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Fall 2007 Newsletter

We're thrilled to unveil our 2005 Merlot


We are releasing our 2005 Merlot on December 1. It is a lustrous, dark-ruby color with a lovely perfume of red and black currants, cream of cassis, toasted bread, pencil lead, Asian spices and wild berries. On the palate, it is a rich, layered, velvety-textured wine with complex flavors of spicy ripe black fruit, earth, and cedar. This wine has a great sense of place, beautifully balanced with a terrific, long finish.

Our winemaker, Jean-François Pellet, is very excited about the release of this wine. The 2005 vintage started off as a big challenge because the previous year had been a freeze year with a very small crop in our estate vineyards. However, 2005 made up for all the frustrations of 2004, with Mother Nature providing us with a stellar harvest, among the very best in the history of this winery.

As always, production is quite limited and we typically sell out soon after release. Please don't miss out on this thrilling vintage -- after all, we only made 1,400 cases.

To purchase: click here, call us at 509-525-6502, or e-mail us at

From the Winegrower, Norm McKibben

Sustainable Viticulture Q & A

NormProfessional-crop.jpg As I write this, harvest is in full swing and ahead of schedule. The grapes coming into the winery from our estate vineyards are of fantastic quality. One of the joys of the business of winegrowing is that it makes you more attuned to cycles of nature, and more appreciative of the passing of time. I often think of each vintage year like the birth of a child. Vines we planted this year will bear fruit in 2 to 3 years, just about the same time we will be eagerly popping corks on Pepper Bridge wines made from this year's harvest.

I have spent a lot of time recently with visitors, talking about the Walla Walla Valley, our winery and our estate vineyards. It seems I field more questions regarding our sustainable viticulture activities than about anything else. Several reporters have contacted me recently and have quizzed me on the topic. In fact, a recent article in the Seattle Times by Paul Gregutt explored the subject, stating the following: "Wineries are taking up the cause of sustaining the soil, and all the good Earth". In the Walla Walla Valley, an organization called VINEA, the Winegrowers Sustainable Trust, is guiding and certifying growers who are committed to sustainable viticulture. It's a flexible approach that allows growers and wineries to gradually restore farmland that in many instances has been rendered sterile by decades of chemical applications." The article goes on to name Pepper Bridge Winery as one of the Walla Walla wineries committed to sustainable viticulture. In this section, I will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about sustainability.

Q What is sustainable viticulture?
A The objectives of sustainable viticulture are three-fold. We seek to provide ecological, economical and social sustainability. Our goals are: 1) To leave our children with healthier vineyards than we had when we started working the land, 2) To be good neighbors and treat our employees well, and 3) To create and maintain a very high quality of grapes so the vineyard will sustain itself financially.

Q How does Pepper Bridge grow grapes sustainably?
A We implement practices that reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers with the goal of protecting the workers, the environment, and communities at large. We are responsible stewards of the land, maintaining natural fertility and ecosystem stability and allowing the land to be healthier than how we found it. We maintain biological diversity in the whole vineyard.

Q How do your farming practices differ with organic or biodynamic?
A Sustainable viticulture is a broader philosophy than either organic or biodynamic. Organic and biodynamic are typically examples of types of sustainable farming.
Organic farming excludes the use of chemicals. Biodynamic farming is a type of organic farming based on a spiritual belief known as Anthroposophy. It embodies many of the tenets of organic farming and looks at the vineyard or farm in a holistic manner. However, it is different than both organic and sustainable farming in that it delves into metaphysical realms such as increasing an intangible vital life force in the vineyard and basing vineyard activities (such as planting and harvest) on the astronomical calendar.

The biggest substantial difference between organic/biodynamic and sustainable is that the philosophies of organic and biodynamic do not allow the use of chemicals, but they allow the use of other types of substances. For instance, in organic/biodynamic farming sulfur is frequently used to control mildew and insects but sulfur also kills beneficial insects as well as the targeted insect. This throws the vineyard out of balance, often leading to an invasion of an unwanted species such as the rust mite, which has decimated many Northwest vineyards at times over the past few years.

Alternatively, the organic farmer might decide to delay applying anything to the vineyard and hope that the problem will sort itself out. For instance, when faced with an infestation of rust mites, they can hope that the population of beneficial insects will explode in size and take care of these pests. In making this decision, a farmer is weighing the potential crop and quality loss against the sure knowledge that the use of too much sulfur will put them out of balance with nature. There is no surefire solution to these types of problems within the organic/biodynamic philosophy.

On the other hand, within the sustainable viticulture framework, we have more options. When faced with an insect problem, we can use non-chemical solutions or "soft" chemicals that target a specific problem and are not long lasting and which keep the vineyards in balance and much healthier by not killing beneficial insects along with the targeted insect.

Q What are the non-chemical control agents?
A Some examples of control measures that act exclusively on target organisms (pests, diseases, weeds) are the release of sterile insects and parasitic organisms, the enouragement of predators, the introduction of competitive plants, and the planting of habitat and food sources for beneficial predators and parasitoids.

grape%20harvest.jpg We harvest all our grapes by hand. One facet of sustainable viticulture is maintaining a healthy work environment for our employees.

Q What are some of your other non-chemical practices to improve soil quality?
A Compost is a prime example, and we use two types of compost in our estate vineyards. Organic compost is comprised of aerobically decomposed remnants of organic materials (those with plant and non-mammal origins). The goal is to add humus to soil and restore nutrients. We use a custom blend of logs, hay, leaves and other material to add diversity. We also add "compost tea" to the compost. We try to spread three tons per acre per year of compost back onto the vineyards.

Compost Tea is an aerobic mixture made by adding compost (and some extra nutrients to feed its microbes) to dechlorinated water and aerating the mix for one or two days. This process encourages aerobic bacteria and fungi and is applied through our drip irrigation system. We then feed the microbes by running molasses through the drip system.

Q What are "soft" chemicals?
A Soft chemicals target specific problems instead of acting as a broad-spectrum killer. It also has a short life (less than 90 days, depending on the chemical). Most importantly, these soft chemicals will not result in a residual buildup in the vineyard.

Q Who certifies the growers in VINEA?
A The IOBC (International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants) is the international organization that oversees the certification of sustainable farming operations here and around the globe. Our three estate vineyards are all "Certified Sustainable" and are all members of "Salmon Safe." Our winemaker, Jean-François, is the president of VINEA, and I am one of eight board members. Oregon's LIVE program and the Walla Walla Valley's VINEA are the only internationally certified regions in the USA.


Cellar Master Horacio Enrique (left), Robin Kelly O'Connor (middle) and Managing Partner Norm McKibben (right) toast the 2007 vintage after the year's first bin of grapes reaches the crush pad. Robin, who teaches and consults worldwide, is the Trade Liason for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau and is the former president of the Society of Wine Educators.


In the Press

WINE-ADVOCATE-sq.gifIn a recent edition of Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, Dr. Jay Miller wrote rave reviews about Pepper Bridge wines, the Walla Walla Valley, and Washington State as a whole. He called our state "one of the world's most exciting viticultural regions," and rated our wines as follows:

  • 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - 93 Points (available at winery)
  • 2004 Merlot - 92 Points (sold out)
  • 2003 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Reserve - 94 Points (sold out)
  • 2003 Reserve - 93 Points (sold out)

To purchase Pepper Bridge wines, please call 509-525-6502, visit our tasting room or or click here. Some of our wines are available only via membership in our wine club. To learn about our wine club (known as the Bridge Club), click here.


Meet the Team: Lisa Schmidt

Lisa%20with%20fish-crop.jpg A five-year veteran of the Pepper Bridge Winery team, Lisa Schmidt glows as our Tasting Room/Bridge Club Manager. She is the "voice" of Pepper Bridge Winery to the many of you who are in our Bridge Club.

Lisa is full of life and love for people, and has an absolutely infectious enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. She has the coolest way of bringing us all together, smoothly finding compromise and solutions, and always with her great smile. She loves light and color and the way that these elments can convey moods.

Her life doesn't stop at the winery either. She and her husband, John, love hunting wild mushrooms, riding four-wheelers and entertaining in the beautiful home they designed and built. They relish their occasional getaways to Mexico or Alaska.
They have two sons, Clay and Kyle. Although Clay lives in Seattle, he often tours the nation, playing guitar in a rock n' roll band. Kyle graduated from Wa Hi (Walla Walla High School) a few months ago and looks forward to a career in the Navy.

Family plays a key role in Lisa's life. Lisa and John live next door to her parents, and although her two older brothers moved away many years ago, Lisa keeps in close contact with them. She is the proud aunt of three nieces and one nephew, and she enjoys sharing their pictures and stories.

Nothing is too much for Lisa. She just seems to take life in stride as she mingles in the wine/hospitality community, constantly meeting people and looking for opportunities to help. In that spirit, she is very excited to be taking the annual "Toast to a Cure" auction for cancer to new levels in March.