Walla Walla Winemaker Richard Funk – Success in Spades
When we hear wine enthusiasts gushing over a new find, we perk up and listen. That’s how we discovered “The Jack” Riesling, a new Riesling from Walla Walla’s Saviah Cellars and winemaker Rich Funk. When we tasted it, it was one of those rare moments when the perfect balance of sweet and tart create Riesling nirvana. No wonder it cleaned up at last year’s 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition, taking home a truck load of awards. And if this wine is “The Jack,” then we wanted to find out more about Rich Funk and the ace he’s got up his sleeve.
A Pioneer in Walla Walla
Rich says he feels like a pioneer – Saviah was the 21st winery in the Walla Walla Valley (today there are more than 100). Vineyards have exploded, growing from 50 acres to nearly 2,000 acres. And while Walla Walla is garnering national attention for some of its wines, Rich feels the valley still has a long way to go. Saviah certainly is doing its part to showcase what this AVA is capable of producing.
This understated microbiologist with an interest in fermenting anything and everything, initially started out brewing beer. But moving from Montana to Walla Walla would change everything. While working as a county environmental health specialist in the 90s, Rich helped some of Walla Walla’s first wineries with their water quality management. Caught up by the energy and excitement of this budding wine industry, Rich’s interest suddenly shifted from beer to wine. He and his wife Anita started sourcing grapes and making wines. The wines were a hit and in 2006 Rich quit his “day job,” and the rest is history. Today Rich and Anita produce close to 10,000 cases of award-winning red and white wines at Saviah’s winery, which borders the Walla Walla River and has scenic views of the Blue Mountains.
The Winemaker’s Ace
It’s no accident that many of Saviah’s red wines have a distinct Rhône quality to them. Rich has a strong appreciation for Rhône varietals and, in 2006, he and Anita began cultivating Grenache, Syrah and Viognier grapes in an estate vineyard near the winery on 10 acres of whay he calls “incredibly rock land.” Rich says he expects some amazing wines to come from this rocky terroir in the southern tip of the Walla Walla Valley appellation. We can’t wait!
Rich’s interest in – and knowledge of – terroir really is the ace up his sleeve. All that studying chemistry and microbiology in his younger days is paying off and his background in science complements his winemaking style. Over the past 16 years, he has analyzed the soils of the Walla Walla Valley extensively, and as a result, Saviah’s wines always reflect the land from which they originated.
When He’s Not Making Wine…
It probably not a big surprise that a Montana boy loves spending his free time in the great outdoors. In the spring you may find him searching the Blue Mountains near Walla Walla for the elusive morel mushroom and in the fall he traverses the backcountry of Oregon and Montana in search of the equally elusive wapiti (a really big subspecies of elk…I had to look that up).
Our Favorite Rich Funk Wine
Definitely loving Saviah’s 2010 The Jack Riesling. Wine Enthusiast rated it 91 points and a best buy. It won best overall wine in the 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition (along with a bunch of other accolades). We put this is the top ten American Rieslings. It’s a dazzling Columbia Valley Riesling – clean, achingly crisp, aromatic, satiny, a touch sweet, and totally delicious. The Jack is sourced from the same vineyard that produces America’s popular Riesling, Ste. Michelle/Dr. Loosen’s immortal “Eroica,” as well as Charles Smith’s epic “Kung Fu Girl.”
Saviah Cellars Facts:
Address: 1979 JB George Road, Walla Walla, WA 99362
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
and by appointment
Tasting Fee: No
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Red Blends, White Blends, Chardonnay, Riesling, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc