After graduating from Montana State University, Richard and Anita Funk were set on launching a microbrewery. But when the reality of how much it would cost to start a business put that dream on hold, the wine industry became a new opportunity.
The Montana natives instead moved to Walla Walla in 1991, where Richard began working for the county health department as an environmental health specialist. As wineries expanded, he helped the winemakers with water issues and got to know them. Over the next few years, the Funks watched new wineries start up, and they began to make their own plans.
The launched Saviah Cellars – using a family name from Anita’s side – in 2000, focusing primarily on reds. The wines were quickly a success, allowing Saviah to grow from 300 cases of wine in its first vintage to more than 12,000 today.
In 2006, the Funks purchased a 10-acre orchard near Milton-Freewater, Ore., and planted half of it to syrah (the other half is still apples), and they plan to release their first wine from Funk Estate Vineyard this fall.
Some of the wines have names that provide a connection to the Funks’ Montana roots. For example, the Star Meadows white blend is named after the family’s first Montana homestead, and Big Sky Cuvee is an obvious big seller in the Treasure State.
The Funks are perhaps most proud of The Jack, a red blend they refer to as their “make friends” wine that is affordable enough to drink any night of the week.
“Our goal is to overdeliver on that wine,” Richard said.
Here are a few Saviah wines we’ve tasted recently:
Saviah Cellars 2009 Star Meadows, Columbia Valley, $20: This blend of sauvignon blanc (53 percent) and semillon produces aromas of yellow rose petal along with peaches, lemon and banana peel. Seven months of life in neutral French oak makes for a subtle palate of white peach, apricot and lemon yogurt.
Saviah Cellars 2008 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25: There’s nice roundness to the presentation of peach and a caramel apple, backed by starfruit and lemon pith for complexity. Try pairing this with a cheddar frittata.
Saviah Cellars 2007 Big Sky Cuvee, Columbia Valley, $35: Saviah makes its annual homage to its Montana roots via this melange of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, malbec and petit verdot. It gathers up reddish tones of dusty cherry, pomegranate, plum, raspberry compote, dried rose, leather and a Douglas fir frond with a jammy approach backed by medium tannins.
Saviah Cellars 2008 The Jack, Columbia Valley, $18: The enticing nose of this Merlot-based blend displays hints of boysenberry, plums, blueberry, cherry, spiced apple, coffee and tobacco leaf. Long and evolving flavors are expressed as plums and boysenberry, and then are joined by blackberry. Underneath there’s a progression of cherries to chocolate to Aussie black licorice along with a late arrival of nice chalkiness.
Saviah Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $28: Those who enjoy hedonistic wines will love this red, which shows off vanilla bean, cherry wood, plums, blackberry, eucalyptus, black olive and coffee aromas. It’s silky on the attack with black cherry and marionberry flavors.
Saviah Cellars 2007 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32: Finding an oak-filled Syrah with gobs of food-friendly acidity isn’t easy, so here’s one to take note of. Smoky bacon, blackberry, cherry, vanilla bean and molasses accents come with blueberry tartness amid a low tannin profile.
Saviah Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $28: This comes with aromas of raspberries, cherries dusted with cocoa powder, pleasing minerality and a dab of resin. The silky extraction shows sweet black cherry and dark raspberry flavors. Acidity finishes just ahead of the tannin.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.