AWG Correspondent

Denise Gangnes

Saviah Cellars Photos

Saviah Cellars Review

Regions: Columbia Valley AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Washington

Reviewed: March 29, 2013 by Denise Gangnes
Published: May 6, 2013

“You can take the boy out of the country….” well, you know the saying. And it’s true. When Montana transplants Rich and Anita Funk settled in the fertile valley of Walla Walla, they brought a piece of the Big Sky state with them. Rich’s background in microbiology at Montana State prompted a foray into beer making, but after moving nearly 600 miles west, he succumbed to the romance of the Vinifera. After a few early years experimenting with the finer points of fermentation, this self-taught winemaker opened Saviah Cellars in 2000 with an initial batch of 300 case (now at a comfortable 9500 cases).

The Place:   Staying true to the family roots, the winery was named after Anita’s great grandmother, an early Montana settler (note the “I” is long in Sav-i-ah). The artfully decorated and ever-expanding tasting space was built in 2002. Handcrafted furniture made from wine barrels adorn the earth-toned room – my favorite “repurposed” item was a lazy Susan kit made from the ring of a wine barrel (you supply the corks). At the time of my visit, a renovation was underway to include a cozy private event space adjacent to the main tasting room.

Although it was somewhat chilly on that early spring day, tasting room manager Denise described an idyllic summertime patio ambiance … herb and flower gardens with basil and rosemary, an arbor covered in Riesling grapes. The winery also sports a landscaped pond with native grasses and plants; only the informed visitor would know that its primary function is to act as a detention pond for the local fire department.

The Wines:   After being greeted with a refreshing 2011 Chardonnay from Stillwater Creek Vineyard, I moved on to the bulk of the offerings. The 2009 Cabernet was infused with flavors of cassis and sweet herbs ($28). The 2009 Estate Syrah (also $45) hinted of sassafras, black cherry and plum.

I immediately recognized “The Jack” bottles (named after Anita’s grandfather) as they are a regular sight in local grocery store shelves; this second label consists of a 100% Cab and two red blends (hint: the 80% 2010 Syrah-based bottling boasts a Best Buy from Wine & Spirits and the title of “Year’s Best Rhone”). The lone white Jack is a Gold-medal winning Riesling from the Columbia Valley. One of the most recent offerings is a Big Sky Cuvee blend in homage to Montana roots that run deep within the family.

In a city full of great red wines, it’s a pleasure to finish with a really sumptuous dessert wine. Only minor coercing was employed to convince me try Saviah’s 2010 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer from the Columbia Valley (not normally on the tasting list). While oohing and aahing over the rose petal and sweet pear delicacies, we compared notes about potential food pairings (Roquefort cheese appetizers and Asian dishes were among the mouthwatering suggestions).

As I pulled away from the winery and my newly-made friends, I wondered: would the new private dining area be open soon and how would it look? Would the patio really feature a cut garden and smell of fresh basil and rosemary? Would Richard Funk ever return to beer making? As the sun lingered over the moody Blue Mountains, I was determined to return to this homey winery to find out.

Address & Contact Information: 1979 JB George Rd Walla Walla, Washington 99362. Telephone: 509-520-5166, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00 and by appt..

Overall Rating:  

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