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Walla Faces

Inns and wines

Taking life easy is really the point of getting away. Finding a place and people who take the strife out of life is the goal. And now you don't even have to do the research because we've found them for you: Rick and Debbie Johnson of Walla Faces Inns.

Rick and Debbie Johnson

They offer two experiences you will want to repeat again and again. Their downtown Walla Walla inn location offers an urban experience within walking distance of tasting rooms and restaurants. The vineyard experience is even more relaxed: 10 minutes out of town on a bluff overlooking mountains, valley and surrounded by grape vines. Neither location serves meals or has a front desk.

Downtown on the upper floor of a renovated 100-year old building, Rick and Debbie have created six suites: studio and one-two bedrooms. Five units have full kitchens, all have Jacuzzi tubs, some separate from the shower. Beyond the modern look, feel and convenience, you also have complete privacy. Entrances are subtle; stairs lead to the suites in front and there's an elevator at the back of the building. Both entrances have keypad door lock access. When your reservation is confirmed, you receive a code that allows entrance.

At the vineyard property, there are four small pieces of heaven. Part of a larger house (at right), where they live with their Shih Tsu, Angel, there are three private suites and a guest house. All have private entrances and private patios/sitting areas. A lovely outdoor pool creates an oasis. The guest house has a full kitchen, patio, and hot tub. The property is three minutes away from the airport wineries. And the expansive views over the valley will cause you to stare, breathe deeply and relax.

If you're in Walla Walla, chances are you're all about the wine. That's the next great thing about Walla Faces. Their property is the estate vineyard for Walla Faces wines.  The first vintages, 2006 and 2007, released in November 2009, were produced at Forgeron Cellars by winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla, with tweaking by Walla Faces' then winemaker, Matt Loso, formerly of Matthews Cellars (he sold in 2008). Matt stayed on for several years, producing the wine at Bergevin Lane. Chris Camarda, formerly of Andrew Will, is now their consulting winemaker, working with assistant winemaker Victor Delaluz, formerly of DiStefano Winery.  The 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon brought home a gold medal from the 2013 Dallas Morning News and TexSom wine competition. There were 2,704 entries submitted from 16 countries and 25 states; only 199 gold medals were awarded.

Walla Faces has their own winery, situated at the Walla Walla Airport, close to their vineyard property. You can taste wines there on weekends or daily at their downtown tasting room. They also offer private vineyard/winery tours by appointment. The tours start at the vineyard with a tasting/tour, then move on to the winery with a tour, plus tastings from barrels, current and library wines. Appetizers are included; the tour lasts about two hours. 

Creating the life they lead now has been a long-term process. Rick's background as a city planner/urban designer and property developer has given him the tools and know-how to take an idea and turn it into reality. Debbie's career as a financial consultant to hospitals had her traveling frequently, so she knew what she wanted in a hotel. She now works full time with Walla Faces.

In 1975, Rick traveled and studied architecture in Europe for three months. "This is when I started liking wine," he smiles. "I saw Italian, French and German countryside and thought living on a vineyard making wine would be the perfect life." Jobs and life intervened and the dream went on hold. Twenty-five years later, he met Debbie. A few months after they married, they spent a February weekend on the Oregon coast in a cabin with no phone, TV or Internet. "What could we do but talk?" laughs Debbie. The old dream came up, Debbie liked it enough to do a proforma on the idea and they began to work toward their goal.

Walla Faces Inn-Downtown
214 East Main Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Walla Faces Inn-Vineyard
254 Wheat Ridge Lane
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Walla Faces Tasting Room
216 East Main Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Walla Faces Winery
598 Piper Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362


Fusion--blend of Cabernet Sauvignon,
    Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauv, Cab Sauv Reserve
Syrah, Riesling, Riesling Ice Wine

Walla Faces tasting room

Research, classes at the University of California, Davis, and Washington State University's viticulture program brought them closer. Five years were spent looking for the right vineyard, four in Oregon. Then Rick saw an ad for Walla Walla. Although the property didn't work for them, they liked the town and purchased the building where the suites are now. "It wasn't what we were going to do, but the building was similar to an old firehouse on Capitol Hill I'd redone. The suites were originally created as apartments, but we realized there was a need for hotel rooms in downtown and slowly changed over to that concept," recalls Rick.

A year later, they found the vineyard property and bought it. "We weren't looking for such a large home, but three of the bedrooms had private entrances, so it was easy to turn those into suites," says Rick. The vineyard contains just two varietals: 7-1/2 acres of Cabernet Sauvingon and 1-1/2 acres of Syrah. Over time, they realized growing grapes and making wine themselves was not completely realistic. They were wise enough to find expert help.

Each wine has its own face and name on the label with a story on the back. Together they create a 'wall of faces,' hence the name Walla Faces. Artist Candice Johnson, Rick's sister, creates the faces.  Walla Faces opened their downtown tasting room on the street level of the Walla Faces Inns in the fall of 2009.

Rick and Debbie's vineyard dream is in place. It affords us great wine and two comfortable, upscale places to relax in the middle of Walla Walla's wine country. A dream come true for all of us.

Connie Adams/June 2013

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