Marie-Eve Gilla and Gilles Nicault were born and raised in France and didn’t meet until they had each moved to the Yakima Valley. They were married in 1999 and live in Walla Walla with their two children.
TWO WINEMAKERS from the most romantic nation on Earth likely would not have met if not for the Washington wine industry.
Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars and Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows Vintners met in the mid-1990s in the Yakima Valley, primarily because both were young and French — a novelty back when Washington had fewer than 100 wineries.
It didn’t take long for the two to get together, marry, have children and take advantage of the opportunities that the growing Washington wine industry had to offer.
Two to try
Forgeron Cellars 2013 primitivo, Wahluke Slope, $35: This beautiful red reveals aromas and flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and Middle Eastern spices, all backed by elegant, approachable tannins.
Côté Nicault 2011 StoneTree Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, $75: This blend of mourvèdre, syrah and grenache is a classic red blend with notes of black cherry, cured meat and minerality, all backed by velvety tannins. This wine is part of the Long Shadows collection.
Gilla grew up in Paris and spent considerable time in Burgundy, where her family was from. After attending the University of Dijon and making pinot noir and chardonnay in Burgundy, she arrived in Oregon in 1991. Within a year, she moved to Covey Run Winery in the Yakima Valley town of Zillah.
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Nicault was raised in the southern French city of Avignon, studied winemaking there and worked in Provence and Champagne before coming to Washington in 1994 for an internship at Staton Hills Winery (which became Sagelands Vineyard) in Wapato.
Soon after his arrival, mutual acquaintances got the two together, figuring they were both winemakers from France and would have much in common. One of their first dates was a Grateful Dead concert in Eugene, Ore.
In 1999, they married. At the time, Gilla was head winemaker for Gordon Brothers near Pasco, and Nicault was a winemaker at Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley. In 2001, Gilla and some investors launched Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla, where the couple have lived and raised their two children the past 15 years. Nicault became Long Shadows’ winemaker in 2003.
Love is a funny thing. If the two had stayed in France, they likely would not have met — the regions where they grew up and worked were far apart. They might never have had the opportunities to be head winemakers or winery owners because France’s wine industry is much more crowded and, frankly, stagnant than the United States’.
In fact, they never would have made cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel or riesling because those grapes aren’t grown in Burgundy or the Rhône Valley.
The two retain much from their native country: They speak French to each other and their children, and they travel to their homeland at least once a year to see family.
But they have found love here. Love for the Washington wine industry. Love for the food and outdoor activities of the Northwest. And, of course, love for each other.