Va Piano Vineyards Review
Address: 1793 JB George Road Walla Walla,Washington 99362.
Phone Number: 509-529-0900
Tasting Hours: 11:00-5:00 (winter: Mon-Fri 11:00-4:00, Sat-Sun by appt.)
Region: Columbia Valley AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Washington
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
Review Date: 3/21/2013
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
The intrinsic benefit of Walla Walla tasting is immersing oneself into the family-run estate winery. Driving past rows of plantings to reach a welcoming tasting room and sitting among the vines to sip estate wines captures the essence of the tasting experience. Adding a touch of Italy is a multicultural experience. Va Piano is such a winery.
Va Piano is not a family name, but rather, a philosophical outlook, Chi va piano, va sano e ya lontana (or, he who goes slowly goes safely and goes far). The phrase stuck with four-generation owner and winemaker Justin Wylie, who was seduced by the culture, ambiance and hospitality of Florence, Italy while studying there at Gonzaga University. Amid the watery surroundings, he learned the universal language of wine, and upon returning to Walla Walla, Justin began planting grapes and planning a Tuscan-style facility as a tribute to his days in Italy.
The Place:  The Va Piano tasting room sits among 13 acres of grapes that are mostly used for their club program. Built in 2005, the facility was undergoing renovation during my visit in early spring in an effort to add private event space. The tasting room definitely emulates an Italian design: Timber beams support a clay tile roof with stucco walls, green granite countertops and wrought iron railings. One local touch is a massive eight foot distressed alder door. An east facing picnic area stays cool in summertime, shaded by the winery. Around the corner, a second seating area features a ground-level fire pit for cooler evenings.
I am greeted by Josh who mans the tasting room and explains that all production here is done underground. Indeed, the tasting room already feels a bit like an underground facility; emptying out onto a stone patio and picnic space nestled between the rows of vines. The day of my visit was cloudy and cool, and I try my best to imagine a bustling crowd enjoying the afternoon sun. This would be a welcome sight, as the cozy interior tasting room would need some overflow space to accommodate more than 20 visitors.
While in Florence, Justin befriended Father Bruno Segatta, dean of the school and teacher of art and fresco painting. Father Brunos Tuscan- inspired landscapes reflect a colorful, abstract style that adorns the tasting room, many of which are for sale. A more palatable reflection of Justin and Father Brunos longtime relationship is the annual production of Brunos Blend, a red blend bearing the Fathers paintings, proceeds from which benefit benevolent ventures. A Sauvignon Blanc bearing Brunos name is also available for under $20.
The Wines:  As I begin the tasting, I ponder several prominently displayed bottles noir adorning the green granite countertop; Josh explains that they are the newly introduced Black Label reserve, focusing on grapes from individual vineyards. The winerys 20 acres of plantings have been producing grapes mostly reds, since 1999. Approximately a third of the grapes from their vineyards are sold to neighboring wineries.
As the tasting room was closing for the day, I was only able to get some quick tastes of select vintages. A 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was tropical but dry; this is probably a good summer “go to” wine for picnicking on the grounds. The six-vineyard dark ruby red 2009 Columbia Valley Cabernet, with its aromas of red currant showed ripe tannins and lingering sweetness. Worth the $45? Not for my budget. At the same price point, a 100% Columbia Valley Syrah was more to my liking: 18% was fermented whole cluster adding black pepper and plum overtones. Justins advice is to cellar this for a few years.
The Experience: If youve been lucky enough to visit Tuscany, you can judge for yourself whether Va Piano captures the essence of Italy. I didnt find the winery to have much appeal on a cool spring day. My advice is to visit during the summer and enjoy the patio and surroundings for the best tasting experience.