Business Partners Doug Frost and Brad Bergman Saw An Opportunity to Build
“Something Special.” That Something Turned Out to Be Echolands Winery.
With a downtown Walla Walla tasting room already in place, the pair is building a new production facility,
hospitality center, and tasting room on Mill Creek Road in the Walla Walla AVA that is scheduled in to open to the public in early 2024.
By Dan Radil
Echolands Winery’s Doug Frost may live in Kansas City, Missouri, but he has plenty of connections, both past and present, to the Pacific Northwest.
Frost was born in Portland, Oregon, and spent a few years there before moving about the Midwest, where he eventually settled, married, and raised a family.
Frost notes that his grandfather grew up in Wenatchee, his mom was born in Tacoma, and he had an aunt who spent all of her summers in Walla Walla while her aunt and uncle ran the Marcus Whitman Hotel back in the 1930’s.
But it wasn’t family that drew Frost to the eastern Washington area in the mid to late 1980’s…it was the wine industry.
“In 1985 I started wholesaling wines from Oregon wineries into the Kansas City market, and at the same time had fallen in love with a 1981 Woodward Canyon Cabernet that I had bought in Seattle and was really impressed with. So, I reached out to (Founder/Owner) Rick Small and started bringing his wines into the Kansas City market,” he recalls.
From there, he contacted another Walla Walla winemaking icon, Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar, and made a connection with him as well.
“By the late 1980’s I felt like I had a handle on what was going on in Washington and Oregon. I really enjoyed that. I felt like, ‘these are my people’” Frost said.
Over the course of the next two decades, Frost expanded his knowledge and experience in the world of wine, earning Master Sommelier and Master of Wine titles. He also became a well-respected wine educator, author, and wine competition founder and director in the Midwest.
More recently – and as if his plate wasn’t full enough already – Frost recalls Kansas City business partner Brad Bergman prodding him to purchase property for a vineyard. A chance call to Pepper Bridge Vineyard’s Norm McKibben set the plan in motion when McKibben suggested that Frost, “come out here and take a look at some of my land and see if something interests you.”
Indeed, it did. The property, located on the southernmost border of the Walla Walla Valley AVA in northeast Oregon, was purchased in January of 2018, and led to the establishment of Taggart Vineyard, which was planted in mid-2019.
The Taggart surname was shared by both Frost’s grandfather and uncle, the latter of whom Frost vividly remembers as being responsible for pouring him his first glass of wine… “a 1968 Louis Martini Special Select Pinot Noir,” he said with a laugh.
ECHOLANDS WINES: GRAPES, SYTLES, AND CHARACTERISTICS
Along with the start-up of 25 acres of wine grapes at Taggart Vineyard, Frost and Bergman also launched Echolands Winery in 2018. The winery tasting room is located in the heart of downtown Walla Walla, just steps from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.
For those considering a visit to the tasting room, guests will be treated to an environment where they can unwind and perhaps learn a few things about the wines being served. And the style of those wines might come across to some as a bit of a surprise.
“In general, when you go into the tasting room, you’re going to find wines that aren’t super-powerful, aren’t super-dark in color, with lots of new oak. It’s just not the style that we’re going for,” Frost said.
“I want wines that are friendly. I’m tired of wines that are high in alcohol, high in extract. And I think the market itself is re-thinking those big, powerful wines because younger consumers are looking for something else.
“To wit, we are making a Grenache that’s light in color, light in body, and under 13-percent alcohol; and we’re happy about that. To me, it’s a more interesting wine.”
Frost says he also has a soft spot for Syrah and hopes that people find theirs to be more elegant than poweful. “I believe in Syrah, I love Syrah, and we’re going to continue to make it,” he adds.
Frost also notes that Echolands’ current tasting menu tends to lean towards more Bordeaux-based varietals, primarily reds, and he particularly likes the wines they’re making from Cabernet Franc.
“We make a stand-alone Cab Franc that’s very pretty (the 2019 vintage has sold out and they’ll have the 2020 ready fairly soon). It’s true to type; that’s to say it has a brightness of fruit you’d expect from Walla Walla, and it has an aromatic complexity: not the vegetal side, but the herbal side.”
For white wine enthusiasts, Frost mentions two other Bordeaux varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, which are blended together under the winery’s “Albus” label. The grapes for the 2022 Albus were the first harvested from the estate-owned Taggart Vineyard.
The Albus has been particularly well received by visitors to the Walla Walla tasting room. “It’s a beautiful, aromatic white wine,” says Tasting Room Lead, Owen Stemen.
Tasting Room Associate, Eleanor Amer, agrees and also notes that the 2020 Rubrum, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot is another current consumer favorite.
“It’s crowd-pleasing and approachable and at the same time complex, and people who have a lot of wine experience really appreciate that,” she said.
“Doug is radically unpretentious and that’s a big inspiration to the tasting room experience,” says Stemen. “He wants this to be a relaxed, educational environment, so we love to do side-by-side tastings.”
“The tasting room is designed intentionally to be comfortable and welcoming with great natural light. It’s also a very convenient spot because it’s right off of Main Street and there’s so much to do just a block away,” adds Amer.
ON THE HORIZON: EXPERIENCE, EXPANSION, AND EVEN HIGHER QUALITY
In 2019, Frost and Bergman announced further expansion with the purchase of more than 300 acres just east of Walla Walla in the Mill Creek area. The ambitious project includes a new production facility, hospitality center, and tasting room that is scheduled to open to the public in early 2024. An initial planting of approximately 11 vineyard acres, aptly named Echolands Vineyard, is also planned for next year.
Frost is quick to point out that they’ll continue to maintain their existing tasting room and outside grape sources even after the opening of the new facility and planting of additional estate vineyards.
“We intend for the tasting rooms to have two very different vibes,” he said, noting that the downtown location is more casual, while the Mill Creek facility, though far from formal, will have its own unique feel.
Frost says it’s also their intention to continue to source from other vineyards exclusively within the Walla Walla Valley AVA.
“Even though we don’t have ownership, we feel that vineyard management knows what they’re doing. We’re really in love with the wines that we make from the grapes from those vines; places like Seven Hills, Les Collines, Pepper Bridge, and Blue Mountain…they’ve really performed very well for us. There’s no reason for us to stop sourcing from them as well.”
In July of 2023, Frost and Bergman hired Brian Rudin, a 17-year winemaking veteran with local roots, and positioned him with the dual title of Winemaker and General Manager.
“Doug Frost is a one-of-a-kind individual with his experience and visibility in the world of wine,” says Rudin. “For me, the chance to work with Doug, and help him with his vision for the potential of the Walla Walla Valley was one of the most exciting opportunities of my career.”
“Above all, Doug is a historian,” Rudin continued. “He clearly sees the historical role of wine in our culture. He’s had so much exposure to wine all over the world and how that shapes our food and lifestyles, it’s pretty cool to think what he can do with us in the Walla Walla Valley.
“And Brad Bergman, as the other ownership half, is just so motivated to do the very best work in the Valley. Everything we’re doing is just at the highest level possible in trying to be competitive on a global scale.”
“From my side, I’m adding the winemaking, the local knowledge, and the project management,” Rudin added. “It’s my job to take all these exciting resources, funnel them up, and make some really gorgeous wines to share.”
More recently, Frost hired Jenna Bicknell as the winery’s Director of Hospitality overseeing all aspects of customer experience.
Among her first priorities, Bicknell will develop the customer experience at Echolands’ new Mill Creek winery and visitor’s center scheduled to open to the public in 2024
For those interested in experiencing Echolands wines firsthand, visitors are encouraged to stop by the tasting room, which is currently open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Reservations can also be made online at www.echolandswinery.com.
The Echolands’ tasting room is located at 7 West Alder,
Walla Walla, WA. 99362. Phone: (509) 676-2109.
If you live too far from Echolands’ tasting room to visit, you can buy all of the their current releases by visiting the winery’s on-line wine store at: www.echolandswinery.orderport.net/wines/Current-Releases.
The best way to experience Echolands’ wines is to join the winery’s wine club. Wine club members receive two shipments per year of wines hand-selected by Echolands’ owner Doug Frost and will have access to exclusive releases. In addition, club members receive free tastings at the Walla Walla tasting room, as well as a 15% discount on the purchase of six bottles, and a 20% discount on the purchase of 12 bottles. Club levels are tailored to best suit members’ needs. Each member receives two shipments each year: one in the spring and one in the fall.
For more information about joining Echolands’wine club, visit: www.echolandswinery.com/wine-club.