Hospice du Rhône came to Walla Walla for the first time April 24th through 27th. Hospice is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhône variety wines and grapes. The event, which has traditionally taken place in Paso Robles, brought 1,000 attendees and 150 wineries from around the world to Walla Walla.

Here, eight people who participated give their thoughts on the event, the significance of Hospice du Rhône coming to Walla Walla, and what the impacts might be for the valley and beyond. Responses were provided via email or phone interviews. They have been excerpted and lightly edited for clarity.

Christophe Baron, vigneron, Bionic Wines

That was the best wine event ever that has been in Walla Walla, period. The best ever. What made it that way, for me is, first, the high quality of the event. This is really the event for Rhône wine lovers.

But what really blew me away – and I’ve been attending Hospice du Rhône since 2000 – I’ve never seen the vibe that was in the room at the Grand Tasting. It feels so good to see a room like that. I could also feel the positive vibe in the town. Producers were very excited. Visitors and people attending, they were also very excited.

From the bottom of my heart, I will never ever be able to thank Hospice du Rhône enough for coming to Walla Walla. It’s a big blessing. People are going to spread the word about Hospice du Rhône, that is most important, and then, after that, Walla Walla. It will have a big impact. I think it puts Walla Walla Valley even more on the map.

Liz Knapke, executive director, Walla Walla Wine Alliance

We are grateful to the Hospice du Rhône organizers, specifically John Alban and Vicki Carroll, for believing in the Walla Walla Valley, allowing us to showcase the many contours of our community, and, above all, helping shine a global spotlight on our diverse wine industry. This event attracts media, trade, and consumers from across the globe, many [of them] first-time visitors to this part of the world and all eager to return. This attention firmly positions the Walla Walla Valley as a center of excellence in winemaking, winegrowing, and visitor amenities, bridging the gap between our local and international influence.

For the Northwest, HdR’s presence strengthens our regional identity, demonstrating the depth and diversity of our wines. This boosts the profile of the Walla Walla Valley and the Northwest as a whole, helping to elevate the perception of our wine industry on a national and global scale.

Richard Funk, owner and director of winemaking, Saviah Cellars

[It] was one of the best if not the best event we have ever participated in. It was truly a defining moment for the Pacific Northwest and our corner of the wine world, and unimaginable years ago when we attended our first Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles in 2012. It was an honor to share our wines and Walla Walla with Rhône wine lovers and producers from around the world.

In 2000 when we founded Saviah, there were so few Syrah grapes planted that I couldn’t source any from the Walla Walla Valley. It is remarkable what has developed over the past 25 years. I am so proud of what the Walla Walla wine industry has accomplished in the past 40 years and so grateful for the visionaries who were not afraid to dream, realize the risk, and take the first step in this journey. We have come a long way baby! (Editor’s Note: Walla Walla Valley celebrates its 40th anniversary as an appellation this year.)

Carrie Alexander, director of sales and marketing, Force Majeure

Probably the most significant positive aspect was the opportunity for both consumers/enthusiasts and producers alike to experience what Walla Walla is all about. There is always a real camaraderie amongst the winemakers when we go to the Paso Robles events, and it translated perfectly to the Walla Walla Valley. It was also a fantastic opportunity for people in Walla Walla to try a bunch of wines they might not otherwise get to experience, without having to travel to do it.

It helps us become a greater part of the conversation of Rhône varietal wines of the world. It is certainly a major part of what we do in the Walla Walla Valley, and in Washington and parts of Oregon, and now a lot more people know that.

Steve Robertson, founder, Delmas

There is not another global platform quite like Hospice du Rhône, bringing principals together for four to five days. Most of the attendees were either first time visitors to Walla Walla Valley and/or have never had the opportunity to compare so many world-class producers’ wines at one time. The region caught the attention of pretty much all.

HdR attracts an audience that arrives with expectations. 1,000 folks landed here. Locally, this event opened a lot of eyes as to positioning wine destination aspirations for this valley. For sure, this valley stepped up with support on multiple levels.

From all indications, important bridges are being built up [and] down the west coast and around the world. Simply, that does not happen as readily without the platform of Hospice du Rhône.

Trey Busch, co-owner and winemaker, Sleight of Hand Cellars

I thought it was great for Walla Walla. Anytime you can bring that caliber of people to our area, it’s a great thing.

I hope the main effect is the majority of folks who attended came away with a whole new sense of what Walla Walla is really about. It’s one thing to have a have a wine. You live in Texas and you open up a bottle of [Sleight of Hand] Psychedelic Syrah. It’s another thing to come here, walk the vineyard, and see what it’s all about.

Anytime you can do that, I think it’s going to be a win for everybody. You get people that go out and evangelize.

Jesús Martínez Bujanda Mora, CEO and president, Bodegas Valdemar & Valdemar Estates

It was incredible. Just the fact that Walla Walla hosted Hospice du Rhône in itself is wonderful news for the valley.

We saw a lot of customers that we’ve never seen here before. They came from California and other places around the country and also around the world. It gave people a reason to come to Walla Walla, and I think they loved it and felt they found something special. Not only the customers but also producers, producers from the Rhône Valley, producers from California, producers from Spain, producers from all over the world that might not have come to Walla Walla otherwise.

I think that experience is going to reinforce our image in Europe and in other markets that something special is happening in Washington and especially Walla Walla. For [Valdemar] to be able to host one of the events as well, I’ll be forever grateful to the organizers for that.

Marty Clubb, co-owner and managing winemaker, L’Ecole No. 41

There are a lot of Rhône wine fans that follow Hospice and make the pilgrimage to the event in Paso Robles. Having those people come to Walla Walla was really significant.

What was amazing was the caliber of the wines and the caliber of people that were here. Then to choose Walla Walla as one of their first new venues went a long way to building a statement of respect about what’s happening here. I think it reflected more in a broader way than on just Walla Walla and adds a check mark of respect to what is happening in Washington.

I think that there were two-fold brand impacts. One was amongst the wine world but the other was amongst a high-tier consumer base. I think it was an eye-opening brand building experience that’s going to be positive for the long-term. It was a big positive for Walla Walla and for Washington.

Image clockwise from the top left: Christophe Baron, Liz Knapke, Richard Funk, Steve Robertson, Marty Clubb, Jesús Martínez Bujanda Mora, Trey Busch, Carrie Alexander. Images 1, 4, and 6 by Mel Hill Photography courtesy of Hospice du Rhône.

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