J. Bookwalter Winery: An Environment of Love and Respect You Can Taste in the Wine
When John Bookwalter joined his father’s winery in 1997, he made some sweeping changes. He quickly hired California wine pioneer Zelma Long, whose keen attention to detail helped John tremendously. The name Bookwalter was soon lauded in many wine publications and, in 2005, the winery was named Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest. In the spring of 2009, John partnered with winemaker Claude Gros. Claude has earned great respect from Robert Parker, who considers him one of “two of the finest winemaking consultants.” John couldn’t be more pleased. “Claude has an impressive résumé of successful projects in France and Spain,” John reports, “and, quite frankly, he is one of the most exciting winemakers in the world today.” Claude has helped John blend wines now dating back to 2007, with the most recent 2009s achieving higher scores than they have ever received.
The grapes for J. Bookwalter wines are largely sourced from the Conner-Lee Vineyard, acreage that his father has managed for 25 years. When asked about sustainability, John shrugs and says, “I think a lot of people don’t fully understand the concept. To be sustainable means being a good steward of the land. Washington is naturally sustainable because the pressure on our vineyards is very low. At the end of the day, being moral and ethical with your business and your people and taking care of your land is ‘green’. It’s no longer a movement, it’s a natural shift.”
The Richland tasting room’s restaurant, JBistro, is also responsive to the environment, serving the freshest, organic, local ingredients possible. The philosophy at J. Bookwalter is “focus on the people who grow our food and the environment in which it is grown, and we will inevitably produce a higher quality product.” and that’s a very good thing.
An Interview with Owner/Winemaker John Bookwalter
T&T: What is your perspective on marketing your wines in today’s market?
JB: We focus on our direct-to-consumer business because I believe our best customers are people who feel a personal connection to us. Besides creating a great portfolio of wines, we enhance the environment where people visit us—in both Woodinville and Richland. Our Woodinville tasting room is very urban, with a big patio where people can hang out when the weather permits; and people can throw parties there. Our Richland tasting room is more of an evening lounge. In Richland, JBistro is creating a great farm-to-table experience for our popular menu. We also offer live music four nights a week. Sure, this is a good way to sell our wines, but it’s more than that. Richland is pretty quiet at night and we wanted to give people something nice to do. Naturally, our best clients are locals and they appreciate locally driven cuisine.
T&T: How important is branding your wine?
JB: Very. Packaging drives the brand, so that’s where we start. When I came on board, the label was very intricate, like a lot of labels. I gave our bottles a really sleek look, which tells consumers that they’re new world wines centered in new world fruit and new world style. Having a name like Bookwalter is a no-brainer because the literacy concept is endless. Our wine club is called the Book Club and we have recently launched a new label: Notebook. This new label features quality, pocket friendly red and white wines.
T&T: What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry as a whole?
JB: In the past five years, we’ve doubled our number of bonded wineries. I’m confident we’ll continue to see growth in Washington State, in terms of the number of wineries, vineyard acreage, and wine tourists.