WALLA WALLA, Wash. — It’s been almost three years to the day since the last Reveal Walla Walla wine auction, and Coeur d’Alene restaurateur Naomi Boutz looks forward to returning to the scene of one of the most deliciously nerve-wracking episodes of her career in the wine trade.
Today, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is back at stately Corliss Estates for the auction of special lots donated by area wineries to help support the alliance’s marketing efforts and Walla Walla Community College’s winemaking program. On April 15, 2019, what attracted Boutz to Reveal Walla Walla was a shot at bringing the L’Ecole N° 41 2017 Ferguson Vineyard Block 4 Cabernet Sauvignon back for patrons of her Vine & Olive Eatery and Wine Bar. She won the five-case lot with a final bid of $5,500.
“The more I think about how special this wine is and given its 2017 vintage — which is the year V&O opened — I’m going to only offer it to wine club,” Boutz said. “I’ve been collecting large format 2017s for the last few years to celebrate future anniversaries at Vine & Olive.”
Ferguson Vineyard ranks among the Northwest’s most buzz-worthy plantings. At an early age, the vines in fractured basalt near Milton-Freewater, Ore., earned international headlines for L’Ecole N° 41 owner Marty Clubb when his bottling of young Ferguson fruit from the 2011 vintage won the top award in London for Bordeaux varieties over £15 at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards in 2014. Ferguson Vineyard is named for Clubb’s in-laws, Baker and Jean Ferguson, who founded L’Ecole N° 41 in 1983. That 2011 blend of Ferguson retailed at the historic schoolhouse in Lowden for $59. Boutz’s triumphant bid from 2019 works out to $92 per bottle.
“I was worried the prices were going to be higher,” Boutz told Great Northwest Wine just after her win in 2019.
She read the room correctly en route to her third career victory at Reveal Walla Walla, and it will be interesting to see how the pandemic, the economic rebound and inflation play out today.
Reveal Walla Walla began with Duane Wollmuth
Reveal Walla Walla remains a legacy of the late Duane Wollmuth, the beloved executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance who died unexpectedly in the summer of 2016 — less than three months after he staged the inaugural Reveal Walla Walla.
In recent years, Reveal Walla Walla has received fewer donated lots from member wineries. The first two years there were 30 lots. In 2018, there were 29 lots auctioned for an average of $3,203. In 2019 — the year of Boutz’s Ferguson win — the total fell to 24 lots, yet the average price was $5,300.
However, the 2019 total set a record of $127,100 — an increase of a whopping 65 percent. The year before, there was $92,900 generated through the auction. The first two years — 2016 and 2017 brought in $86,500 and then $86,100, respectively.
Today, 18 lots are up for bid, and some of the high-profile producers who were lined up for 2020 Reveal are not participating. Meanwhile, Seattle-based auctioneer Fred Northup Jr. will be spearheading Reveal for the first time, honoring the commitment he made for the 2020 event.
In 2019, there were 10 different winners, led by the private collector who shattered the Reveal record with his $15,000 bid for a lot of Woodward Canyon 2017 Estate Cabernet Franc. The previous record was $8,000 for a lot of Leonetti.
Look for ‘private buyers ready to spend big’
Boutz wasn’t the only Idaho restaurateur with a winning bid in 2019. The acclaimed Shore Lodge Resort and Whitetail Club in McCall secured a lot of Reininger.
The bidder to cast the longest shadow in 2019 was Capers Café in Portland with eight lots won, going hardest after wines produced by Amavi, Corliss, Doubleback, Leonetti, Otis Kenyon, Pepper Bridge, Sleight of Hand and Walla Walla Vintners.
Next was Jacob Liquor Exchange in Wichita, Kan., and its five winning bids for Abeja, Eternal, Gifford Hirlinger, Tamarack and Tranche.
“Reveal 2022 will be interesting,” Boutz predicted. “I have no doubt there will be private buyers ready to spend big. One thing we learned during the pandemic is when you take away the public’s ability to travel, there are lots of consumers who re-directed their spending on experiences — and that included indulging on luxury wines in the middle of the week. That trend has not stopped for some wine drinkers.
“Restaurants are dealing with a volatile supply chain and the cost of doing business increases every week,” she continued. “If 2021 taught us anything, it was how to master turning away a ton of business to the level your reduced workforce can handle but still stay in the black. I think given the caliber of restaurateurs who attend Reveal and the trend of wine prices, the lots will still go at a premium, but this girl is going to be conservative. I’m really looking forward to barrel tasting to get a pulse on the vintage.”
Boutz not only outlasted the pandemic, but she and executive chef Josh Peebles also launched a second restaurant around the corner — Vicino Pizza Neapolitan Style Pizzeria. Vicino, which opened in October 2020, is Italian for “near ” or “close by.” Peebles approached her with the notion after he learned of the empty restaurant space with a wood-fired pizza oven left behind.
“My first response was ‘I’m not opening another (expletive) restaurant,’ ” she admits. “When I found that name, Vicino, I knew I was committed.”
The Italian-only concept is quite different from the V&O, where its support of Northwest wines earned it a spot within the Match Maker series of now-defunct Wine Press Northwest magazine.
“I am proud of my core team because we survived our first year of business during a pandemic, a labor shortage and a broken supply chain,” she says. “And my team at V&O picked up the slack while my chef and I were giving more time to Vicino.”
Her two Village at Riverstone eateries operate six days a week but are closed on different days, which means not even a mental day off for the wine-loving triathlete.
“During the shut down, I had to shift my focus to retail sales, and it has resulted in this whole new chunk of business for V&O that is very nontraditional for a restaurant,” Boutz said.
Those supporters trust both her business sense and her palate, which has earned her a spot on the judging panel for the annual Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore. She learned that a thoughtfully crafted offering on social media resonates with her peeps and often leads to brisk sales. It will be interesting to see how she describes the L’Ecole N° 41 2017 Ferguson Vineyard Block 4 Cab.
“I’ll have to crack a bottle open next week and try over the course of several days to accurately write about the wine,” Boutz said. “I’m really looking forward to that experience.”
Corliss Estates remains home of Reveal Walla Walla
For Boutz, if the 2019 auction was the equivalent of a football game, she had to sweat it until late the third quarter because the 2017 Ferguson she coveted was No. 17 of the 24-lot auction. She and her wine club members will let her know if it was worth it.
Today, if Boutz wants to take a run at another lot off Ferguson, she won’t need to wait long. The five cases of L’Ecole N° 41 2019 Ferguson Vineyard Estate Block 9 Cabernet Sauvignon that are up for today’s auction are slotted as Lot No. 2.
As for the 2017 Ferguson Cab, later this month, she will put out a brief and limited offering through her restaurant’s wine club, which will quickly pull off the majority of her lot.
“I’m going to lay the rest down for V&O to use for special events or occasions,” she says.
And while very few will get a chance to sip the 2017 Ferguson Vineyard Block 4 Cab, anyone who comes into Vine & Olive can see a double magnum — a three-liter bottle — of that wine.
“It is proudly displayed at the bar until the right anniversary celebration calls for it to be opened,” Boutz says.
Five years might be a bit too soon for the double magnum, so circle back in 2032 for the 15th anniversary of Vine & Olive.
2022 Reveal Walla Walla auction lots
Below are the 18 lots up for bid, which represent some of the Walla Walla Valley’s most well-known producers — including Michael and Lauri Corliss, who continue to play host to the auction and donate lots from Corliss Estates and Tranche Estate. The rest are rising stars, but most have strong ties to the Walla Walla CC winemaking program, including Clubb, who recruited Marcus Rafanelli off the school’s faculty in 2019 to become his winemaker at L’Ecole N° 41.
Lot No. 1 – A collection of wines from each winery participating in Reveal Walla Walla 2022
Lot No. 2 – L’Ecole N° 41 2019 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Block 9 Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 3 – College Cellars of Walla Walla 2019 Stan Clarke Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Lot No. 4 – Doubleback 2020 McQueen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 5 – Pepper Bridge Winery 2019 Estate Blend
Lot No. 6 – Leonetti Cellar 2019 Serra Pedace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 7 – Tranche 2019 Blue Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 8 – Woodward Canyon 2019 Estate Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon
* Lot No. 9 – Adamant Cellars 2020 Philips Vineyard Tempranillo
Lot No. 10 – Gifford Hirlinger 2019 Berghan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 11 – Kontos Cellars 2019 Seven Hills Vineyard Petit Verdot
Lot No. 12 – Dusted Valley Vintners 2019 Southwind Estate Vineyard Tallux Red Wine
Lot No. 13 – Lagana Cellars and * TruthTeller Winery 2019 Walla Walla Cuvée
* Lot No. 14 – itä wines 2020 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah
Lot No. 15 – Dunham Cellars 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 16 – Tamarack Cellars 2019 Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lot No. 17 – Corliss 2019 Blue Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Lot No. 18 – Gramercy Cellars 2019 “The Deux” Syrah
* – denotes new supporter of Reveal Walla Walla