Atelier Freewater Walla Walla Valley

Carrie Alexander, Atelier Freewater by Richard Duval.

Building will be shared tasting room and event space for Todd Alexander’s wines, others

Todd and Carrie Alexander are opening Atelier Freewater in Milton-Freewater, a town on the Oregon side of Walla Walla Valley. The facility will be a tasting room and event space for the Alexanders as well as other entrepreneurs.

“The idea is that we’ll pour Todd’s wines from all of his projects,” says Carrie Alexander. “But we will also curate some special bottlings from producers that we personally know, like, and enjoy from all over – France, Spain, Oregon, Washington, California, what have you.”

Todd Alexander is winemaker and director at Force Majeure, which has a winery and tasting room a few miles away. He also makes the estate wines for WeatherEye Vineyards, the buzziest vineyard project in Washington right now. (See articles from yours truly here, here, here, here, and here; read articles from Robb Report, Vinography, and Jancis Robinson among others.)

Alexander also has his own projects. They include Holocene, which is devoted to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Beatus is a new Châteauneuf-du-Pape project with Anne-Charlotte Melia-Bachas, owner of Chateau de la Font du Loup. The Alexanders also recently purchased two vineyards in Roussillon, France. The vineyards will be used for a Grenache-based project with Jean-Roger Calvet of Thunevin-Calvet.

A look at Atelier Freewater

The Bank of Freewater, far right, in an undated historical photo. Courtesy of Atelier Freewater.

Atelier Freewater is located at 601 North Main Street in Milton-Freewater. The building was built in 1906 by J.L. Elam and became The Bank of Freewater. It has 1,500-square-feet of interior space. The idea for Atelier Freewater was inspired in part by HiFi Wine Bar in McMinnville, Oregon.

“We did a pop up event there, and I really loved the camaraderie that they showed us, opening up their space to us and allowing us to pour our wines for both our customers and their customers,” Carrie Alexander says. “I would love to be able to do that for people who don’t have their own tasting space but who want to get in front of their customers to connect.”

The building, which the Alexanders purchased, was previously used as a restaurant and then catering company. As a result, it has a commercial kitchen. Several times per year, Atelier Freewater will have pop up events featuring chefs from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Atelier means “workshop” in French. While the Alexanders plan to use the space to promote wines, they expect it to be a multi-use facility.

“We wanted the name to reflect the idea that anything that this space could hold is possible,” Alexander says. “It could be an art showing or a small music show. There are a lot of things that can happen here.”

Atelier Freewater also contains the original vault used by the bank. The Alexanders have retrofitted it with insulation, and it will be used to store wines they are pouring and selling.

Changing the fortunes of Milton-Freewater

In the last 25 years, downtown Walla Walla, which is 10 miles away, has seen a strong resurgence, driven in large part by the wine industry. The broader Walla Walla Valley is now home to approximately 120 wineries and tasting rooms. For perspective, in 1998, there were about 20.

Milton-Freewater has yet to reap the benefits of the valley becoming a major wine tourism region. The area was first settled in 1868 and was subsequently incorporated as Milton. Freewater, meanwhile, was given its name as settlers were offered free water rights. The two towns merged in 1951. The Alexanders hope that planting a flag in Milton-Freewater will help lift the town’s fortunes.

“We wanted to go to Milton-Freewater instead of Walla Walla in an effort to try and get some fresh energy in the area,” says Todd Alexander. “Hopefully it spurs others to come here. There are some great buildings, and the area has a lot of potential, being right on the edge of the Rocks District.”

The Rocks District rises in prominence

Vineyard in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Walla Walla Valley.

Indeed, the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, renowned for its cobblestone soils, is quickly becoming one of Walla Walla Valley’s major wine tourism attractions. Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards planted the area’s first modern day vineyard in 1997. Baron now has a number of vineyards there and nearby for Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, and Hors Catégorie. (Read a recent feature on Baron and his various projects.) However, Cayuse is not open to the public, instead opening one weekend per year for list members to come to the winery, taste upcoming releases, and pick up their wines.

More recently, however, other wineries, such as Force Majeure, have opened in the area. Rôtie Cellars also opened a tasting room in the Rocks District, with a commanding view of its vineyard. More are coming.

With this area of the valley producing some of the most distinctive wines in the world, The Rocks District is currently a hotbed of vineyard development. The area received appellation status in 2015. (Read an in-depth look at The Rocks District. Read an article I wrote for Wine Enthusiast on the region.)

“We live and work here. The winery is here,” says Carrie Alexander. “We really believe that old Freewater, in particular Main Street, has a lot of potential. I think it could be a really incredible extension to what’s already happening in Walla Walla at a more affordable price.”

Alexanders take Washington by Force

Todd Alexander. Courtesy of Atelier Freewater.

Todd and Carrie Alexander moved to Washington in 2014, when Todd became winemaker at Force Majeure Vineyards. The winery is one of Washington’s most high-flying projects, with estate vineyards on Red Mountain and in Walla Walla Valley.

Alexander had previously been winemaker at the cult winery Bryant Family in Napa Valley. In a short time, Alexander has established himself as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Washington. Carrie Alexander, meanwhile, serves as director of sales and marketing at Force Majeure. From 2019 until spring of this year, she was also general manager for The Walls.

While Todd Alexander is already involved in a wide range of wine projects, there are more on the horizon. He says there is a common thread.

“These are/will all be centered around Grenache.”

The Alexanders’ devotion to Grenache led them to start a Grenache Festival. The first of what is envisioned to be an annual event will take place in Walla Walla this November during Fall Release weekend.

Atelier Freewater, meanwhile, will be open no later than Fall Release weekend. Beyond that, the space will be open “by appointment or by chance” Carrie Alexander says. She plans to work at an office in the building.

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