Highlighting Sustainable Practices At L’Ecole No 41

L'Ecole Schoolhouse-Bell

Although Earth day and month have passed, most wineries continue environmental practices all year round, so even if you missed visiting your favorite winery during April, that does not mean reducing the carbon footprint comes to a halt. One such winery is L’Ecole No 41. During Earth Month and the celebration of Walla Walla Month, I sampled two of the L’Ecole wines and discovered their sustainable practices both in the vineyard and in the winery.

L’Ecole Sustainable Practices

Marty Clubb, co-owner and winemaker, describes his sustainable approach to winemaking as low impact, soft impact, soft treatment, minimal treatment, and targeted impact. L’Ecole achieves these principles through soil biology, vine health, and farming in ways that nurture the vines.

For L’Ecole, the benefits of sustainable practices in farming include healthier vines more resistant to pest and mildew pressures, reduced erosion by building better soil structure and planting beneficial cover crops, use of minimal environmental sprays, such as biodegradable oils, soaps, and plant extracts, improved plant nutrient cycling, including beneficial microorganisms in the soil, and better soil biology and overall environmental practices. L’Ecole accomplishes these practices through biodiversity, native plants, cover crops, raptor perches, falconry, compost, compost tea, pepper-based tape, and pheromone monitoring,

L’Ecole strives to support biodiversity, exercising responsible relationships with workers, neighbors, and the community. In the vineyard, nurturing soil health by utilizing composts and compost teas while avoiding herbicides on the vines.

Being a leader and proponent in sustainable practices in their farming program in the Walla Walla Valley, L’Ecole is a member of VINEA (The Winegrower’s Sustainable Trust), a voluntary group of Walla Walla Valley winegrowers pursuing sustainability in the valley. VINEA works with Oregon’s LIVE (Low-Input Viticulture and Enology) to provide internationally accredited third-party certification to winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest. This endorsement is considered one of the highest certifications in the world for sustainable viticulture.

Seven Hills Vineyard - sustainable practices farming
Seven Hills Vineyard – sustainable practices in farming. Photo Courtesy L’Ecole

Sustainable Practices in the Vineyard

L’Ecole’s cultivate grapes primarily on two vineyards, Seven Hills Vineyard and Ferguson Vineyard. Several of their wines utilize grape from the Pepper Bridge Vineyards and the Columbia Valley.

The Ferguson Vineyard is named after owners Baker and Jean Ferguson; the vineyard consists of 42 acres, with 30 acres planted in 2008 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Grapes from this vineyard are utilized in L’Ecole wines only. The vineyard’s high elevation location on an old lava bed contains soils of Loess and fractured basalt. This soil produces wine with bold, dark fruit, hints of tobacco, espresso, and rich texture. Ferguson was initially planted as a sustainable vineyard. Today the vineyards are Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon-Safe.

Ferguson Vineyard Sunset
Ferguson Vineyard Sunset. Photo Courtesy L’Ecole

Considered the most renowned vineyard in Walla Walla, the Seven Hills Vineyard consists of wind-blown Loess. This 170-acre vineyard is the oldest in the valley and has been producing wine since 1993. The soil composition depends on the elevation. At the lower levels, the soils consist of Ellisforde Silt Loam. As the elevation increases, the soil changes to Walla Walla Silt Loam. This vineyard converted to sustainable and now Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon-Safe. The wine produced from this vineyard contains primarily Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Bordeaux blends that promote characters of cedar, black cherry, rich and elegant structure.

L’Ecole Wines

Two wines that showcase the sustainable practices of each vineyard are Syrah, Estate Seven Hills Vineyard, and the Ferguson, Estate Ferguson Vineyard.

L’Ecole 2018 Syrah, Estate Seven Hills Vineyard

The grapes for this Syrah come from three separate blocks in the Seven Hills Vineyard. These vines are some of the earliest Syrah plantings in Walla Walla. The age of the vines gives old-world characters of earth and spice yet complements the bold, expressive fruit. Each block is hand-harvested with 20% of the fruit fermented whole cluster on stems and the rest gently crushed in stainless steel fermenters. The wine ages in 40% new oak for 18 months.

I found a smooth and balanced wine with lush fruit and savory notes. With its northern Rhone style, the wine is fruity but not jammy. On the nose, savory aromas dominate accented by cedar, baking spices, and herbs. On the palate, flavors of white pepper and spice accent the dark fruit, leading to a silky finish.

Pouring L'Ecole #41 Syrah
Pouring L’Ecole #41 Syrah. Photo Courtesy of L’Ecole #41

L’Ecole 2018 Ferguson, Estate Ferguson Vineyard

Introduced in 2011, Ferguson is L’Ecole’s version of a Bordeaux Blend. This wine is named after their Ferguson Estate Vineyard. The iron-rich red clay soils in the Ferguson Vineyard are similar to those on the Right Bank of Bordeaux.

For L’Ecole, this wine won several outstanding awards.  The most prestigious is the 2011 Ferguson received the Decanter World Wine Awards for the Best Bordeaux Blend in 2014.

The flavor profile of this wine is distinctive and unique because of the location of the vineyard. The site produces a small crop due to the wind and difficult growing conditions. The site is known for tiny berries, thick skins, a long growing season, dense minerality, high acidity, dark fruit, and concentrated texture. The wine ages in 40% new oak for 22 months. This Bordeaux blend exhibits European character and a backbone of dryness, emphasizing blackberry, violets, and some savory notes on the nose. On the palate, dark fruit nice texture and balance. It is a big wine but not heavy and overpowering.

L'Ecole Ferguson Estate
L’Ecole Ferguson Estate, Bordeaux Blend.

The sustainable practices utilized at L’Ecole show through in all their wines because all exhibit a nice balance and integration.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.