March Cellars: Wild Washington Wines

Winemaker Ashley Trout checking on her vines in Walla Walla, WA.

Winemaker Ashley Trout checking on her vines in Walla Walla, WA.

With mineral-rich well-draining soils deposited by ancient floods, long daylight hours and dramatic daily temperature shifts, Washington state’s rugged terrain makes for some fantastic terroir. With March Cellars, winemaker Ashley Trout celebrates Washington’s wild land.

Launched in 2014, March Cellars is Ashley’s second winery; she previously built and sold a namesake label (Flying Trout Wines). Based in Walla Walla and sourcing grapes from some of the best sites in the state, Ashley produces thoughtfully crafted and balanced wines with minimal intervention. With ripe fruit and beautiful balance, these wines are a joy to drink now but can age gracefully.

Enjoy my interview with Ashley Trout!

You started in the wine industry very young, how did that come about?

I was in college in Walla Walla and was looking for a part time job that wasn’t a desk job. I started in production, which meant manual labor—but for anyone who likes getting dirty in a kitchen, that’s really what my job was, and I loved it. I was at a small winery, Reininger Winery, for years and saw almost every facet of that business since there weren’t a lot of employees.

When did you know that you wanted to make wine your career?

My aha moment was when I graduated from college.  I had been in wine production for four harvests and was ready to go get a real job, when I realized that I absolutely, under no circumstances, wanted a real job. I wanted the job that I had, and I wanted it forever.

How did you decide to start making wine for your own label?

At a certain point, I wanted more creative control than I had.  I wanted to be the head winemaker and control when the fruit was picked, what temperatures we were fermenting at, how blending happened, where those wines were sold and what events we did,  so I started a winery.

You took a brief hiatus from working in wine, why was that and what called you back to wine?

I actually took two. The first was right after graduating from college when I knew that I would do nothing else for the rest of my life. I took a year to do something unrelated so that I could look back at age 90 and say that I had done something different for one year. I went to Japan, studied pottery (my hobby), studied Japanese, ate food, taught English, studied more pottery and loved it.

The second hiatus was when my second child was born.  Trying to have a baby and work a harvest are two nature-related jobs that don’t know that the other job exists and don’t care.  I called a spade a spade and took a season off to be with both kids.

What is your favorite thing about being in the wine industry?

The seasons. It never gets boring. The adrenaline of harvest, the exhaustion and collapse of winter, the clarity of one’s brain and simultaneous refining of wines in late winter, the blending, bottling and vineyard sourcing of spring, the summer crush pad cleaning and prepping for harvest again… Just when you have things streamlined, it’s not that season anymore.

When did you decide to launch March Cellars and where does the name come from?

Our first vintage for March Cellars was 2014.  The name refers to March being the last month that one could head west during the Pioneer days and expect to make it past the Rockies alive.  It’s a nod to the beauty and the lure of The West and the journey.

Tell us about the quote on your website, it says:

“We believe there is something special about the tenacity it takes to balk at the easy way. That there is something to be gained by looking risk square in the eyes and forging ahead.”

I wish I could do things the easy way and just take advice from others more often.  But there is something to be said for those of us who have no problem reinventing the wheel.  If it weren’t for recklessness, curiosity and tenacity, no new art would ever be made in any form.

What is your winemaking philosophy?

Thoughtful, balanced, minimal intervention, low oak. I listen to the sharpest aspect of a wine—whether that’s the phenolics, acid, tannin—and balance off of that. That’s a constant in each decision I make at every stage—are we heading to a better balance for this particular beast that we have in our hands? I tend, for that reason to use a little oak, but very minimally. My biggest decisions are pick dates, yeast strains, blending trials. I want each aspect of the wine to show itself because, if I’ve done my job right, it has got nothing to hide.

Vinfluence is all about great wine and giving back; your second label, Vital, is doing just that. Tell us about it:

Vital is a non-profit wine brand bringing better healthcare for vineyard and winery workers in the Walla Walla Valley.  All profits go to the SOS Clinic here in town, which is an open door, no questions asked, free, bilingual healthcare clinic. It’s tough for wineries to provide health care for employees because so many are seasonal. I wanted the Walla Walla wine community to bond together over this topic, not hide from it. That’s what  Vital has done and I couldn’t be more excited about the response.