Grosgrain: A Journey through the World of Rare and Interesting Grape Varieties in Walla Walla
It’s a journey that began with a love for music, but ultimately led to a passion for wine. Matt Austin, co-founder of Grosgrain Vineyards, initially moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry after completing law school. But life took a different turn, and he eventually found himself practicing tax law, a profession he never grew to love. However, living in California exposed him to the world of wine, and it was here that his interest in winemaking began to grow.
Eventually, Matt quit his job and went back to school to learn the craft of winemaking. It was during this time that he met his wife, Kelly, who was a talented fashion designer. Together they explored Washington wines during their visits to the northwest, and Matt enrolled in the Northwest Wine Academy in Seattle. After working for some wineries in Woodinville, he eventually took a job as cellarmaster at Dunham Cellars, which brought the couple to Walla Walla.
The initial idea for Grosgrain started with a bankruptcy auction of a small vineyard property. Today, Grosgrain is known for exploring less common varieties and creating wines that emphasize freshness and elegance over power and heft. But transitioning from their previous careers to starting a winery was not without its difficulties.
In the early days of building the business, for the Austins convincing high quality growers to sell them grapes was a challenge prior to having their own estate vineyards. For instance, approaching Kiona Vineyard and requesting to make a Rosé style Pét Nat Sparkling Wine from their beautiful, historic old-vine Lemberger could have gone awry, but the winery was fortunate enough that the vineyard took a chance on them. This wine has now become one of their most popular.
The winery’s name, “Grosgrain”, is a nod to the ribbed fabric that is commonly seen in ribbons. “The parallel lines in the ribbed pattern remind us of rows of vines, and we use that pattern in some way on all of our labels. Grosgrain is often used as trim on garments, so it’s a nod to Kelly’s fashion design background. Kelly’s design can be found on most of our labels and throughout our tasting room and vacation rental,” said Matt. The name is an interplay within the winery itself combining traditional aspects of winemaking with the more modern influences of design and fashion–creating a unique and memorable experience for visitors.
Grosgrain’s two vineyards, Old Milton and Grosgrain, both have unique characteristics that add to the winery’s diverse range of wines. Old Milton was their first acquisition, purchased through auction. The five acre property is located on Old Milton Highway and sits on a small hilltop just above the valley floor at 800 feet elevation. It has classic Walla Walla silt loam soils and already had some unique varieties planted, such as Nebbiolo and Aglianico. Grosgrain Vineyard, the winery’s subsequent acquisition, is an 80 acre property that was formerly a wheat farm. Located in an area referred to as SeVein and is part of an elevated basalt ridge near the southern border of the Walla Walla AVA in Oregon. The vineyard is south facing and reaches the top of the ridge at 1400 feet elevation. The silt loam soils at Grosgrain are much more shallow, and at the higher elevations, the wines are essentially planted in fractured basalt. The winery’s first significant vintage at Grosgrain Vineyard yielded a more structured style of wine as anticipated.
Matt’s approach to winemaking is to create wines that are fresh, aromatic, and expressive of their terroir– rather than masking with heavy oak or additives, which begins with organic farming practices in the vineyard and continues into the cellar. “We want our wines to taste like they come from somewhere, not just anywhere,” said Matt.
Grosgrain produces a Walla Walla Valley Syrah, initially from partner sites, now from their estate Grosgrain Vineyard. Syrah is an ideal grape variety for showcasing terroir, and the wines from these sites, all located within a short distance of each other, reflect this diversity. Walla Walla’s climate helps retain acidity in Syrah, which brings freshness to the wine. Matt describes the style produced as a balance between California Syrah and the more savory styles of the Northern Rhone.
They also produce a unique Sémillon. Matt, a fan of skin fermented whites or “orange wines,” chose Sémillon as an interesting candidate for Grosgrain due to its often waxy texture that would suit the style. He initially planned to make two versions: one skin-fermented and the other pressed immediately, but later preferred a blend of both as it offered a unique texture and deeper aroma. The hybrid between white and orange wine is distinct as a standalone wine.
Walla Walla’s charm lies in its location far from major urban areas, allowing the region to maintain its laid-back atmosphere that is increasingly rare these days. Despite this, the region has seen significant growth over the past 20 years, with over 120 wineries now calling it home. Investment in the historic downtown core has made it a contender with any other wine producing region in the US. As producers continue to refine their craft, the region has seen expansion to higher elevations like SeVein and the North Fork of the Walla Walla River. Walla Walla’s diversity offers endless possibilities.
The tasting room, designed by Kelly, boasts an indoor-outdoor atmosphere with a patio overlooking the vineyards and Koi pond. For those who want to extend their stay, the adjacent vacation rental, Casa Grosgrain, provides a comfortable and convenient home base for exploring.
The upcoming vintage is set to be an exciting one as it marks the first full production harvest at Grosgrain Vineyard, which will position them as primarily an estate producer. In addition to the current vineyard, Grosgrain still has 30 acres that are plantable. “The two Spanish Cava varieties that we planted, Xarel-lo and Macabeo, represent the first substantial domestic plantings for those grapes and by the time we release the first vintage of sparkling wine made from them will be a roughly ten year time span from when we originally sourced the vine material,” said Matt. This will be a thrilling moment as the grand vision finally comes to fruition.
The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative reporting.
2021 Petit Grosgrain – The wine reveals a dazzling array of red fruit flavors, buoyed by a subtle infusion of tea and cinnamon, that tantalize the palate with their vibrancy and complexity. The well-structured fruit-to-tannin composition is an impeccable blend of 46% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 15% Charbono, and 8% Carignan, which undergoes changes every year to ensure a distinct expression of the vintage.
2021 Walla Walla Valley Grenache – delectable flavors of succulent strawberry, raspberry, and sweet cherry complemented by a subtle herbal note. Its tasteful structure is harmoniously balanced by earthy undertones.
2022 Walla Walla Valley Blush – boasting a gorgeous peach color that shimmers in the glass. Flavors of ripe orange, tangy grapefruit, and juicy pear are immediately apparent, providing a lush and fruity bouquet. A composition of 86% Grenache and 14% Carignan, this Rosé has a summery and playful feel.
2022 Sparkling Sémillon- a bright and inviting wine, showcasing a pale yellow that shimmers with a subtle effervescence. On the palate, lively notes of citrus fruit burst forth, intermingled with a pronounced minerality. Followed by a clean and dry finish, this low intervention sparkling wine leaves a lasting impression.