L’Ecole No 41 – A Walla Walla Legend

Posted by David Bowles on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

winery_team_croppedOn July 20th, we will have the pleasure of hosting a very unique winemaker dinner. Marty Clubb, owner and managing winemaker of L’Ecole N° 41, will be joining us together with Joe Czarny and Kristina Rivero, graduates of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program. This will be an excellent opportunity to show off not only the accomplished wines produced by L’Ecole N° 41, but also to meaningfully demonstrate how Walla Walla stakeholders have banded together to create a case study of doing well by doing good.   You can make your reservation to the dinner by clicking here.

Walla Walla Works

Inspiration. That’s what we get in ever-increasing abundance each time we visit Walla Walla. We are inspired to be happy, to care for our neighbors and our neighbor’s children, to lift up those around us, to make life beautiful, and to make it taste good. We hear the stories of those who have done particularly well in the Walla Walla Valley. Many of these got there early, worked hard and long, often alone. It makes me think of the pioneers and visionaries that didn’t quite make it. For these I have sympathy that I have come by naturally, as I have always had an uncanny ability to see what’s coming, but have frequently had difficulty judging the distance.

Gary Higgins - 1974I’m guessing that when Gary Figgins (Leonetti Cellars, pictured at right in 1974) first planted grapes in the valley there wasn’t a diner in town where the onion farmers would gather and marvel at his genius. Rick Small (Woodward Canyon) thought it was a good idea though and followed suit a couple years later. However, Rick and Gary never competed, they collaborated. It is the way of farmers. Farmers didn’t cheer the fact that they had a barn and their neighbor didn’t, they lamented. So they would gather together and raise that neighbor’s barn. And then they would celebrate. Those who are able to thrive in economic life appreciate the fundamental truth of our time: none of us can flourish on our own. Since Adam Smith addressed the potential benefits of division of labor almost 300 years ago, its effects have become absolutely pervasive. We may learn to sew, but making a shirt is nonetheless a global undertaking; for some must grow the cotton and others will weave the fabric and spin the thread while hordes, somewhere, are sitting at conveyor belts making needles and assembling sewing machines. The successful pioneers of Walla Walla’s wine industry innately appreciate this phenomenon and live into the axiom, “A rising tide floats all boats.” They have channeled their success into the success of others.

A Brief History

Leonetti Cellars was established in 1977 (the first vines were planted in 1974) and fourteen years later there were still only six wineries in the valley. Growth continued and there were 23 wineries by 2000. In the boon years prior to the recession, growth accelerated and by 2007 there were over 90 wineries. Remarkably, Walla Walla proved to be an economic island of relative well-being during the recession. The wine industry cluster of businesses that generated over 2,000 jobs and accounted for over 8% of the region’s employment base with earnings of $103.2 million in 2007, grew another 2,740 jobs, totaling just over 6,000, by 2011. Regional earning more than doubled in that four-year span to $230 million and the industry then accounted for 14.4% of the region’s employment base.

As Walla Walla began doing well, the wine industry leaders and visionaries did not retreat from the community they fostered. They nurtured it. As the breadth of viticulture and winemaking expanded, more and more enterprises prospered. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance was formed in 2000. Also in 2000, Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) established the enology and viticulture program with the help of $5 million in private donations. By 2003 the school had constructed the Center for Enology and Viticulture, which included a state-of-the-art commercial winery, College Cellars. (see footnote) 

The L’Ecole N° 41 Story

Jean-&-Baker-PhotoBaker and Jean Ferguson founded L’Ecole N° 41 in 1983, the third winery in Walla Walla and the 20th commercial winery in Washington. Jean Ferguson, a home economics graduate of Washington State University, was an accomplished cook with a refined palette and served as L’Ecole’s first winemaker. As do so many of the women winemakers that now populate Walla Walla, Jean did it all, from negotiating for grapes to cleaning tanks to testing for sugars in the lab. Baker was the great-grandson of Dorsey Syng Baker, founder of Baker Boyer Bank, Washington’s oldest. Baker served as President of the bank for 18 years and, like so many other Walla Walla wine icons, came to the wine business late in life. The Fergusons had a daughter, Megan, who graduated from Whitman College with a degree in economics. marty-megan-dining-roomShe met Marty Clubb while the two were attending graduate school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. After graduation, the couple moved to San Francisco where they each worked in careers befitting their education. As L’Ecole was getting underway, they often returned to Walla Walla in the fall to help Baker and Jean during harvest. In 1989, Marty and Megan returned to Walla Walla permanently, and Marty took the helm of L’Ecole as manager and winemaker. Megan continued the family tradition and is presently Chairman of the Board of Baker Boyer Bank. As is true with so many Walla Walla wineries, Marty and Megan’s adult children, Riley and Rebecca, are now the third generation involved in winery operations.

graphMarty partnered with Gary Figgins (Leonetti) and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge) and expanded the Seven Hills Vineyard from 20 acres to the 190 acres currently in production. Next came the SeVein project, 2,700 acres near Seven Hills, which is subdivided into vineyards serving the who’s who of Walla Walla winemakers – Pepper Bridge, Amavi, Doubleback, Figgins, L’Ecole N° 41 and others. At the top of the hill, at 1,400 feet, is L’Ecole’s crown, the Ferguson  Vineyard. There, in 2008, 9.6-acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc were planted. The vineyard was expanded in 2009 with an additional 7.8 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. The third planting in 2016 expanded the vineyard to 30 acres. The fourth and final planting of 12 acres will take place in 2019. The first vintage from Ferguson Vineyard was produced in 2011. That vintage rocked the wine world when one of the largest and most prestigious wine competitions, Decanter World Wine Award, declared the Ferguson Estate wine to be the best Bordeaux-style variety in the world in the over-£15 category, the only American wine to win an award in 2014.

College Cellars

Marty Clubb doesn’t usually do winemaker dinners. He’s a nice enough fellow however and he had difficulty giving us a hard “no” when we lobbied him directly. What sealed the deal for Marty was when he learned that we wished to hybridize the dinner format to include graduates of WWCC’s master winemaker program. Last year L’Ecole N° 41 donated the grapes that the college used to create the auction lot sold at the second annual Reveal trade wine auction put on by the Alliance. True to his nature, using theKristina and Joe L’Ecole dinner to promote Walla Walla in general and the college’s enology and viticulture program specifically sealed the deal. In addition to Marty’s storytelling we will include the story of two WWCC graduates. Joe Czarny and Kristina Rivero met at the college and are now engaged to be married. Joe participated in making a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Summit View vineyard and Kristina was on the team that made a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from nearby Seven Hills, grapes donated to the college by L’Ecole.

We intend to take a unique approach to this dinner in order to include a complete presentation of wines from both wineries. Janet is still working through the challenge of building a menu that showcases an array of wines made from grapes grown in close proximity with subtle and often not so subtle distinctions. You can register for the dinner now by clicking here. The full menu of wines and pairings will be published soon.

 

Footnote: Historical information for this article was shamelessly culled from Wines of Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History (Check out the book here) by Catie McIntyre Walker, aka Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman. Economic statistics were drawn from the Afterword to Ms Walker’s book contributed by Dr. Nicholas Velluzzi, Director of Institutional Planning, Research and Assessment at Walla Walla Community College. The statistics provided by Dr. Velluzzi were published in Economic Analysis of the Walla Walla Wine Cluster: Past, Present and Future, published in 20017, and Revisiting the Impacts of the Walla Walla Wine Cluster, published in 2011.

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