• L’Ecole № 41 Winery, named after the historic Frenchtown Schoolhouse building that houses the winery and tasting room, is located on old Highway 12 just west of downtown Walla Walla.

Born in 1983 in a Renovated French Schoolhouse, L’Ecole № 41
Winery Has Come a Long Way Over the Past Four-plus Decades

Located on Old Highway 12 just west of downtown Walla Walla, the winery has become the model of consistency, producing world-class, award-winning wines under the stewardship of Marty and Megan Clubb.

Marty and Megan Clubb took over ownership of L’Ecole № 41 from Megan’s parents Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1989 and have done quite well with the business ever since.

By Dan Radil

Last year, L’Ecole № 41 Winery celebrated its 40th anniversary. Established by husband-and-wife Baker and Jean Ferguson and then passed on to the Fergusons’ daughter Megan and her husband, Marty Clubb, the winery has been a model of consistency, producing world-class, award-winning wines for much of its four-decade existence.

The initial L’Ecole tasting room, a now iconic, renovated schoolhouse, is located in the hamlet of Lowden, WA., less than a 10-minute drive west of Walla Walla. Built in 1915, it was still operating as a school up until 1974 when a consolidation of districts resulted in its closure. The building sat vacant until the Fergusons bought it in 1977 with the intention of both living there and housing their winery.

Prior to Baker Ferguson’s venture into the wine industry, he served as a World War II navigator, was shot down and held in a German prison camp for two years. After he was liberated, he came home and worked in the banking industry, eventually becoming president of Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla.

“Baker was very entrepreneurial,” Marty explained. “He began exploring the Napa Valley in its early days, and became very into wine and had an unbelievable wine cellar. He read a lot, he knew a lot about wine, and he had this dream to build a winery.

“As a bank lender, he had a good idea about agriculture in Eastern Washington,” Marty continued. “He wanted to be one of the early wineries in the state, but he was busy running a bank. So, he didn’t activate his dream until he retired.

“When he turned 65, he and Jean started L’Ecole, which was in 1983,” Marty added.  “It was truly a small little ‘mom and pop’ operation; they did everything themselves, including distribution, which meant loading up the car and driving to Seattle.”

The Texas-born Clubb has essentially been involved with the winery since day-one.

“My wife, Megan, and I were married in 1982,” Marty explained.  “We were living in the Bay Area, but we came back to Walla Walla to help them with that first harvest, including racking and bottling and various other things; and we kind of got the ‘wine bug’ ourselves. By about 1988 we began talking about the idea of coming up here and getting more involved with the winery.”

“While Jean and Baker were quick to hand the winery over, I was saying, ‘whoa, I’m not sure what I’m doing,” Marty recalled with a grin.

“But my background was in chemical engineering, so I took all the classes at UC Davis that I could and just dived in,” Marty explained.  “Fortunately, my first year, 1989, was a fantastic growing vintage. The wines were so good you couldn’t hardly screw it up!”

Initially, Marty felt that he needed to focus all his time on winemaking. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s he said to himself, “wait a minute, we’ve got to sell this wine,” he said with a laugh.

In June of 1990, he hired Seattle-based Elliott Bay Distributing Company, an ongoing relationship that still thrives today after an almost unheard of 35 years.

“They have become a force for us,” Marty noted. “They are by far and away our largest distributor, and they’ve really contributed to building our brand in the greater Seattle marketplace.”

“When we started, we were a small, 1,000 case-a-year operation,” Marty continued.  “My first year we made 2,500 cases and then, not quite linearly, we added 1,000 to 1,500 cases a year. Now, we’re at about 45,000 cases and a few years ago we made 50,000.”


Back in the 1970’s when bizarre labels like ‘Pink Chablis’ and ‘Hearty Burgundy’ cluttered the shelves in American supermarkets, a shift in winemaking was beginning to take place.

“The focus at that time was on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay,” said Marty. “No one really knew what the other varieties were.”

When the Fergusons started L’Ecole, they chose to make wines from what were then considered ‘obscure’ varieties in Washington State: Merlot and Semillon.

“Merlot became really popular for us; Semillon did not,” Marty recalled. “But we stuck with Semillon, and it became a niche wine for us. The wine trade, the somms, they all began to know us for it. It’s still a challenge selling it today, but we’re identified with it. If you asked the wine trade, ‘what winery in the United States makes really good Semillon?’ we’re going to be on the short list.”

“Jean also loved Vouvray, so she started making Chenin Blanc in 1987. We mostly made it for the tasting room,” Marty explained. “Then somewhere around 20 years ago, we picked up our interest in making it a national wine. Today it’s one of our core products; it’s all from old vines, and we probably make about 5,000 cases of it a year.”

After the winery’s first ten years, Marty noted that L’Ecole began to focus more on wines from Walla Walla.

“There were not that many vineyards in Walla Walla in the early 90s” he said. “Eventually, we became a partner with Seven Hills Vineyard, and we were the first to make wines with Pepper Bridge Vineyard, including the first Walla Walla Valley single vineyard Bordeaux blend, the 1993 Pepper Bridge Apogee.”

L’Ecole added a second Bordeaux blend, ‘Perigee,’ in 2002, sourced exclusively from Seven Hills, and a third, the ‘Ferguson,’ from the winery’s estate vineyard that was planted in 2008.

“Today, we’re still making those three single vineyard Bordeaux blends and they have become the pinnacle of our portfolio,” Marty explained.

Marty is particularly proud of his Ferguson Vineyard wines, and with good reason: The vineyard’s very first vintage in 2011 took home the International Trophy for Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Marty noted that two important things drive Ferguson Vineyard: Higher elevation plantings – as high as 1,350 to 1,450 feet – now possible because of continuing climate change brought on by global warming; and a thin layer of windswept soil – as little as one to three feet – sitting atop a base of volcanic basalt rich in minerals. The resulting wines are big, bold, and textured, with dark fruit flavors and a high degree of natural acidity and minerality.


Marcus Rafanelli has been making award-winning wine at L’Ecole № 41 since being hired as head winemaker in late 2019.

Marcus Rafanelli joined the L’Ecole team as Winemaker in late 2019. He’s essentially come full circle, having first worked at L’Ecole during the harvest of 2007.

Rafanelli graduated from the Walla Walla Community College Institute for Enology and Viticulture, worked for wineries around the world, and returned to the College as an instructor in 2016.

“Marcus made a very positive move for us by building a production staff where everyone is a graduate of the Enology program,” said Marty. “They’re all wine-smart, they’re all really good at their jobs. We’ve always made good wine; now they’re making great wine.”

Marty made another important addition to his team in July of 2023, adding Ryan Pennington as L’Ecole’s Chief Operating Officer.

Pennington brought a top-of-the-line resume to the winery, having worked for the Washington Wine Commission and as an executive for Chateau Ste. Michelle for the prior ten years, primarily in marketing, public relations, and public policy.

To some, his move from Washington’s largest winery located within the Seattle metropolitan area to the more rural/agricultural-heavy Walla Walla Valley might seem surprising. But Pennington explained, in part, that his family history has helped make the transition virtually seamless.

“I grew up on a fifth-generation family cattle farm in Lake Stevens, WA. I could look out my bedroom window and see the spot where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded the property; and the notion of legacy was very familiar to me,” noted Pennington.

“I had the great opportunity to work with Ste. Michelle and loved my time there and the people there,” added Pennington. “I’m very proud of having represented them, with the ability to open doors for the state in markets around the world.

“So, coming to L’Ecole is an opportunity to combine both of those things: getting closer to the land and closer to the community, but still working with a brand, though not as big as Ste. Michelle,” Pennington continued.

“What’s unique is that for a winery of our size, L’Ecole has a national and international footprint,” Pennington boasted.  “We’re distributed in 48 states and 15 countries. We are one of the flagship wineries of Washington, and to represent the region in a new way was really exciting to me.”

Describing the breadth of Pennington’s new position, Marty points out that “We’re small enough that I do what I love doing, which is the vineyard and winemaking side, and Ryan’s in charge of everything else; he gets to be involved in everything.”

“I get to play in a lot of sandboxes,” said Pennington with a smile, and that includes leading the winery’s three tasting rooms as well as the company’s marketing team.

Both Marty and Pennington also agree that building on their Walla Walla footprint is one of the winery’s top priorities.

“Going back to the early days, where I was helping Baker load the car up and drive to Seattle, we realized that being from Walla Walla was going to be hard to do self-distribution. We committed ourselves to the distribution world in a big way,” Marty explained.

“And that comes with a big sense of responsibility to spread the word on what’s going on here in Washington around the world,” Pennington added. “As one of the premium wineries in the state, we need to maintain the quality of our wines to back that up.”


In July of 2023, Marty Clubb made another major addition to the staff at L’Ecole № 41 by hiring Ryan Pennington as the winery’s Chief Operating Officer. Before joining L’Ecole № 41, Pennington was Vice President of Communications & Corporate Affairs at St. Michelle Wine Estates.

L’Ecole offers wine enthusiasts the unique opportunity to taste wines in three different venues: the original schoolhouse tasting room and production facility located just outside of Walla Walla, a boutique-style wine bar in the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla that opened in May, 2021, and a recently added tasting room near Woodin Creek Village in downtown Woodinville, launched in September of 2022.

Speaking of the schoolhouse location, Pennington noted: “We always want the schoolhouse to be the pinnacle of the L’Ecole experience. There are things you can do here you can’t do at the other locations because our production is here, and our cellar is here for library tastings and vertical tastings.”

“By extension, the downtown Walla Walla and Woodinville tasting rooms give us an opportunity to introduce people to the L’Ecole brand who aren’t yet familiar with us and hopefully graduate them to the experience at the schoolhouse,” Pennington added. “What we hope to do is not just expand the reach of our direct-to-consumer offerings but differentiate the three properties and ideally have a reason for people to visit all three.”

In addition to being located next to another pioneering Washington winery in Woodinville (Barnard Griffin), Marty points out that the Woodinville tasting room is within walking distance of a couple of other Walla Walla-based enterprises, Valdemar Estates Winery and the Walla Walla Steak Co.

Marty used the rerouting of Highway 12, which now bypasses the schoolhouse tasting room, as the impetus for opening L’Ecole’s downtown Walla Walla location.

“There was a growing cluster of wineries downtown,” Marty explained. “And tourists love to be downtown, stay there, dine there, and visit the dozens of tasting rooms located there. So, I thought if tourists were just going to drive by the schoolhouse, we might as well have a tasting room downtown.”

“We had an opportunity to go into a corner spot in Walla Walla’s landmark Marcus Whitman Hotel, located in the heart of downtown, so we took that leap,” Marty explained. “We find that if tourists have a good experience there, then they’ll come to the schoolhouse.”

Marty also notes that the downtown Walla Walla tasting room gets a lot of demand from the late afternoon/early evening crowd – especially from hotel guests – so the space offers extended hours and glass pours, which aren’t available at the schoolhouse location.


Friends get together to enjoy flights of wine at L’Ecole № 41’s Heritage Wine Bar located in downtown Walla Walla’s historic Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Keeping the job fresh for Marty has never been a problem. “Every year is different,“ Marty explained. “I used to get stressed out at harvest all the time, but now I actually love it.”

“Harvest is the heartbeat of what we do; it doesn’t get old. It’s a little bit of chaos, but with a real organized team, it’s organized chaos,” he said with a laugh.

Marty has made it clear that he’s in no hurry to retire anytime in the near future. “I really love this business. It’s been really rewarding to see what we’ve accomplished going back 35 years. And while I wasn’t working here in the early 80’s, I was close enough to see every aspect of it.”

Pennington notes that, “Marty and Megan’s children, Riley and Rebecca, are not involved in the business day-to-day, but they’re involved as owners of the business.”

It’s only fitting that Marty envisions traveling the globe while leaving the future of L’Ecole in the hands of Riley and Rebecca. Perhaps he’ll get to experience a bottle of L’Ecole while visiting a restaurant in France, knowing he had a hand in bringing it there, gratified he was able to build upon the legacy left by the Fergusons, and confident that the L’Ecole tradition of excellence in Washington wines will continue.

For those interested in experiencing L’Ecole № 41’s wines firsthand, visitors are encouraged to stop by one of the winery’s three tasting rooms. If you find yourself in Walla Walla, make sure to visit The Schoolhouse, the winery’s original tasting room, which is located at 41 Lowden School Road, Lowden, WA.  Phone: (509) 525 -0940.  The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ins are always welcome.  For more information, visit: www.lecole.com/visit-us.

Or, you can visit L’Ecole’s Heritage Wine Bar, which is located in downtown Walla Walla’s historic Marcus Whitman Hotel at 6 West Rose Street, Suite 103.  Phone: (509) 676-3777. The wine bar is open Wednesday through Saturday from Noon to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from Noon to 6 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.

In September of 2022, L’Ecole № 41 opened a tasting room in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville. The tasting room, featuring tasting flights and glass pours, is located in a development called Wine Walk Row, a pedestrian walkway within the city’s District Flats Apartment Complex.

L’Ecole’s third tasting room is located on the west side of the state in Woodinville, WA., located at 17401 133rd Avenue N.E., about a 40-minute drive northeast of Seattle. Phone: (425) 522-5022. Hours at the Woodinville tasting room are Wednesday through Saturday from Noon to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from Noon to 6 p.m. Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ins are always welcome.  For more information, visit: www.lecole.com/vist-us.

If you live too far from any of L’Ecole’s three tasting rooms to visit in person, you can buy all of their current releases by visiting the winery’s on-line wine store at: www.lecole.com/shop.

The best way to experience L’Ecole’s wines is to join the winery’s wine club. Wine club members receive free tastings at all three tasting rooms, access to exclusive small-lot wines, savings on wine purchases and merchandise, flat-rate ground shipping, and invitations to wine club events.  Club levels are tailored to best suit members’ needs.

For more information about joining L’Ecole No. 41’a wine club, visit: www.lecole.com/wine-clubs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dan Radil is a freelance wine writer and educator based in Walla Walla, WA., and has been an avid follower and supporter of the Washington wine industry since the mid-1980s. He currently produces a wine blog called danthewineguy.