Serge Laville, winemaker Reali Family VIneyards

Serge Laville (left) with Kristin and Ken Reali. Photograph by Kristina Reali.

Reali Family Vineyard, a new project in Walla Walla Valley, has hired Serge Laville as the estate’s founding winemaker. Laville, one of Washington’s most decorated winemakers, will make Reali’s inaugural wines in 2024.

“We are absolutely thrilled, and we feel so fortunate to have Serge at Reali,” says Kristin Reali, co-founder of Reali Family Vineyard. “All of us together are going to make Reali Family Vineyard a really special space.”

Laville, 57, worked for 20 years as winemaker at Spring Valley Vineyard. During that time, he produced four Wine Spectator Top 100 wines. Laville will now have a chance to establish Reali from the ground up.

“This is, for me, a rare opportunity to do the last chapter of my winemaking career,” says Laville.

Kristin and Ken Reali are establishing Reali Family Vineyard as a retirement project. The couple, who come from the speech-language pathology and medical device industries respectively, purchased two 40-acre parcels in Walla Walla Valley in 2021 and 2022.

The Realis subsequently planted 15 acres to eight varieties in 2023. They intend to make Reali an all-estate winery.

The property is north of Eritage Vineyard and resort. The site’s location will give Laville a leg up on understanding the terroir. The vineyard is close, as the crow flies, to Spring Valley.

“It’s an area that I’m used to working. It’s very similar to Spring Valley,” Laville says.

Born in Paris and raised in Vienne, France, Laville first came to Walla Walla in 2000 to visit a friend. At the time, the valley was home to fewer than 30 wineries. However, the area had four French winemakers, referred to as “the French Connection.”

During his visit, Laville tasted at all of the local wineries. One of those tastings was with Spring Valley winemaker Devin Derby.

“I tasted the wine, and I was blown away by the quality,” says Laville. “I said [to Devin] ‘If you ever need help for whatever reason, call me.’”

Laville moved to the valley in 2001 and was working as a chef when that call came. In 2002, he began assisting at Spring Valley. After Derby died in a car accident in 2004, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE) purchased the winery. The company asked Laville to stay on.

“That launched me and my winemaking career,” Laville says.

For the next 17+ years, Laville worked for SMWE. He was ultimately was part of the company’s February 2023 layoffs. (Kate Derby, Devin Derby’s niece, was subsequently named winemaker at Spring Valley.) Laville has spent his time since consulting for valley wineries.

The Realis are avid wine lovers and traveled to a number of US wine regions looking for a place to retire. They first visited Walla Walla Valley in 2019 and returned in 2021.

“We just fell in love with the town and the community,” says Kristin Reali. Reali has taken viticulture and enology classes at University of California Davis and received a certification from Rutgers. She also interned at Eritage Vineyard in the fall of 2022 and at Long Shadows.

Spring Valley has consistently produced high quality, distinctive wines. However, this area of the valley, where the Realis now have their vineyard, has relatively few plantings.

“I think it’s an area of Walla Walla that has been a little bit undervalued,” Laville says.

Given the youth of the Reali’s vineyard and the January 2024 freeze, the couple will source fruit in 2024. The winery intends to focus on French and Italian varieties. Laville says his goals with the Reali wines will be simple.

“I want to do better than I have done. I want to make wines with more character, with more sense of place, and that are nuanced and complex.”

Reali Family Vineyard will release its inaugural wines in 2025.

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