This Week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Justin Wylie of Va Piano Vineyards

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Ciao Mambo, “Eat Like You Mean It”, located in Missoula on The Hip Strip.  Find them online at

Sleep City Missoula

Liquid Planet “Best of Beverage” and a great place to find your holiday wine located in the heart of downtown Missoula.

Georges Distributing in Helena, Montana.

Walla Walla in Washington State is located in one of the world’s premier grape growing and wine producing areas of the world; this is also home to Justin Wylie owner and winemaker of Va Piano Vineyards.

Walla Walla is one of 11 different AVA’s within the great Columbia Valley AVA which was established in 1984.  This area was first settled by Italian immigrants in the 1850’s but in 1984 became an officially recognized AVA.

The farming community of Walla Walla has been transformed from an agriculture area that produced some of the best onions and wheat in the world to a special place that will be recognized as one of the significant wine producing areas of the world. 

There are now over 125 wineries in the Walla Walla area.  One of those wineries is Va Piano Vineyards.  This week on the WineGuyMike show owner and winemaker Justin Wylie took timeout to join me for a conversation and a tasting of the Va Piano wines.

Justin Wylie graduated from Gonzaga University but it was during his senior year in 1995 that he had a life changing experience.  The fourth generation Walla Wallan and spent the year in Florence, Italy studying humanities under the tutelage of Italian native, Bruno Segatta.

The plan for Wylie was to return to Walla Walla and join the family’s stone monument business, but something happened along the way.  As many have he fell in love with the culture and lifestyle of Italy, he was inspired to do something different.  Italians understand that great wines are made in the vineyard and the winemaker is the caretaker of the grapes once they have been harvested.  This became Wylie’s passion.

Father Bruno Segatta not only was a teacher he became a mentor for Wylie and inspired him to believe in himself and his dreams.  Chi va piano va sano y va lontano is a bit of wisdom that Segatta shared with Wylie: He who goes slowly goes safely and goes far.  This was imprinted within the heart of Wylie.

La Famiglia is the soul of Italy and was also very important to Wylie who is married with three children.  Wylie’s wife Liz is business partner and critical to the operations at Va Piano.  La Famiglia is everything at the vineyard, when you visit you are a part of the Va Piano family.  The wonderful theme of community transcends all of the Walla Walla wine collaborative with an attitude of; “One for all, and all for one”.

When you visit the Va Piano Vineyards property you have a sense of Old World charm as Liz and Justin have worked very hard to create an atmosphere of Italy.  Together they have built an Italian style home and winery with heart and soul, this is a winery you don’t want to miss when you visit Walla Walla.

Wylie spent five years in his garage making test lots, and a cult following formed around the Vino del Garage wines.  In order to hone his skills as a viticulturist and winemaker he traveled back and forth to UC Davis taking countless classes in the renowned department of viticulture and enology.

 His philosophy as a winemaker is rooted in the word balance: balance in the vineyard, balance in the wines, and balance in our lives. His goal is to showcase the wines with a sense of place and respect for the fruit, and always remember to be a grower first and winemaker second. 

Father Bruno still has a significant place in the Wylie families lives.  Segatta who is not only a humanitarian and scholar is also a gifted artist who is quite well known.  Va Piano’s tasting room is filled with his original oil paintings depicting iconic Florence architecture and Tuscan landscapes.  Justin and Liz created Bruno’s Blend, a multi-vintage red blend and white blend in his honor. A different original Bruno painting is used to create the label each vintage, and a portion of the proceeds are donated to a charity of Bruno’s choice.

With over 125 wineries in Walla Walla and a little less than 2000 acres devoted to vineyards, the predominant varietals grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah.  Sangiovese also grows very well in Walla Walla which is one reason why the Italians chose to settle this area.  There are a multitude of other red and white varietals being grown and developed in the area too.

The soil in this region is the result of layers of alluvial soil from the Lake Missoula floods and volcanic eruptions.  The Missoula Floods were a series of perhaps 35-40 geologic cataclysms that swept across Eastern Washington and down the Columbia Gorge at the end of the last ice age around 12,000 and 15,000 years ago.  These massive floods were a result of ruptures in the glacial ice dam that created Montana’s Glacial Lake Missoula.  The flood level reached 1200 feet at its greatest depth which resulted in layers of soil and deposits from volcanic eruptions.  This left behind a layer of bedrock that facilitates an incredible terrior that imparts itself into the grapes grown in this unique hamlet of the wine world.

Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano; He who goes slowly, goes safely and goes far. This old Italian saying sums up Va Piano Vineyards approach to winemaking, and to life.  Wylie’s winemaking philosophy; grow the best grapes we can and don’t screw it up in the cellar. Va Piano wines display intense flavors, fine tannin structure and intense aromas.

Va Piano’s 20-acre estate property, located in the Southeast corner of the Walla Walla Valley, has been producing grapes since 1999.  Seventy percent of our grape production is used by our winery and the balance is sold to premium Walla Walla Valley wineries such as L’Ecole #41, Saviah Cellars and Dunham Cellars.

In December of 2005, Va Piano celebrated their grand opening by releasing their first vintages, a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Syrah which have been given outstanding reviews.

Wylie also sources grapes from a number of other vineyards in the region so that every Va Piano wine has the flavor profile he strives for in each of his wines.  Justin and I tasted three of his Va Piano Vineyards wines; the 2009 Brunos Blend, The 2008 Syrah, and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

As Old World tradition would have it all three of the Va Piano wines will be an exceptional complement to a correctly paired meal.  Bruno’s Blend is very forgiving and will pair with a wide array on meals as this was the lightest bodied of the three wines I tasted with Wylie.  The Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah were both varietally correct and very enjoyable to taste.  All three wines have very good balance of fruit and acidity, very nice structure.  Wylie has really struck a nice balance between the Old World and New World with these wines, I look forward to watching him grow as a winemaker.  He has talent and potential as a winemaker, two things that I love.

The Tasting Flight

2009 Brunos Blend

Nose – fruit, earth, smoke

Palate – easy, silky tannin, fruit to acid is great

Finish – nice finish to complement food and not get in the way of it

2008 Syrah

Nose – red fruits, raspberry and boysenberry, clean minerality

Palate – nice fruit and acidity, gaminess, and spice

Finish – lingering spice and fruit, delicious

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Nose – black cherry, underlying berry, chocolate, spice

Palate – just right tannin, restrained fruit, very slight sweet vanilla

Finish – long, smooth, luscious

The Va Piano Vineyards wines reviewed today all receive the WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval™

You can listen to the show live on the Trail 103.3FM or U 104.5FM.  These shows are podcast for your convenience and available on my blog at;

From my table to yours,

"from my table to yours"


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