Exploring Walla Walla Wine Country: Pepper Bridge Winery

The history of Pepper Bridge Winery in Walla Walla Washington began 30 years ago when Norm McKibben, a founding father of Walla Walla’s wine industry, realized the region’s great grape-growing potential. It was in 1989 when McKibben, his wife Virginia, and their eldest son Shane, broke ground and planted their first vineyard. Two years later, the McKibben’s added Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to land adjoining the family’s high-density plantings of exotic apples. It was actually apples that led McKibben to Walla Walla in 1985, after retiring from 25 years working as a civil engineer. However, after his introduction to Mike Hogue, a man he credits as a mentor, McKibben took the plunge into the world of wine and the seeds of Pepper Bridge Vineyard were sown. At first, it was all about growing and selling grapes to other Walla Walla wineries. As the vineyards McKibben planted continued to grow, so did a new idea about producing his own wine from his much sought after grapes.

Norm McKibben, respected grower/vintner of Pepper Bridge Winery, is the only person to have served as a director on both the Washington State Wine Commission and the Oregon Wine Board. In 2017 Mckibben received the Washington Winegrowers Lifetime Achievement Award. McKibben, now 82 is still the managing partner at Pepper Bridge.

With the decision of opening a own small winery of his own McKibben put his construction engineering background to work. Plans to build everything on site to make the winery function and run as smoothly as possible soon materialized. For the better part of a year, McKibben regularly traveled and checked out wineries in California to get a glimpse of the good and the bad, to see what worked and what didn’t. Then in 1998 with a plan to build the best winery facility in Walla Walla, McKibben officially launched Pepper Bridge Winery , in partnership with Anheuser-Busch veteran Ray Goff. A year later, third-generation Swiss winemaker Jean-François Pellet joined the team. At the time it was the 18th Winery in the Walla Walla Valley, today the valley has over 140 wineries.

Together McKibben, Goff and Pellet designed a cutting edge winery to fulfill their dreams.

During my tour of the wine making facility it was clear that an extraordinary amount of attention and detail went into planning the functionality of the building. The three level winery is built into a hill and each part of the building utilizes innovative techniques and design to enhance the quality of the crafted wine. This building is home to Washington states first state-of-the-art gravity-flow facility and includes subterranean caves. The gravity flow winery moves the grape pulp and juice from the sorting table, to the tanks and finally to the barrels by way of gravity as opposed to pumps.

The underground barrel room is an amazing site, adorned with a beautiful wall mural depicting harvest time in the vineyards.

Rows up on rows of wine barrels line the long expanse of the underground barrel room, holding soon to be bottled promises of past vintages.

It is hard not to dream of a Wine Library like the one at Pepper Bridge Winery

My favorite part of the Pepper Bridge Winery tour, as with many winery tours, was getting a look at the Wine Library Room. These rooms are filled with more than just bottles of wine, they also hold the memories of countless individuals who have enjoyed the wines within these walls.

Food & Wine Pairing at Pepper Bridge

Next time I visit Pepper Bridge Winery I will be scheduling one of their
Food & Wine Pairings.

Here is information: Experience Pepper Bridge Winery in a whole new way with a Food & Wine Pairing Class. Begin your tour on the back patio with a view of the estate vineyards followed by a private seated tasting in the library. A local chef will prepare a selection of small dishes that will be paired with each wine to show you how the components interact with one another for a more enjoyable experience on your palate. Learn to appreciate the full breadth of our wines and how to expertly pair with different foods.

Price: $60/pp plus tax; $48/pp for Club Members Duration: 90 minutes
Appropriate for those 21+ years of age
Hours: Friday & Saturday;  11am and 2pm

Wine, like food, is so emotional. If you think about it, so much of the courting ritual is surrounded by wine and food. There’s a built-in romance to wine. –Padma Lakshmi

After the Tour I was excited to begin the Wine Tasting.

Wine Tasting Flight

The wine tasting flight included five of the Pepper Bridge Wines that are currently available: 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Merlot, 2016 Trine, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was full of rich and prominent fruit components that instantly intrigued me.

2018 Sauvignon Blanc

A blend of 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Sémillon this Sauvignon Blanc is alive with the aroma of ripe stone fruit and a collection of tropical fruits that mingle together with a dash of salinity and earthy mineral undertones. Each sip brings with it those same tropical fruit notes and a long bright mineral taste that is perfectly balanced with the acidity of this wine. Full and On the palate, bright acidity highlights tropical fruit notes with lingering minerality. Full and rich on the tongue I knew that I could not leave with out a bottle of this Sauvignon Blanc. Only 344 cases were produced.

2016 Pepper Bridge Merlot

The first production of Pepper Bridge Estate Merlot was in 1999.

I was excited to try this 2016 vintage of the Merlot after enjoying the 2015 last year. This wines aroma ushers in complex whispers of dark fruit; plums and sweet black cherries, wrapped in notes earth and dried leaves. Flavors of fresh dark wild blueberries and red raspberries, give way to chocolate covered cherries and warm spices. Each sip is a silky mouthful of soft tannins and a long velvety finish. I loved this Merlot and purchased a bottle to store and enjoy in the next few years.

2016 Pepper Bridge Trine

A ‘Trine’ is defined as a close group of three, and Pepper Bridge’s Trine wine celebrates the bond of the three Pepper Bridge families: the McKibbens, Goffs and Pellets.

Trine is Winemaker Jean-François Pellet’s creative blend, a wine that allows his expression combining a vintage that contains the Bordeaux’s traditional five red grapes. This really is one of my favorite Pepper Bridge Wines, I have a bottle of the 2015 Vintage stored away for a future day. The 2016 did not disappoint with a strong introduction of Cabernet Franc notes both on the nose and on the palate. A blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, this wine shines with notes of bright red raspberry and dark currants on the nose. Melding with the fruit fragrance is a wonderful boutique that combinations herbs and floral scents. All of these scents dance with a light note of pleasing robust red fruits that are swimming in a forest of earthy warmth. Smooth and velvety with tannins that roll around the tongue into a balanced and rich finish. 

2016 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon

At Pepper Bridge their Cabernet Sauvignon has been crafted every year since their inception in 1998. It is a flagship wine for Pepper Bridge and with every distinctive vintage, winemaker Jean-François Pellet employs a blend of Bordeaux varietals. The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is an elegantly confident wine that showcases dark, rich fruit, and holds a lot of promise in the years to come.

2012 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon

This 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon has won numerous awards and accolades for its robust flavor and exceptional sustainability. Strong on the Cabernet Sauvignon with 76%, then blend also includes 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. I instantly loved this Cab Sauv and it’s tempting aromas of dark ripe fruit, forest floor and crushed dried herbs. After a first sip of this expressive wine I knew that I wanted to also bring a bottle home to tuck away. Displaying impressive layers of plum, blueberry and blackberry wrapped in blankets of cocoa and minerals this wine surrendered to a collection of richly smooth tannins and a sophisticated finish.

A trip to Walla Walla would not be complete without a visit to Pepper Bridge Winery and the gorgeous country where it is located. Perched on a hill with magnificent views of the estate vineyards; Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Les Collines, these are some of the most famed vineyards in Washington. My visit to The Pepper Bridge Winery was both insightful and educational. There was so much to learn about how McKibben and the rest of the Pepper Bridge family helped make Walla Walla Wine country what it is today. Thank you to everyone on the Pepper Bridge team who made this visit memorable. I can’t wait to visit again!

Pepper Bridge Winery also has a tasting room in Woodinville, where you can taste their current releases and wines from their sister winery Amavi Cellars. The shared tasting room is located at 14810 NE 145th St, Building A-3, Woodinville, WA.

Pepper Bridge Winery is located at 1704 JB George Rd, Walla Walla, WA. For more information about Pepper Bridge Winery and the wine releases that a currently available for purchase visit http://www.pepperbridge.com/

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: