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The Team

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Cecil & Marilyn Zerba

Cecil Zerba was born and raised in the Walla Walla Valley. The Zerba family's roots in the Walla Walla Valley can be traced back to the 1850's. Marilyn was born in Redmond, Oregon and moved to the Walla Walla Valley when she was nine years old. Cecil and Marilyn were married in September, 1981. At the time, Cecil was an electrician and Marilyn was a registered nurse. Soon after they were married, Cecil and Marilyn established Zerba Gardens, a local nursery producing quality plants and produce. "We started the nursery to keep the boys busy in the summer", says Cecil. Over the next 20 years, Zerba Gardens grew into one of the valley's most successful and trusted local nurseries. In 2001, Cecil and Marilyn Zerba left the nursery business and founded Winesap Vineyards.

 

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Doug Nierman

Doug is a Washington native who grew up on a pear orchard in the upper Wenatchee Valley. His early interests in science and agriculture led him to study Tree Fruit Production (WVCC) and Biology (PLU). Later, when he became interested in growing grapes and making wine he moved his family to California where he worked at St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley and Napa Wine Co. in Napa Valley. After these work experiences he enrolled at the University of California, Davis, and obtained his Masters degree in enology and viticulture before moving to the Walla Walla Valley. He spent his first two years here working at Long Shadows Vintners and Pepper Bridge Winery before taking up the winemaking duties at Zerba Cellars. He views winemaking as an art that should be subtly guided and helped by science. This philosophy fits well with the artisanal winemaking and grape growing style Cecil established for Zerba Cellars with the intent to produce elegant, balanced wines that are food-friendly, approachable, and crafted with environmentally sustainable methods from grape to bottle.

Vineyards

Zerba Cellars is an Oregon winery located in the heart of the Walla Walla Valley. We produce approachable, food friendly wines that showcase the fruit without compromising the wine's structure and overall balance. We have three estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. Each was planted to take advantage of the Walla Walla Valley's unique soil types and elevations. Our Jon Cockburn Ranch Vineyard is located in the Southeast corner of the valley, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Dad's Vineyard is located in the "Touchet Beds", near the state line. Winesap Road Vineyard is located in the rocky floodplain of the Walla Walla River.

Dad's Vineyard

Dad's Vineyard was designed to be an independent, 5,000 case production winery with underground barrel storage, case storage and a tasting room. It is also home to our Foundation Block Vineyard. This vineyard was planted as a test block on 4 acres of deep clay and sandy loam at 800 ft. with 8½ by 4ft spacing. North-South row orientation. Varieties: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Barbera, Chardonnay, Roussanne and Semillon.

Winesap Road Vineyard

This site is our crush, fermentation, and plant production center. It is home to Winesap Vineyard, 12 acres planted in the rocky floodplain of the Walla Walla River. Elevation 850ft, row orientation east-west, spacing 8x3 feet. Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Jon Cockburn Ranch Vineyard

Home to Cockburn Hills Vineyard, 150 plantable acres in well drained, deep, silty-loam. Elevation 1100 - 1300 ft., row orientation east-west, spacing 9x4 feet. Varieties: Barberra, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mouvedre, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Rousanne, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier.

Other Selected Vineyards

Kelly Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
Les Collines Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
LeFore Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
Pleasant Vineyard, Yakima Valley
Sagemoor Vineyard, Columbia Valley
Willard Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Winemaking

Cooperage

We use a combination of new, 2nd and 3rd year American and French oak barrels. Sizes range from 225 liter to 265 liter barrels. We use predominantly medium plus toast with the occasional toasted head barrel. American oak is supplied and crafted by the French cooperage Nadalie out of their Napa, CA location. We source our American Oak from Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Crush, Fermentation, Aging

Our red wines are destemmed, crushed and then punched down twice daily in 1.5 ton open top fermentors until dryness. They are then pressed in a bladder press with a gentle hand to avoid overextraction. Our white wines are gently pressed as whole clusters before fermentation. We ferment and age our whites in mostly neutral French/American barrels for approximately eight months. Our red wines age for an average of 18 months with our Reserve Reds pushing closer to 24 months in barrel.

Terroir

The Walla Walla Valley lies within the Columbia Plateau. Fifteen million years ago, this area was inundated by giant volcanic eruptions, creating the largest lava flows on earth. The lava from this period hardened into the iron-rich basalt that forms the bedrock for the whole region. Throughout the Columbia Plateau, however, the top-soils are non-native, deposited across the region by ancient floods, volcanic eruptions and wind.

During the last ice age, a lobe of glacial ice from the Cordilleran ice sheet advanced south into the Idaho panhandle and blocked the Clark Fork River. This lead to a series of incredible glacial floods known as The Missoula Floods. First, the Clark Fork flooded the valleys of Idaho and western Montana as far north as Canada. Known as Lake Missoula, this body of water was 2,000 ft. deep in places and as large as Lake Ontario and Lake Erie combined. There are two theories regarding what happened next. The water either rose until it was deep enough to float the ice-damn or until it accumulated enough force to weaken and eventually breach it. Either way, the ice failed, and a 500-foot wall of water, ice and debris swept across eastern Oregon and Washington. When the water reached the Wallula Gap in the Columbia River Gorge, it backed-up and flooded the Walla Walla, Yakima, Snake and Columbia river valleys, reaching depths of 1000 feet in places. Eventually the flood made its way through the Columbia River Gorge, floodinig the Willamette Valley as far south as Eugene, before continuing west to the Pacific Ocean. Amazingly, as the glacial ice continued south, it sealed off the Clark Fork again. Experts believe this cycle was repeated 80 to 100 times and that it took 50 to 75 years to complete.

The Missoula Floods had a tremendous impact on the Walla Walla Valley. As each flood engulfed the valley, reaching elevations as high as 1,200 ft., the receding water left behind a layer of sediment and debris. These layers are known as the Touchet Beds. Sediment from at least thirty floods reaches depths of 100 feet in the Touchet Beds. The beds are rich in minerals such as quartz and mica that are not found in the underlying basalt. In addition to forming the Walla Walla Valley's basalt bedrock, Cascade volcanoes such as Mount Mazama and Mount St. Helens erupted repeatedly during the last ice age, covering the valley with fine layers of ash.

Wind also had a great impact on the Walla Walla Valley during this time. Strong southwest winds lifted the finest particles of silt and sand from the Touchet Beds and piled it into mounds. This fine, wind-blown soil is known as loess, and it covers much of the valley. The Walla Walla River, Mill Creek and other major streams in the Blue Mountains participated in the process, too. During the last ice age, these streams had much greater flows than today, and floods from this era left behind large deposits of basalt river-rock. These rocky floodplains can be found in and around Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater.

Sources: Forces of Nature, Wine Press Northwest. Fall 2005. Dr. Kevin R. Pogue, Professor and Chair, Department of Geology, Whitman College. Cole Danehauer, Oregon Wine Report.