As part of Washington Wine Month we bring you another exciting winemaker feature. Highly talented and having a passion for working with less usual varietals, Ali Mayfield serves as head winemaker for The Walls. A new winery, The Walls have released some really awesome wines that capture the art of blending and show wonderful poise and terroir. Ali has been in the industry for more than ten years. She has studied under former head winemaker of Corliss Estates, Kendall Mix and has a very good feel for Washington fruit. Her new releases were very compelling. I think you will like hearing about her story in wine. Here is my interview with Ali Mayfield, head winemaker of The Walls.
WWB: Ali, can you talk about your background in winemaking and how you first became interested in winemaking?
AM: I moved to Walla Walla in 2005, after leaving a job with UPS to go back to school to study Enology and Viticulture. I was offered an internship with Kendall Mix, who was at the time making the wines for Corliss Estates. Kendall was—and still is—a great mentor to me. In 2007, I went on to work for Long Shadows Vintners, which was an incredible experience, being introduced to the different winemakers and the styles of wine they created.
In 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting French Oenologist Claude Gros and instantly I knew I wanted to learn more from him. Claude and I have been working together ever since. It was a nice combination of working with great Washington winemakers and then gaining Old World winemaking knowledge from Claude. I’m constantly learning! I first became interested in wine as a hobby—I would make a carboy or two and bottle it up, design a label and share it with my friends. It’s fun to look back on those days now!
WWB: The Walls is a new winery project that was started rather recently. Have you always wanted to start a winery? What were some of the biggest challenges with starting a winery?
AM: Yes, I’ve always wanted to start a winery—it’s a dream come true, and I’m blessed to have Mike Martin as my business partner. For several years, Mike and I were the only ones working on the project, and I often wish we could go back to the simplicity of those days. For me, the biggest challenge was adding more people to the project. I have such a great team at the winery, but it was definitely a challenge to go through an entire vintage and learn how to work together and to learn the unique strengths that each person brought to the team.
WWB: Your new release, the 2014 The Walls ‘Lip Stinger’ Grenache Blanc (WWB, 91) is one of the best Grenache Blancs that I have sampled in the past year. Can you talk about this lovely bottling, as well as this warm vintage. How were you able to attain this degree of minerality despite the obvious heat from the vintage?
AM: I’m so happy to hear it’s one of the best Grenache Blancs that you’ve sampled, thank you! The Lip Stinger has such a great personality—this wine is always created in the vineyard with our grower Damon LaLonde at French Creek. We keep a very close eye on this site during the ripen stage, as French Creek is a warmer site for whites, which requires us to sample and monitor the pH and sugars often. The flavors developed in late August and the natural acids were still in balance with a low pH. We harvested the Grenache Blanc and co-fermented it with the small amounts of Piquepoul, Roussanne, Marsanne, Vigonier and Clairette Blanche in barrel.
WWB: I was also very impressed with your 2014 The Walls ‘The Ramparts’ Red Wine (WWB, 92), which showed wonderful feminine and masculine components. Can you talk about the blending of this wine and what you sought to achieve in terms of aromatics and flavors with this lovely bottling? The 2014 Ramparts is a blend of Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah and a small amount of Counoise. In the 2014 vintage the Grenache was definitely the feminine piece of the blend. We co-fermented the Grenache with Syrah, which we often do to add a touch more structure to the wine. We were patient with the Mouvédre and the vintage allowed us a longer hang time on the vine, which gave us more concentration and riper flavors—the masculine component. We found the balance of the blend by adding a touch of Counoise, which adds more brightness and acidity to the blend.
WWB: With March being Washington Wine Month I'm curious what your other favorite Washington wines are?
AM: I enjoy drinking wines from the Rocks district—to me, it is one of the most distinctive vineyard sites in Washington. I’m currently waiting for a shipment to arrive from Force Majeure which I’m really excited about, and I’m also inspired by the wines of Avennia.