there to mentor her and spend time with her in the vineyards,” Johnson Blum says.

Johnson Blum makes wine for a number of wineries. In addition to her new roles at The Walls, Páxša, and Mullan Road, she is winemaker at Tamber Bey in Calistoga, California. She’s made wine for Schoolhouse Vineyards in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley for over a decade. She makes wines for CourAvant in St. Helena as well as a new winery in Oakville, called J. Ranch. She’s also started making wines for her own, yet-to-be-named brand.

The Walls and Pášxa offered a unique opportunity, however. “There has been something missing from my portfolio of clients so far, which is Syrah,” says Johnson Blum. “I love making Syrah. At Pride, it was always my favorite wine to make.”

Johnson Blum says there were other parts of the appeal. “The wineries have great fruit sources, and the facility is very well-designed to produce really high quality wine.”

Mike Martin founded The Walls in 2014. The winery, which focuses in large part on Bordeaux and Rhône varieties and blends, sources fruit from Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, and Horse Heaven Hills. The winery also has several estate vineyards.

Martin purchased Rockgarden Vineyard from Buty in 2020. (Buty closed in 2022.). The vineyard is located in the Rocks District, a sub-appellation of Walla Walla Valley known for its single soil series. The winery purchased French Creek Vineyard in Yakima Valley in 2021.

Pášxa started in the 2018 vintage and focuses on Rhône varieties from Walla Walla Valley. Fruit for these wines largely comes from estate vineyards.

Todd Alexander served as winemaker at The Walls and Pášxa from 2019 until earlier this year. Alexander continues as winemaker at Force Majeure and WeatherEye. He also has a number of other personal projects in the Northwest and beyond.

In addition to the two wineries, Martin also owns Passatempo Taverna, an Italian cuisine-focused restaurant in Walla Walla. The restaurant opened in 2016.

This article has been updated.

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