Nearly 11 years ago, I made my first trip to Washington Wine Country for the Wine Bloggers Conference. When the conference ended, a good friend of mine Write for Wine took me on a tour of her favorite wineries. L’Ecole No 41 winery was the first place that we visited hon our sojourn.. And these schoolhouse wines rock!
Imagine tasting wine in a century-old schoolhouse in the historic Frenchtown area, on the edge of Walla Walla. L’Ecole stands for “the school” in French, and the schoolhouse was part of School District #41. Founded in 1983, L’ecole Winery is the third oldest winery in Walla Walla wine country with 31 years of history.
L’Ecole is known nationally and internationally for the quality of its wine and has received numerous awards. The winery uses the unique terroirs of Washington State and farms sustainably. Two of its vineyard’s, Estate Ferguson and Estate Seven Hills Vineyards, both are certified sustainable and certified Salmon Safe.
For years, L’Ecole was known for its label, which was a child’s drawing of the winery. It was drawn by Ryan Campbell, then an 8-year-old family member. Today, Ryan is a successful architect in London. Three years ago, they changed the label.
Recently I had a chance to chat with Marcus Rafenelli, the winemaker; Constance Savage, the general manager, and Marta Timóteo, the marketing manager, to talk about what makes L’Ecole and Walla Walla special.
“We see ourselves as a pioneer and leader, said Rafenelli. “We carry the flag for Washington State and showing the uniqueness of the terroir to the market.”
We delved a little into the winery’s history. Baker and Jean Ferguson created L’Ecole as a retirement project. Their daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Marty Chubb, helped the Fergusons launch L’Ecole, and then moved to San Francisco to take corporate jobs.
In 1988, they realized they’d rather work in the winery and the Fergusons realized the winery was too much work and they were really ready for retirement. But Marty had never made wine. He began taking winemaking classes, had great support from local winemakers and essentially figured it out. Today, L’Ecole is one of the top honored wineries in Washington State and the third generation, Riley and Rebecca, have roles with the winery.
And, of course, we covered the schoolhouse. Constance talked about the schoolhouse being essential to the brand. They receive comments daily about people who remember attending school there.
We tried two wines:
2019 L’Ecole Semillon was a wine described as “sleek,” “textured” and “plush.” It had notes of apple, pears melons, almonds, figs and citrus. I loved this one, it was truly sunshine in a glass.
2017 L’Ecole Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – this classic Cabernet was very lush. I tasted blackberry, herbs, chocolate, coffee and cassis.
“These wines come from the Baker’s love for Bordeaux and the Loire Valley,” said Rafenelli. “We take a small winery’s approach to bringing these wines to life.”
This week, the winery also announced that it will open the “Heritage by L’Ecole” wine bar in the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel. The wine bar, which will open Spring Kickoff weekend in April, is designed by Rebecca Clubb-Olson, a third-generation family member.