The Valley Grove Vineyard and the future of Armstrong Family Winery

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

The Valley Grove Vineyard

It was a lovely afternoon in the Walla Walla Valley and Tim & Jennifer walked us around the property. (You can hear the crunch, crunch of the gravel under our feet in the video). Their Valley Grove Vineyard is located just north of Walla Walla Washington.

From the Blue Mountains to the Ocean

We walked down to where they hope to build their winery. Tim pointed out the tree line, which is the property line. It is also where the creek flows. This creek flows into the Walla Walla River, then into the Snake River and eventually into the Columbia River. Then the Columbia carries this water through Portland Oregon and finally out to the Pacific Ocean. The creek is fed by the Blue Mountains, which we can see in the distance. Over the course of a year the creek rises and falls pretty dramatically. Rain or snow melt will see it rise 5 to 6 feet beyond where we see it now.

The vision for the future

Where the winery will be…

The winery will be built in this area facing the Blue Mountains to the west. They will landscape and add some more vineyard. The idea is to include a porch where people can take in this view. There will be grass. It will be a place where people can wander and take in the splendor. (Oh dear…yes, I have been binging West World)

The park

We walk on to the pond, the area they like to call The Park. It is a man made irrigation pond. Already it is beautiful, with lavender around the edges and some fish. They will landscape here and picture dinners and maybe a band. (They have Wednesday night Jazz at their Walla Walla tasting room, an event we will get to later on this day).

History on display

The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
The bare cliff wall below the Audrey block at Amstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard

We walk on beyond a bridge that straddles the creek and turn to see this amazing exposure of soil, a cliff or ledge of sorts, beneath the Audrey block of Cabernet. Here you can see the layers of wind blown loess that the roots are growing through, and eventually the layers of ancient riverbed.

Nature won't be kept down.  A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks at Amstrong Family Winery's Valley Grove Vineyard
Nature won’t be kept down. A couple of reborn volunteers in one of the pulled up blocks

We walk to another old vineyard patch. There are a few straggly vines popping up. This used to be a vineyard but with winter damage they determined to pull it up. Still, vines struggles to continue, trying to come back. Eventually they will plant vines here again. They are pondering on Cab Franc, or Riesling or perhaps Gamay. While there is not much of any Gamay planted in Walla Walla, Tim things it might do well. It’s cold hardy and you can harvest it early to make a lighter red or rosé.

The historic barn

  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895 with clouds above
  • Armstrong Family Winery Barn at the Valley Grove Vineyard built in 1895

As we walk to the barn, Tim tells us why he feels the so important.

The thing about it is that it kind of connects this site to the history of this land. This is agriculture and it has been agriculture.  It’s just really neat to have that history here and be able to tell the story about how, it wasn’t grapes, but people have been farming here for a really long time.  We like the historical character that that barn brings to the property and how it ties us to the history.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

The barn dates to 1895 and they do have it registered with the Heritage Barn Register. Considering the shape it is in, it is probably beyond repair, as far as actually turning it into a usable building from health department standards. Barns were not built for those kind of things. Still the historic character of this building and it’s iconic presence on the property…they will keep it for it’s historic character.

The vines are older than they look

We walk on to the Emily block of Cabernet which you drive past to arrive at the house and cottage. The vines here are almost 20 years old, but by looking at them you would not immediately know this. When they bought the vineyard, there was some extreme winter damage and the vines needed to be retrained. They have spent the last few years doing just that. The vines were cut back to the roots, the new shoots grew to become the trunk and now after 3 years they were going to get their first harvest in 2019. This is different than planting new vines, the grapes have the advantage of a root system that has already had time to dig deep.

When you look closely you can see that the base of the plant is pretty big. Where it enters the ground the base is about 1 foot in diameter. Tim pointed out the suckers at the bottom of the vines.

This is the grapevine basically saying “I’ve got tons of energy in my root system, more energy than the canopy is currently supporting based on the trunk size.”  So it is just pushing up suckers. We’ve been through here to clean this up once this year, an we’ll go through to clean it up again, here in the next couple of weeks.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

Clones and canopy management

This is all clone 4 cabernet. Clone 4 is the Mendoza clone which was imported from Argentina. This clone is noted for it’s typicality, the herbal character that Cabernet Sauvignon is known for.

Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA
Vines running North to South in the Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA

Vineyards here run north south, so canopy management is pretty straight forward. The morning side of the vines will have the leaves thinned to allow the grapes to soak up the sun. On the afternoon side, where the sun will be much hotter, they allow the vines more sprawl, leaves covering and protecting the bunches of grapes from sunburn.

Other sources

While this year they will make their first estate wine from the Valley Grove vineyard, they have been making wine since 2010. In that time they have connected with several vineyards where they continue to source fruit. They are making wines that are both Walla Walla AVA as well as Columbia Valley AVA.

Tim tells us about Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

they have this amazing vineyard site that sits up above the Columbia River, literally on the bluff above the river, looking into Oregon. It’s just this gorgeous site with the wind coming up the river all day long. 

Tim Armstrong on the Discovery Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, July 2029

In addition, they pull fruit from Walla Walla’s Seven Hills Vineyard. Seven Hills is one of the 1st commercial vineyards in Walla Walla. From the Yakima Valley they source from Dineen, outside of Zillah and Sugarloaf. The Bogie’s blend we tasted with them on the patio is a Syrah/Cab Franc blend that comes from Elephant Mountain. (add the link to elephant Mountain)

Visiting them

While they work toward building their winery on site, they work out of a Walla Walla custom crush facility. But don’t worry, there are lots of ways to experience their wine. They have tasting rooms in both Woodinville (outside Seattle) and in Walla Walla. The Walla Walla tasting room is charming with a great staff and Jazz on Wednesday nights. If you want to see the barn and the beautiful Valley Grove Vineyard, you can book a stay at the Armstrong Vineyard Cottage. This beautiful vacation rental on the property has two bedrooms and a wrap around porch, a full kitchen and a fireplace. You are likely to meet Bogie, their beagle or the resident cats, while you take in the breathtaking views.

  • Armstrong Family Winery tasting room in Walla Walla Washington
  • Winery tasting room Located at 14 W. Main Street in Walla Walla
  • Beautiful exposed brick and the backdoor to the Armstrong Family Winery Tasting Room in Walla Walla

Armstrong Family Winery

The Walla Walla Tasting Room is located at

14 W Main St
Walla Walla, WA
509-524-8494

The Woodinville Tasting Room

19151 144th Ave. NE, Ste. I
Woodinville, WA 98072

If you are interested in staying at the guest house check out this link https://www.armstrongwinery.com/visit/guesthouse/

You can see more on the history of Armstrong Family Wines here

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Amstrong Family Winery – The Journey to Washington

Armstrong Family Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington

We were driving through rolling hills of fields of wheat for as far as the eye could see. You’ve seen it. It’s popular for car commercials these days, and for good reason. It’s spectacular, and eerie. The vastness makes you feel at once both immense in this wide open vista and extremely small.

So this is wine country? You wouldn’t guess that from the scenery. We were driving North out of the city of Walla Walla Washington, past the penitentiary and into the open fields of wheat. Finally, we turned and came upon a green patch. Turning in, we crossed the creek to a spot of green with trees, vineyard, a house and cottage and a spectacular historic barn.

This is the Armstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard. It is their home and an oasis in the wheat fields. We sat with Tim & Jennifer Armstrong on their back patio overlooking the Audrey block of cabernet sauvignon.

It started in Chicago

Neither of them were really into wine to start with. It wasn’t part of their lives, even as young adults (I can relate to this personally). When they got married, Tim had a little interest in wine. He had been to New York and someone poured him a glass of Opus One (lucky guy). Well, this hooked him on Bordeaux wines and soon enough he was spending a good bit on wine and investing in Bordeaux futures! His pragmatic wife Jenifer asked “Hey, do you know what you are doing?” He found an online class from the UC Davis extension that they both took.

They literally would mail DVD’s

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

Yep, they are a little dated by this. They sat in their Chicago bungalow learning about wine and Tim realized that this was his calling. He had grown up in Wisconsin surrounded by farms, and while the family didn’t farm he had a propensity for mechanical things. That and his love for wine…he’d found his bliss. Jen was skeptical, but supportive.

A bottle of Merlot

How did they decide on Washington? Here’s the story. It all kind of started with a bottle of Merlot.

So when we were in Chicago, we were buying mostly Bordeaux, getting progressively geekier about those wines and paying a lot of attention to the wine that we were drinking.  One day Tim came home with a bottle of Walla Walla Merlot.  It was a Walla Walla Vintners bottle.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

They had been thinking about wine making and researched different regions. Virginia & North Carolina, came up since they were near to Jen’s family. They thought about New York with the Finger Lakes region. With Tim in the technology industry, the Bay area was an idea, but that bottle of Walla Walla Merlot….

We tasted it and were kind of blown away.  It tasted like the Bordeaux that we had fallen in love with.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

What blew them away? Tim says this bottle was new world fruit with the structure and earthiness they loved about Bordeaux.

It really was striking this balance between old world wines and the California west coast wines that we had gotten to know.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

A start in Woodinville

So now Washington was a viable option for them. They spent a couple years doing research and paying attention to the region. When an opportunity to move to Washington for Tim’s job came up, they made the move. This was the opportunity to be a part of a world class wine region. Something you can’t do in Napa or Sonoma without coming in with a large fortune. In Washington it is still possible to own a small vineyard and make wine, without being a millionaire.

Tim flew to Seattle and a friend told him he needed to check out Woodinville. He was blown away. Here people kept their day jobs and moonlighted as winemakers! It occurred to them that they could pursue this and get started right here.

They moved out in 2010 buying grapes even before the furniture was delivered. They met people at a wine shop and then a brewer/winemaking supplies company who referred them to people in the warehouse district where they bought a couple hundred pounds of grapes.

Immersive education and a fast track to winemaking

Tim arrived on Jennifer’s birthday in October around 7:30 am to pick up the grapes. Well, the grapes were not there. While he waited (until 4 pm) for the grapes he had them put him to work. He had his first experience in a commercial winery that day. Waiting for those grapes, he helped out, cleaning things and shoveling grape must.

The next summer he called John Patterson of Patterson Cellars in Woodinville. Tim told John he wanted to make some wine and work with him. John tried to talk him out of it. He was unsuccessful. In 2011 Tim & Jen contracted 6 tons of grape and made their first vintage. So the 2010 home batch they started…by the time it was ready to bottle, they were bottling it in a commercial winery. Fast tracking for sure.

Tim dove into classes with the WSU extension as well as South Seattle Community College. As the business evolved they signed a lease at the end of 2012 and opened their own space in 2013. 2013 they did their own crush, in their own facility in Woodinville. By 2016 they had 52 tons of grapes in that tiny spot. They had upgraded equipment, but it was just Tim, Jennifer and Jennifer’s Dad doing it all. They played the winery tetras game, which was more difficult in this area. The Warehouse district tasting rooms were open all day, so you couldn’t utilize outdoor space in the parking lot until late at night. They pulled 10 all nighters that harvest. They determined it was time to make a change.

The Walla Walla spell

They fell for Walla Walla. It’s easy to do. A drive through town will have you enchanted and you won’t ever want to leave. So they didn’t. They found a small vineyard north of town that was for sale and their fate was sealed. With a vineyard, a house, a historic barn, a creek, a guest cottage…it was perfect.

Not that it was easy. The spot was originally out of their budget. They kept their eye on it and eventually the price came down. Sadly it went under contract just before they got to it. Their disappointment only lasted a day, when a friend in the industry told them the contract fell through. They drove up from Seattle immediately and the rest is history.

The Valley Grove Vineyard is 22 acres with 2 blocks of cabernet sauvignon. They had to do some retraining of the 17 year old vines and pulled their first harvest in 2019. They now have 2 tasting rooms, one in Woodinville and one in Walla Walla, and they have plans for the winery they want to build here on site.

Our conversation didn’t end there. Join us as we talk about the history of the vineyard, and their plans for this beautiful spot just outside of Walla Walla.

For More information

Want more information? You can visit their website or read the other pieces we’ve written about them.

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