Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet’s Walla Walla Impact Started in Switzerland

Jean-Francois Pellet
Director of Winemaking & Partner,
Pepper Bridge Winery & Amavi Cellars | Walla Walla, WA

“I’m a third generation wine grower, winemaker from Switzerland just outside Geneva,” said Jean-Francois Pellet. Although he didn’t want to go into the business at first, three years of school taught him to grow grapes, and that he wanted to be part of the entire process. He went back to school to study winemaking.

As part of his education, he worked all over the world making wine including Switzerland, Germany, and Napa Valley. After graduation, he continued to travel in pursuit of his craft, managing vineyards and making wine in Spain and Switzerland before moving to Napa Valley once again.

A friend connected Pellet with Norm McKibben, known as a “founding father” of Walla Walla’s wine industry. McKibben wanted Pellet to come to Washington and build a winery. So in 1998, Pellet packed up the house he’d recently bought in Napa and his family, including a new baby, and moved to Walla Walla. His plan was to stay two years, but 20 years later, he’s a pillar in the Washington wine community with no plans to go elsewhere.

Coming from a European background, Pellet has brought a wealth of experience from everywhere he has made wine, and the wines he makes reflect that knowledge. They are grown up, elegant, and complex. “I think what Europe teaches you is that it takes time to achieve what you want,” he said. “It’s like a human, the vineyards go through that youth and then the teenage years and then by the 10th or 12th years, you get pretty consistent.”

Pellet brings some European patience to a young wine region. Though he loves much about both the old and new world styles, for him Washington is the sweet spot between the two. “I think the wines still have the generosity of the new world, because it’s warm during the summer, but I think with the soil we have you have some nice mineral or earthy characteristics that can come out if you decide to showcase the intricacy.”

by Cara Strickland
photo courtesy Amavi Cellars