DOUG FROST IS ONE OF ONLY four individuals to attain both the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles. He has pinnacled the wine world’s equivalent of Everest (twice) to reach the ultimate peaks of industry knowledge and tasting stamina. As the new owner of Echolands Winery in the Walla Walla region of Washington state, Frost is taking on a whole new challenge.
True to character, Echolands has been a thoughtful venture for Frost, and many years in the making. Born in Portland, Oregon, Frost was considering a move to Washington in 1985, and he spent nights contemplating the future at the Green Lantern in Walla Walla, a self-described watering hole for farmers, academics, hillbillies, carpetbaggers and malingerers of every ilk. The official Walla Walla wine appellation was only a year old and quickly gaining renown, led by multigenerational farmers turned winegrowers who were willing to take chances. “I met the late, great David Lake [a fellow Master of Wine and winemaker at Columbia Winery] when he poured me a 1983 Semillon; I was gobsmacked,” Frost recalls. “I think good wine is supposed to provide an emotional connection to a place, and you don’t ignore it when it happens.” Wines from local makers like Gramercy Cellars, Cayuse, Leonetti and Woodward Canyon were beacons that would keep drawing him back.
Frost feels a kinship to the city of Walla Walla that is shared by many wine travelers. The historic downtown welcomes visitors with 40 tasting rooms as well as chef-owned restaurants, shopping and boutique hotels. It’s a destination for foodies, somms, cyclists and nature lovers—a more laid-back version of Napa with a surprisingly good live music scene, but still serious about wine. Situated on both sides of the Oregon-Washington border within the greater Columbia Valley, the Walla Walla AVA is home to more than 140 wineries. Like most of Washington state, its vineyards lie to the east of the Cascade Mountains, where the climate is dry and sunny with a long growing season, entirely unlike the cool, wet coast. “It is a place of real, if slightly stark, beauty,” muses Frost. The kind of place that takes root with wine lovers. For a small region, Walla Walla outdelivers with a range of soils and elevation that can yield powerful reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends and quirkier varieties like Viognier, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Syrah and Grenache often earn the highest marks for their juicy plum, blackberry and savory pepper notes.
In 2018 Frost joined forces with investor and conservationist Brad Bergman to launch Echolands and purchase Taggart Vineyard, a 50-acre property located on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. The name Echolands reflects a connection to a hillside landscape that is filled with promise; the site slopes north to Lower Dry Creek and is ideally situated at 950 to 1,200 feet, just below famous neighbors like Leonetti’s Serra Pedace Vineyard and next to Betz Family Vineyard. Winemaker Taylor Oswald was recruited to oversee all things technical, including the hard work of prepping a site laid bare by the Missoula floods over 15,000 years ago. “Where we are planted, there is nothing but loess: deep, windblown, dusty soils that have settled for millennia with little organic material but excellent drainage,” says Frost. “We spent the first two years of our ownership of Taggart growing and mulching beneficial plants to provide some lively material underneath the vines we eventually planted.” Planted to 32 percent Cabernet Franc, 31 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 19 percent Merlot, with additional Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, less than half the acreage is vineyard, a responsible strategy that leaves the rest to native flora and birds.
It’s an inherent advantage to have one of the world’s best tasters on board at a winery. As the estate vineyard comes of age, Echolands is sourcing fruit from top growers on a négociant basis, allowing Frost to exercise his palate. Generous of spirit and prone to laugh, Frost leans toward restraint and discipline in his winemaking. “We’re crafting wines that are elegant and balanced, a little nervy, with that liveliness showing off a less-frequently realized character,” he says. The winery will release three Walla Walla AVA wines this year: Echolands Syrah Les Collines Vineyard 2018, Echolands Seven Hills Vineyard 2018 and Echolands Grenache Rivière-Galets Vineyard 2019. Frost’s sommelier training comes through in the balance of acidity, tannin and fruit in the end wines.
“In the end, it’s all about terroir,” Frost concludes. “All wine is an echo of the landscape, of the vines planted there and the sound that they make in the form of their fruits. Winemaking cannot create qualities that are not there in the grapes. Like the creature of mythology known as Echo, we can only express what is given to us.” Frost and his team are just getting started in Walla Walla. There is grace, humility and true joy in these wines that will echo for years to come.
For wine availability, visit echolandswinery.com. *
Helen Gregory is the founder and president of Gregory + Vine. She has worked in strategic brand management and communications for beverage industry leaders such as Moët Hennessy USA, Rémy Cointreau and STOLI, and has led award-winning hospitality, beverage and lifestyle campaigns for prestige clients from the European Union to Argentina, Australia, Chile, Israel, South Africa and across the United States.