Because Rich Funk makes all of his wines with the same precision and care, he is able to hold back his best barrels for Saviah and put the rest behind the modestly priced Jack label.
AFTER FERMENTING his way through Montana State University, Rich Funk planned to become a craft brewer when he moved to the Walla Walla Valley.
But nearly a quarter-century after arriving and 15 years after launching Saviah Cellars, Funk has risen to become one of the Northwest’s most talented winemakers.
When Funk and his wife, Anita, moved to Walla Walla in 1991, he was working for the county as an environmental health specialist — and sharing an office with Darcey Fugman-Small, co-owner of Woodward Canyon Winery.
Three to try
Saviah Cellars 2012 GSM, Columbia Valley, $38: Ripe aromas and flavors of marionberry, blueberry and vanilla highlight this suave and elegant blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre.
Saviah Cellars 2011 Big Sky Cuvée, Columbia Valley, $35: Rich Funk pays tribute to his home state of Montana in this merlot-leading blend that reveals aromas and flavors of black cherry, black licorice, vanilla extract and lavender.
Saviah Cellars 2011 reserve cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: The grapes for this gorgeous cab come from the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. It provides aromas and flavors of rich, moist earth and bold plum and blackberry, all backed by perfectly balanced tannins.
During his time at the county, Funk met several budding winemakers who came in during the permitting process of launching a winery, including Chuck Reininger (Reininger Winery) and Eric Dunham (Dunham Cellars). He asked questions, tasted wine and soon caught the winemaking bug.
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In 2000, the Funks launched Saviah Cellars, which they named after Anita’s grandmother. They later added a value-priced tier, The Jack, named after Anita’s grandfather. Funk’s first two vintages were made at Patrick M. Paul, one of the valley’s oldest wineries, which closed after founder Mike Paul died in 2009.
In 2003, Saviah was among the first to open a tasting room 10 miles from downtown near the Oregon state line, and that was a scary time until wineries such as Northstar, Sleight of Hand, Dusted Valley, Basel, Isenhower, Rulo and Pepper Bridge followed suit. Today, the “south side” is one of the few destinations in the valley in which visitors will find vineyards along with tasting rooms.
Saviah has consistently earned top marks with critics and consumers alike, winning six gold medals this spring at the Great Northwest Wine Competition. Funk credits The Jack with much of his success. Because he makes all of his wines with the same precision and care, he is able to hold back his best barrels for Saviah bottlings and put the rest behind the modestly priced Jack label. Thus, all of his Saviah wines are reserve-level bottlings produced similarly to the top châteaux of Bordeaux.
In addition to using grapes from across the Columbia Valley, Funk now owns several acres of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, giving him some control over his grape sources.
Look for Saviah and The Jack wines at your favorite wine shops or contact the winery directly for some of its more exclusive bottlings.