Walla Walla celebrates widely-planted grape variety

##Photo by Richard Duval

By Michele Francisco

It’s been nearly two decades since Miles Raymond, played by Paul Giamatti, shouted that he wouldn’t “drinking any (insert expletive here) Merlot,” in the movie Sideways. No one could have predicted how a fictional character would cause almost irreparable harm to the popular grape’s image by besmirching the varietal. Happily, memories fade. Now, Merlot is experiencing a revival of sorts; wine lovers are again attracted to its finesse and splendor.

Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine – Merlot presents the perfect opportunity to embrace this crowd-pleasing wine variety. Events are hosted throughout the Walla Walla Valley over three-days, starting with an informative seminar, followed by tastings, panel discussions and winemakers dinners.

Kelsey Albro Itämeri, owner and winemaker at itä Wines, is on Friday’s Wine Panel Presentation and Tasting and co-hosting a dinner set among the vines at Les Collines Vineyard. She says, “Merlot does so beautifully in the Walla Walla Valley and I’m beyond thrilled it is getting its due at Celebrate this year. Through thick and thin, Washington Merlot has always been stellar– I think of it as my ‘ride or die’ grape, and am honored to be sharing some of the itä bottlings during the event.”

Founded in 1983, L’Ecole N° 41 is Walla Walla’s third oldest winery. L’Ecole’s winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, explained his enthusiasm for the grape, “Celebrate Merlot is such a special event for me. Merlot was my gateway into wine back in the early 2000s. It was the first wine I ever purchased and started me on a pathway toward my wine career. I now get to be a passionate advocate for the grape and Washington state.” Rafanelli will serve with Itämeri on Friday’s panel, along with hosting Thursday night’s Vintage Pour, presenting library samples from 1998 to 2013. Says Rafanelli, “I am very much looking forward to tasting great Merlots, eating great food with Merlot and sharing L’Ecole’s rich history of Merlot with guests who attend.”

“Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine – Merlot is the country’s only Merlot-focused wine event of this scale,” explains Liz Knapke, Executive Director of Walla Walla Valley Wine. “We believe that the Walla Walla Valley produces some of the world’s finest Merlot and are happy to showcase it alongside other acclaimed growing regions that craft the varietal.”

No doubt Miles’ invitation to this party was “lost in the mail.”

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