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Fire & Vine Hospitality's Walla Walla Experience

Understanding Fire & Vine (F&V) is the first step: it is a partnership between the El Gaucho Hospitality team and Chef Jason Wilson. The F&V banner waves over El Gaucho (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland), AQUA by El Gaucho, The Inn at El Gaucho, Miller's Guild, The Lakehouse, Civility & Unrest, Eritage resort, Walla Walla Steak Co., and Crossbuck Brewing. Entities may have different owners, but all are helped in some way by the group (operations, culinary, technology, sourcing, marketing). Namewise, both Jason and Chad like to cook with fire and love cigars; Jason sees vines as agriculture while Chad sees wine.

Chad Mackay (El Gaucho, AQUA, The Inn), Jason Wilson (Miller's Guild, The Lakehouse) and their wives met on a cruise where Jason was a guest chef, 8-9 years ago, and became friends. Chad and his wife had their first date night after the kids were born at Crush, Jason's Madison Valley restaurant, now closed. As business owners, they'd talk about trials and tribulations. As Miller's Guild was opening, Chad suggested they should work together; Jason wasn't sure what value he would bring. Three years later with Jason's The Lakehouse in the works, the business advisor they both use brought the idea up again. Once they started talking, they quickly decided to join forces. The Lakehouse would be a big operation, Chad's corporate executive chef was having health problems; it was time.

"I have 20 years left of my career," says Chad. "Do I want to manage what we have now or expand? It makes sense to manage someone else's asset, like Columbia Hospitality does, as well as do more things on our own. Eritage came about because my dad (note: Paul Mackay who brought back El Gaucho) 'retired' to Walla Walla. He bought a bakery in Dayton and the train depot building in Walla Walla. Justin Wylie of Va Piano wines started talking to him about plans for the 300 acres he owns just outside Walla Walla. Dad said 'talk to Chad.' Justin wanted us to manage the restaurant. It seemed too small to me, it would have to be part of something bigger. He had always envisioned an inn and restaurant, so eventually we agreed to run the whole thing. We operate iconic properties and brands; this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to create something unique, a resort that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, yet is six minutes outside Walla Walla. It's also a way to leverage what we've been doing. Interestingly, when Justin first brought wines to Seattle to sell years ago, his first two customers were El Gaucho and Crush!"

The resort includes 20 rooms (10 guest rooms open, 10 lakeside villas to be built this summer), restaurant, and meeting space. Each of the rooms/villas will have complimentary Wi-Fi, fireplace, garden tubs, Nespresso coffee maker, and individually-controlled heat and air conditioning. Outdoors there will be fire pits. "It's understated luxury. The location is the thing: Blue Mountains in the background, rolling wheat hills, vineyards, the shape of the building. You don't want to overshoot, it's an incredible place by itself. It's rare to find places like this in the middle of the vineyards, especially because it feels like it belongs there, instead of feeling alien to the surroundings. When we open, it will be ready. But what it will be in three years we're still planning." The resort will open to the public in July 2018.

The water is a six-million-gallon irrigation lake that Justin designed as reverse infinity. "When you look at it across the Great Lawn and rocks, the kidney shape makes it look like it never ends." Eventually there will be a pool and pool house, a path around the lake, hiking trails in the vineyards, and maybe paddle boards and canoes. There is a room that may be turned into a mini spa for massages. Meeting facilities include a living room, great room, backyard patio, the Great Lawn, chef's table with eight seats, and audio/visual capabilities. "We'll add components as we go along, unique things, like maybe doing lunch on the top of a round circular mound on top of a hill-it's the second highest point on the property and has a 360° view." Grapes grown on 180 acres of the Eritage Vineyard are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and are contracted to several wineries. "If we do have an in-house wine at some point, it will be from these grapes."

The restaurant will have an open kitchen and seat 45. Jason is developing and will help oversee the menu; there will be a chef-de-cuisine on site. It will showcase a craft cooking approach to seasonal food with a live wood fire and strong connection to farmers and growers. "We'll be using a lot of product from Walla Walla-produce, lamb, wine. We'll also pickle and freeze the bounty we have to enjoy during winter. We'll do some interesting things, too, like use tomato leaves. Each variety has a different flavored leaf. The wine list will be small with both Walla Walla wines as well as Old Country." A sample menu ranges from wild onion and asparagus soup with Dungeness crab, and lemon mint crème fraiche; hand-rolled potato gnocchi with foraged mushrooms, sautéed stinging nettles, Berkshire pork bacon, and soft-cooked egg; quail; King salmon; steak tartare; vanilla-roasted beets with smoked Oregon blue cheese. All of this could, and will, change, but shows the direction.

"I love Eastern Washington," says Chad. "It's the connection that shows us where so much of our food comes from, and the seasons are clear. In winter, you can see the resort as you drive in. When the wheat grows up, you don't see it until you are right on it. It's a different experience each time you come."

1319 Bergevin Springs Rd
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Photos courtesy of Fire & Vine

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