The last few years have been hard on wineries. Wildfires and smoke damaged fruit; the Covid-19 pandemic decimated tourism, stalled supply chains, and exacerbated staffing challenges. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with the owners and winemakers at Aluvé winery in Walla Walla to discuss their wines and how they navigated winery life through a pandemic and more.
I first met JJ & Kelly Menozzi on my last visit to Walla Walla in 2019; they had just opened the tasting room at their winery. Planning our first trip to Eastern Washington in 3 years, I knew I wanted to catch up with the husband-and-wife winemaking team.
The Menozzi story and how they got into the wine business is straight out of Hollywood. Both retired from 25-year service as pilots in the United States Air Force. JJ flew F16 jets and Kelly piloted the Boeing 707 refueling plane. They were stationed around the world and the one constant everywhere was their love of wine. Early on they knew that they would love to start making wine during their retirement. Many leaves were spent traveling to wineries and Walla Walla was an early favorite. As retirement neared, they found the land for what has become their Estate Vineyard and home on Mill Creek in Walla Walla. Due to the changing real estate market, they made 3 separate offers on the property before getting it. A former horse property, they had extensive work to do building their home, planting the vineyards, and then building the winery. In 2012 they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Chardonnay on the estate.
The couple attended The Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, where they learned the process of wine making and vineyard management. They highly praise the program both because they learned so much but as they were able to meet many friendly and generous people in the Washington wine community. They had gained the knowledge to make wine, bought the land to plant and build, now they needed a name. Drawing inspiration from their Italian heritage, they created a fanciful combination of Italian words meaning Winged Grape. ALUVÉ symbolizes the connection between two of their passions, flying for their country and sharing great wine. This symbolism is visible on the label: a background of sky-blue fades into a wine-colored purple; the silver lettering is a nod to Air Force Pilot Wings.
After years of selling their early vintages from the back of their car and to friends and family, they were finally ready to open a tasting room in August 2019 and quickly became a hot ticket. Their many visitors would venture up their long winding driveway thru the vineyards to taste wine selections poured by JJ and Kelly themselves. As their popularity and crowds grew, they felt they were losing the intimacy with visitors. They planned to change to a reservation system so they could devote time to each customer, and then the pandemic happened, and reservations became the standard.
During our visit I asked how the pandemic impacted their business model. JJ explained both the positive and negative effects. In 2020 when tasting rooms were allowed to have visitors outside, they found the clientele was mostly new wine enthusiasts who were mostly local or from within Washington. 2021 brought another shift in clientele – people that wanted to travel but couldn’t get into Europe or Asia, so they welcomed visitors came from all over the USA. Sharing their story with these new people was lovely – but it did mean they sold out fast on several wines. In July 2022, without enough wine to sell, they closed for the month; this fall they opened again with newly bottled vintages and hopes that the 2022 harvest increases production.
Knowing that last year’s harvest was down from normal and the year before was plagued with wildfire smoke, I inquired about this year’s yield. Much like Western Washington, the spring was cold and wet and put everything behind schedule. The grapes were late to bud and get pollinated. They hoped for warm but not overly hot weather during the summer months, as JJ explained, “the grapes do really well up to about 95 degrees F, above that they shut down and don’t do any photosynthesis.” No matter what the harvest brings, the 2022 vintage will be special. After waiting for the large wine tanks that sat in Elliott Bay for months, they were finally delivered and installed: 2022 will be the first vintage harvested and produced in their own facility.
I love wineries that have a passion for wine and make it work. JJ and Kelly will welcome you into the tasting room and make you feel like you have been friends forever. Their passion can’t be denied as they pour you a glass of wine accompanied with conversation about the growing process; they then whisk you out into the vineyard to teach you about grape growing, followed by a cellar tour to show you how it’s all made. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to into the beautiful underground cellar with its redwood wine racks awaiting their library of vintage wine. Next time you’re in Walla Walla, fly in and taste the love put into each bottle.
As featured in Stroll Laurelhurst & Windermere, formally Laurelhurst Windermere Living.