Tiny Grantwood Winery tops Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition

By on June 23, 2018

Retired civil engineer Joe Grant built the Grantwood Winery 2016 Petit Verdot using Les Collines Vineyard, and the $22 wine took best of show at the sixth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. The June 20 judging funds a scholarship for Walla Walla Community College’s viticulture and enology program. (Photo courtesy of Grantwood Winery)

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Joe Grant used the sixth annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition to again prove that he’s one of Washington state’s most overlooked winemakers, crafting the Grantwood Winery 2016 Petit Verdot that ran a gauntlet of some of the Northwest’s most famous wines to win best of show.

The bold yet suave red by Grantwood Winery was made with grapes from Les Collines Vineyard in the foothills of the nearby Blue Mountains.

“I’m always amazed by that wine, but I shouldn’t be,” Grant said. “Most people who come into our tasting room are surprised by it, but then most of the people who come in seem to like all of our wines.”

A total of 26 wineries combined to enter 102 wines in the competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the viticulture and enology program at Walla Walla Community College. The on-campus judging is a collaborative effort between Great Northwest Wine and the school, leading to an annual scholarship for a College Cellars student. The six-year total will reach nearly $10,000 after this month’s competition.

Walla Walla wineries support College Cellars fundraiser

The Woodward Canyon 2017 Washington State Chardonnay earned the award for best white wine at the 2018 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. (Photo by Casie Eicher/Special to Great Northwest Wine)

As is tradition, the quality of entries lived up to the reputation established by winemakers and winery owners who support this fundraiser for College Cellars.

Historic producer Woodward Canyon won a pair of superlatives at the 2018 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. Best white wine of the judging was the Woodward Canyon 2017 Washington State Chardonnay, while the iconic 2014 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was voted as the best Cab. Sager Small, son of owners Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small, is a recent graduate of College Cellars and now works in the vineyards and cellar at Woodward Canyon. Their 2014 Artist Series #23 Cab also earned a gold medal.

Saviah Cellars and owner/winemaker Richard Funk won four gold medals for red wines, led by the 2015 Une Vallée as the best red blend of the judging.

The little schoolhouse in Lowden that’s home to L’Ecole No. 41 produced four gold medals, including best Syrah with its 2015 vintage from Seven Hills Vineyard. Marty Clubb, owner and managing winemaker at L’Ecole, helped establish the V&E program at Walla Walla Community College and serves on the advisory board.

Dazzle Cellars, a sister brand of famed Long Shadows Vintners, made it into the running for best-of-show with the 2017 Julia’s Dazzle, the Provence-inspired wine that’s sparked Northwest production of Pinot Gris rosé and won a gold medal at the WWCC tasting. It was joined in the superlative round by Foundry Vineyards’ exciting pét-nat, a natural sparkling wine made with Roussanne.

Producers receiving multiple gold medals included Gilles Nicault, who heads up the Dazzle project as well as Nine Hats, Jean-François Pellet’s Amavi Cellars project, Doug Roskelley of TERO Estates in Milton-Freewater, Ore., and College Cellars grad William vonMetzger at storied Walla Walla Vintners.

Eleganté Cellars, owned by retired chemistry teacher and College Cellars grad Doug Simmons, topped the Merlot category with a finesse-filled 2009 Merlot from Seven Hills Vineyard.

College Cellars alum Victor Palencia used a rosé from Pinot Noir to stand out at yet another Northwest competition as his Palencia Wine Co. 2017 Rosélia captured a gold medal. A year ago, he captured best-of-show honors with a Grenache.

As Grant put it, “That’s great company to be in, but just about anybody in Walla Walla is good company.”

No fee to taste Grantwood’s delicious bargains

Joe Grant doesn’t charge a tasting fee at Grantwood Winery in Walla Walla, Wash. (Photo courtesy of Grantwood Winery)

Virtually everyone who steps into the Grantwood Winery tasting room just west of downtown Walla Walla along old Highway 12 is shocked by the prices, and the popular Petit Verdot is no exception at $22. However, he produced a mere two barrels of it — 45 cases worth.

“I remember a while back reading that everybody mixed a little bit of Petit Verdot with their Bordeaux reds, so I bought a quarter-ton of it,” Grant said. “I was going to mix it in. In the barrel, it was my favorite wine. I said, ‘Forget that,’ so we started buying more Petit Verdot to bottle on its own.”

Most of the fruit for his 350-case brand hails from Les Collines, a breadbasket in the Walla Walla Valley for winemakers in both Washington and Oregon. Grant has been working with Shane McKibben and Les Collines since he got into the wine business in 2008. Grantwood started small and stayed that way, opening its tasting room just two days per week — noon to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“It is a hobby, but we’re not losing money at it,” Grant said. “I’m out here working every day, and we don’t have a tasting charge. People can come out and buy if they want to buy.”

For those familiar with Grant’s ultra-boutique program, the showing during the WWCC competition comes as no surprise. He received four gold medals from a judging panel that featured two of the Pacific Northwest’s top winemakers — Kate Michaud of Double Canyon in Richland and Coco Umiker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, Idaho.

Last year, Grantwood Winery also won four gold medals. Three were best-of-class honors, all for red wine. His recent portfolio hasn’t included a white wine.

“We’ve made a couple of them over the years — a combination of Viognier and Sèmillon,” Grant said. “I think it was OK, but I was never really fond of it.”

Most of Grantwood’s 10 releases from the 2016 vintage are priced at $20 or less. Only his Cabernet Sauvignon and reserve Cab are priced north of $22.

“We’ve kind of snuck up our prices a little bit — a couple of dollars here and there — over the years,” he said modestly.

But there is no doubting Grant’s deft touch with Petit Verdot, an intense, lesser-known Bordeaux variety. His 2012 vintage of Petit Verdot from Block 10 at Les Collines captured a gold medal in Southern California at the 2015 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. A few months later, his 2013 Petit Verdot grabbed gold at the 2015 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition.

2017 vintage looms as finale for Grantwood

Joe Grant, class of ’57 from Prescott High School in the Walla Walla Valley, plans to close his winery at the end of 2019. (Photo courtesy of Grantwood Winery)

Even though he sells out each year, Grant, a Walla Walla Valley native and 1957 grad of Prescott High, said he’s probably crushed his last grape. The partner who contributed to the winery’s name, Doris Wood, is no longer involved.

“It’s time for me to move on,” Grant said. “We’re not taking any grapes in this year, and right now, the plan is to move out of the business on Jan. 1, 2020.

“There are several things that I’m thinking about doing, but nothing’s concrete,” Grant continued. ”I still golf, although not as much or as well as I used to, and I’m involved in a lot of property development. I buy properties and work on them. I really enjoy that a lot, so I will stay busy.”

Ironically, a nascent brand owned by a recent College Cellars grad is poised to take over the site of Grantwood Winery.

Civil engineer builds award-winning wines

Joe Grant established his winery along an original portion of Highway 12. He reports some loss of tasting room traffic as a result of the new bypass, but that doesn’t prevent him from selling out of each vintage. (Photo courtesy of Grantwood Winery)

Grant’s roots in the Walla Walla Valley stretch back to the 1860s when his ancestors moved in as homestead farmers. He earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Oregon State University and spent most of his career in the Bay Area, moving back to the Walla Walla Valley in 1996 after a few uncomfortable years working in Las Vegas.

“It’s way too hot and way too dusty, and I’m not a desert person,” Grant said.

So he spent a decade teaching engineering-related classes at Walla Walla Community College. Along the way, Grant became acquainted with Norm McKibben, who also made his living as a civil engineer in the Bay Area prior to planting Les Collines, Seven Hills and several other important vineyards in the region.

As did many wineries, Grantwood got its spark in a garage. Grant didn’t receive a formal winemaking education, but he took one class at WWCC taught a decade ago by the program’s creator, Myles Anderson, co-founder of Walla Walla Vintners.

“I used to teach a GIS class — geographic information systems — at the college, so I got to know Myles Anderson pretty well,” Grant recalled. “I audited a winemaking class from him. He was tough! So I said, ‘To the heck with that!’ and I started making wine on my own.”

This spring, he moved to the head of the class at the Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition.

2018 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition results

The Saviah Cellars 2014 Big Sky Cuvée was one of two best-of-class wines and among four gold-medal winning entries into the 2016 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, a scholarship fundraiser for Walla Walla Community College. (Photo by Casie Eicher/Special to Great Northwest Wine)

Best of show, best red wine, double gold medal
Grantwood Winery 2016 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley $22

Best white wine, best of class
Woodward Canyon 2017 Chardonnay, Washington $49

Best of class, double gold
Saviah Cellars 2015 Une Vallée Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $35

Best of class, gold medal
Woodward Canyon 2014 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington $99
Eleganté Cellars 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $36
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $37
Saviah Cellars 2014 Big Sky Cuvée Red Wine, Columbia Valley $38

Gold medal
Amavi Cellars 2017 Estate Sèmillon, Walla Walla Valley $24
Amavi Cellars 2015 Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $33
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2014 Noble Rock Vineyard Estate Reserve Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $55
Dazzle Cellars 2017 Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, Columbia Valley $20
Foundry Vineyards 2017 Pét Nat, Walla Walla Valley $25
Golden Ridge Cellars 2014 Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $36
Grantwood Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley $24
Grantwood Winery 2016 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $16
Grantwood Winery 2016 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $20
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $37
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee, Walla Walla Valley $55
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Estate Ferguson Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley $65
Nine Hats Wines 2016 Red Wine Columbia Valley $20
Nine Hats Wines 2017 Riesling, Columbia Valley $14
Palencia Wine Co. 2017 Rosélia, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley $20
Saviah Cellars 2015 Dugger Creek Vineyard Barbera, Walla Walla Valley $30
Saviah Cellars 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $45
TERO Estates 2012 Windrow Vineayrds Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $118
TERO Estates 2013 Windrow Vineyards Petit(e)2 Petite Sirah & Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley $56
Three Rivers Winery 2016 Trivulet, Columbia Valley $38
Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley $35
Walla Walla Vintners 2016 Sangiovese, Columbia Valley $30
Woodward Canyon 2014 Artist Series #23 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley $59

Silver medal
Adamant Cellars 2017 Gateshead Vineyard Albariño, Walla Walla Valley $25
Adamant Cellars 2014 Nalin Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $32
Amavi Cellars 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $33
ANVIL 2014 Minnick Hills Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $65
Charbonneau 2014 41% Cabernet Sauvignon • 30% Merlot • 17% Cabernet Franc • 12% Petit Verdot, Walla Walla County $79
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley $42
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $45
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2016 Estate Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley $35
Cougar Crest Estate Winery 2014 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $38
Drink Washington State 2015 Visit Wahluke Slope Carménère, Wahluke Slope $29
Drink Washington State 2016 Dip in Lake Chelan Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan $29
Dunham Cellars 2016 Shirley Mays Chardonnay, Columbia Valley $25
Dunham Cellars 2015 Syrah, Columbia Valley $35
Eleganté Cellars 2013 Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley $36
Elephant Seven 2016 Yellow Bird Vineyard Grenache, Walla Walla Valley $30
Elephant Seven 2017 Blue Mountain Vineyard Viognier, Walla Walla Valley $20
Eternal Wines 2016 Eternal Bliss Fortified Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $49
Eternal Wines 2017 Eternal Perspective Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley $29
Eternal Wines 2017 Insight Marsanne, Columbia Valley $29
Eternal Wines 2015 Gratitude Merlot, Columbia Valley $49
Eternal Wines 2015 Rocketman Red, Walla Walla Valley $35
Eternal Wines 2016 Eternal Perspective GSM, Walla Walla Valley $44
Eternal Wines 2017 Beauty Rosé, Columbia Valley $21
Forgeron Cellars 2015 Barbera, Columbia Valley $35
Forgeron Cellars 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley $28
Forgeron Cellars 2015 Zinfandel, Horse Heaven Hills $35
Foundry Vineyards 2017 White on White Wine, Walla Walla Valley $21
Grantwood Winery 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $30
Grantwood Winery 2016 Heritage Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $17
Grantwood Winery 2016 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley $18
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley $37
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $40
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Perigee, Walla Walla Valley $55
L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Estate Merlot | Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley $37
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Luminesce Sèmillon • Sauvignon Blanc, Walla Walla Valley $22
Lagana Cellars 2017 Eritage Vineyard Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley $25
Lagana Cellars 2017 Breezy Slope Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir, Walla Walla Valley $20
Long Shadows Vintners 2017 Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley $20
Nine Hats Wines 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley $20
Nine Hats Wines 2017 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley $14
Nox Perpetua 2015 Patina Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $30
Palencia Wine Co. 2016 Grenache, Yakima Valley $40
Palencia Wine Co. 2016 Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley $40
Palencia Wine Co. 2016 Casa Amarilla Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley $36
Palencia Wine Co. 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley $20
Palencia Wine Co. 2016 Syrah, Yakima Valley $36
Palencia Wine Co. 2016 El Viñador Syrah, Wahluke Slope $50
Saviah Cellars 2016 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $32
Seven Hills Winery 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $45
Seven Hills Winery 2016 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $25
Seven Hills Winery 2015 Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $35
Seven Hills Winery 2015 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine, Red Mountain $55
TERO Estates 2014 Windrow Vineyards Charbono, Walla Walla Valley $60
TERO Estates 2014 Windrow Vineyards DC3 Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $38
Tertulia Cellars 2016 Rivière Galetes Estate Vineyard Grenache, Walla Walla Valley $35
Tertulia Cellars 2017 Whistling Hills Estate Vineyard Viognier, Walla Walla Valley $25
Three Rivers Winery 2015 Merlot, Columbia Valley $21
Time & Direction 2016 Solasken Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley $40
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $45
Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley $40
Walla Walla Vintners 2015 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $35
Woodward Canyon 2015 Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge $74
Woodward Canyon 2014 Estate Reserve 47% Cabernet Sauvignon • 24% Cabernet Franc • 18% Merlot • 11% Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley $89
WWS 2016 Dayal Vineyard Weight and Balance Syrah, Walla Walla Valley $16
Zerba Cellars 2015 Winesap Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater $55
Zerba Cellars 2017 Cockburn Vineyard Estate Malbec Rosé, Walla Walla Valley $24
Zerba Cellars 2015 Winesap Vineyard Estate Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater $55
Bronze medal
Drink Washington State 2015 Welcome to Columbia Valley Chardonnay, Columbia Valley $19
Lagana Cellars 2014 Breezy Slope Vineyard Pinot Noir, Walla Walla Valley $40
Seven Hills Winery 2015 Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $50
Zerba Cellars 2016 Cockburn Vineyard Estate Sèmillon, Walla Walla Valley $24

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for 15 years. He is a frequent wine judge along the West Coast.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Grantwood Winery 2016 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $22

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *