Time & Direction Winery: Back to the Future in the Walla Walla Rhone Scene

By Published On: January 30, 2024

Credit: Time & Direction Winery

In the heart of Walla Walla, amidst tranquil vineyards, stands Time and Direction Winery, a testament to the unique journey of its owner, Steve Wells. From aspiring to be a rock star in the bustling streets of New York City to becoming a certified sommelier, Steve’s path to the world of wine was anything but ordinary. 

His initial interest in wine, sparked by the prospect of larger tips while waiting tables, evolved into a deep appreciation for the craft. This passion led him to a tasting with Ron Coleman, formerly of Tamarack Cellars, and eventually to the Enology & Viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College.

Graduating in 2016, Steve seized an opportunity to produce up to 1000 cases at his employer Aryn Morell’s facility, free of charge. Thus, Time & Direction was born. Specializing in Rhone Valley varieties, Steve’s vision is to create food-friendly wines that are lower in alcohol and higher in acid, making wine approachable for all. His love for teaching about wine extends beyond the winery, fostering a welcoming community for wine lovers. 

Time and Direction, known for its diverse grape sourcing across Walla Walla, began working with the Patina Vineyard in 2021. This vineyard, with its 25-year-old vines, offered the winery its first experience with old vine fruit. Patina Vineyard’s uniqueness stems from its location on the cooler part of the Walla Walla valley floor, making it one of the last to be harvested annually. This 4-acre parcel, exclusively planted with non-irrigated, own-rooted Syrah vines, allows deep soil and climate interaction, enhancing the grape quality. 

In the pursuit of partnerships with vineyards, the key lies in a close-knit collaboration with vineyard managers and viticulturists to align on the desired style of wine. This involves determining the optimal pruning and canopy management practices to ensure the grapes reach their full potential.  However, the collaboration doesn’t end there. Trust plays a pivotal role in these partnerships. Once the goals are set, Steve entrusts the vineyard experts to make the right decisions, respecting their specialized knowledge in viticulture. He believes in not interfering excessively in their work, just as they wouldn’t dictate his winemaking process. This mutual respect for each other’s expertise ensures that everyone can focus on what they do best.

As a passionate producer of Rhone varieties, Steve is observing some emerging trends in the region. The prevalence of Syrah is growing, yet it remains a challenging sell outside of the Pacific Northwest, where most of Time & Direction’s wines are sold. The chameleon-like nature of Syrah, which beautifully adopts the properties of the vineyard, allows it to be crafted into a myriad of styles. However, this versatility can be a double-edged sword. A single unfavorable experience with a particular style of Syrah can deter people from exploring other expressions of the grape.   He has found a new favorite in Mourvedre and is excited about the debut of their first red Grenache this year, adding to their existing rose of Grenache. Despite the popularity of Grenache among winemakers, it remains scarce due to limited plantings, leading to a wish for more Grenache to be planted in the region. 

Time & Direction makes the  ‘01110011 01111001 01110010 01100001 01101000’ Syrah, a wine with a name as unique as its story. The name, spelling ‘SYRAH’ in binary code, is a tribute to Steve’s early days of computer programming. The Syrah for this particular label hails from the Eritage Vineyard in Walla Walla and is of the Australian Shiraz clone. This clone is known for its intensity, with every characteristic – acid, tannin, flavor. Unlike their other Syrah offerings, this one stands alone. Its robust nature doesn’t quite blend with other varieties or Syrah sites, necessitating its own spotlight. 

Time and Direction’s  ‘1.21 Gigawatts’ White Rhone blend is a fun little nod to 80’s pop culture, specifically the classic film ‘Back to the Future.’ This playful name stems from Steve’s fond memories of growing up in the 80’s and humorously quoting the iconic line, “1.21 gigawatts!!! Where am I going to get that kind of power!!!”, with friends.  The composition of this blend changes annually, depending on the yield of the harvest. All grapes are picked on the same day, irrespective of their ripeness levels, and are co-fermented together. This method, known as a field blend, involves creating the blend in the vineyard before bringing it back to the winery, rather than blending after fermentation. This unique and experimental approach to winemaking mirrors the adventurous spirit of time travel in the movie it pays homage to.

Credit: Time & Direction Winery

Guests stepping into the winery are welcomed into a relaxed atmosphere that redefines traditional wine tasting. The ambiance is a delightful blend of nostalgia and fun, with 80’s movies playing on the big screen and retro video games available on a tabletop console. The eclectic mix of music, spanning genres from heavy metal to hip-hop, adds to the vibrant atmosphere. This unique approach sets Time and Direction apart, offering a wine tasting experience that is as engaging and diverse as the wines themselves.

Beyond winemaking, Steve is engaged in a bunch of other creative pursuits. He finds joy in playing music with friends, designing t-shirts, logos, and painting. He is committed to promoting Walla Walla and its unique offerings. His ultimate aspiration is to make Time & Direction his sole professional focus. Guided by a straightforward philosophy– to treat others with kindness and respect. His mantra is refreshingly simple: just don’t be an a**hole.

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.

Wine Recommendations

2020 ‘01110011 01111001 01110010 01100001 01101000’ Syrah- layers of ripe dark fruit, savory herbs, mineral and spice. The tannins are silky and well-integrated, and the finish is long and satisfying. 

2022 ‘1.21 Gigawatts’ White Rhone Blend- The nose is expressive and complex, with aromas of citrus, orchard fruit, and herbs. The palate is crisp, and balanced, with a lively acidity that drives the flavors of grapefruit, pear, and savory nuances. The finish is long and refreshing, with a hint of minerality. This is a versatile and food-friendly wine that can pair well with a range of dishes, from seafood to salads to spicy cuisine.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .