L’Ecole No 41: Pioneering Walla Walla Wine

Walla Walla Wine L'Ecole
A pioneering family helped establish the Washington Wine industry and Walla Walla as a prime wine region.  Foresight is the foundation of this family’s legacy. Not only are the Ferguson’s a fixture in the wine business, but their ancestors established the Baker Boyer Bank in 1869 in Walla Walla, making it the oldest bank in Washington State.  With six generations in banking and three in the wine business, the Ferguson’s presence dominates Walla Walla’s history. Today, their continued focus lies in promoting Walla Walla wine in their L’Ecole No 41 winery.

The name L’Ecole No 41 refers to the schoolhouse that houses its winery. The schoolhouse circa 1915 is located in Frenchtown, a historic community west of Walla Walla. French-Canadians settled in the valley in the 1800s. The winery’s name is derived from the French term for school, L’Ecole, and the district the winery is located in, number 41.

L'Ecole No 41 Schoolhouse
L’Ecole No 41 Schoolhouse

Baker Ferguson and Marty Clubb

Like many in the wine industry, Baker Ferguson started the winery as a retirement project in 1983.  At the time, L’Ecole No 41 was the 3rd winery established in Walla Walla.  Today there are 200 wineries in the region. With Baker’s pioneering spirit, he became very involved with the establishment of the Walla Walla Valley AVA in 1984.

Today Marty Clubb, son-in-law to Baker and Jean Ferguson, is the managing winemaker and co-owner of L’Ecole No 41.  Since 1989 he has collaborated in making L’Ecole what it is today.  His approach is very hands-on as Marty takes on many endeavors both at the winery and in the community. At the same time, he is a managing partner in two other wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. Marty is very involved in the Washington Wine Commission,  Washington Wine Institute, WineAmerica, Walla Walla Wine Alliance, and instrumental in creating the Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology and Viticulture.  You might say the pioneering spirit of Baker Ferguson lives on in Marty.

Marty Clubb L'Ecole No 41
Marty Clubb

The Walla Walla Valley AVA

The Walla Walla Valley is located in the southeast corner of the Columbia Valley appellation, with its borders sitting in two states, Washington and Oregon.  Surrounded by the Blue Mountains, Vansycle Basalt Ridge, and the Palouse Hills, Walla Walla is the warmest and windiest part of the Columbia Valley. The Blue Mountains create a diurnal shift allowing for warm days and cooler nights.

Within the Walla Walla Valley, there are four distinct micro-climates.  These different climatic zones include the deep wind-blown Loess, where one finds in the Seven Hills Vineyards. The terraced remnants of ice-age flood silts of the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, those vineyards located in old cobbled Walla Walla river beds, and the shallow diverse soils planted on fractured basalt, as is the Ferguson Vineyard.

Walla Walla Wine And The L’Ecole Vineyards

L’Ecole owns two vineyards Ferguson Estate Vineyard and Seven Hills Vineyards.  They also source grapes from the Pepper Bridge Vineyards and the Columbia Valley.

Ferguson Vineyard

Named after owners Baker and Jean Ferguson, the vineyard consists of 42 acres, of which 30 acres are planted. The vineyard’s high elevation location on an old lava bed promotes soils of Loess and fractured basalt.  This type of soil produces wine with bold dark fruit, hints of tobacco, espresso,  and rich texture.

Vineyard plantings with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec occurred in 2008 and 2009. In 2016, Marty Clubb planted additional vines, including Petit Verdot. The vineyard is Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon-Safe. The grapes from this vineyard are only used in L’Ecole wines.

Ferguson Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington
Ferguson Vineyard

Seven Hills Vineyard

Considered the most renown in the area, Seven Hills Vineyard consists of wind-blown Loess. This 170-acre vineyard is the oldest in the valley and has produced wine since 1993. The composition of the soil depends on the elevation.  At the lower levels, the soils are Ellisforde Silt Loam. As the elevation increases, the soil changes to Walla Walla Silt Loam.  The focus of this Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon-Safe vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blends that give the wine the following characters, cedar, black cherry, and rich, elegant structure.

Seven Hills Vineyard
Seven Hills Vineyard

Walla Walla Wine

As a pioneering winery, L’Ecole set the standard and quality for wine in the area.  The old world structure and elegance defines the character of their wines. They produce wine, especially Walla Walla wine, to drink and not necessarily set on a shelf for a future date.

This article will discuss two wines from L’Ecole No 41.  On another occasion, I have sampled the Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley and I hope to discover more wines from this premier Washington State Winery.

Columbia Valley Semillon

Semillon Columbia Valley 2019:  Rarely do you find Semillon grown on the West Coast, so it was a treat to discover this Semillon. After a full cluster press, the wine barrel ferments and ages in French oak for five months. I found a lusciously delicious creamy-textured wine with aromas of honeysuckle and citrus and flavors of citrus.

L'Ecole No 41 Semillon
L’Ecole No 41 Semillon

Walla Walla Wine Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2017: This Cabernet Sauvignon blends grapes from four different soil types, of which 50% come from estate vineyards in Walla Walla.  The Ferguson Vineyard adds some salinity and higher acid, which makes the Cabernet come across very fresh.  The wine ages in 40% new oak.  I found a fresh, lively, and smoothly balanced wine displaying dark fruit with accents of white pepper on the finish.

L'Ecole No 41 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
L’Ecole No 41 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This article will be the first of several on L’Ecole No 41 and its influence on the Walla Walla Wine industry.

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