Washington has hundreds of wineries, but until now, not many immersive wine-country experiences. Eritage Resort seeks to remedy that with the wine industry know-how and vision of fourth-generation Walla Wallan Justin Wylie (Va Piano Vineyards), hospitality magnate Chad Mackay (El Gaucho Restaurants), and James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson (Crush, Miller’s Guild, The Lakehouse). Wylie has formed a partnership with the team at Fire & Vine Hospitality, led by Mackay and Wilson.
As they formally announced their partnership in late July, Wylie spoke in a voice thick with emotion that he is grinning from ear to ear. The three men were huddled around Wylie’s cell phone, trying in vain to stay cool in the shade of Wylie’s beast of a white truck parked at the top of the Eritage vineyards. You can picture the view — 360 degrees of rolling hills, distant mountains, vines, and amber waves of grain. As far as the eye can see is evidence of Washington’s abundant fertility.
Eritage, an Old French derivative of the word heritage, is a project that has been years in the making. Wylie recognized the potential of developing the north side of the Walla Walla valley both from the quality of the land to produce outstanding wine grapes and from an aesthetic viewpoint as a place for guests to enjoy a deeper wine-country connection.
“I wanted to create a place where we could share a true Walla Walla experience with guests from around the world. This is the first place in Walla Walla where you can have a complete submersion experience in wine country,” says Wylie.
With this vision in mind, Wylie acquired the land in 2007, but shortly after the acquisition, the project foundered in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The project teetered into bankruptcy, and Wylie’s dream seemed a passing fancy. When he was contacted by an outside investment group (Business Growth Capital of Long Beach, Calif.) interested in restarting the project, it felt almost too good to be true. And the fact that they wanted a local to head the project, someone who knew the lay of the land physically and politically, reignited that spark of hope.
“It has been a love-hate project,” says Wylie of the emotional roller-coaster that has ensued since its inception.
It was a no-brainer for Wylie, who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the dream come to fruition. In 2014, they dug the irrigation pond, redistributing the dirt to a low spot on the property that became part of the vineyard planted that year. The building project began in 2016 — a 10-suite luxury resort, including an onsite restaurant and common room featuring a massive fireplace. Each of the resort’s rooms has a patio or deck treating guests to views of the Blue Mountains, rippling wheat fields, and beautifully landscaped pond. Phase One will be complete and open for business this fall, with a plan for 10 individual cottages tucked into the vineyard hillside slated for Phase Two.
During the construction process, Wylie’s enthusiasm bubbled to the surface in nearly every conversation — one with Paul Mackay, founder of El Gaucho Restaurants and resident of Walla Walla since his son Chad took over operation of the El Gaucho Hospitality Group in 2013. Paul Mackay recognized the potential of the project and suggested that Wylie should really be meeting with his son about a possible hospitality partnership.
“Partnering with a hospitality group was always in the back of my mind, but I was taking care of priorities first, planting the vineyard and whatnot.”
Chad Mackay explains his close ties with the region, saying, “My dad moved here a number of years ago, and I’ve known Justin for quite a long time. Over the years, we’ve [El Gaucho Hospitality Group] sent people to Walla Walla for wine education.”
When El Gaucho announced its partnership with Wilson in early 2017, they already had this project on the front burner, though they had yet to formalize it officially. Eritage is the first new project for the Fire & Vine team to execute from the ground up.
“The table is set,” says Mackay. “Now we’re designing the party.”
According to Mackay, “the party” involves incorporating stories of fire, water, and earth into the guest experience, crafting evening rituals that take guests beyond a regular hotel stay, and allowing Wilson to design a culinary program that fits the history and physicality of the place.
Wilson, mere weeks after opening The Lakehouse in Bellevue, was already flush with ideas for this project. Mackay, a pilot, flew Wilson over the location to give him a sense of perspective about the place. Wilson says that perspective allowed him to think about the area as a whole, inspiring menu items that will reflect the region.
Wilson’s culinary plan for Eritage revolves around the region’s obvious affinity with grain, locally grown vegetables, regional-specific fish, and a simple approach to cooking in order to highlight the ingredients.
Getting closer to the source is what Eritage is all about — giving guests access to all that Walla Walla has to offer in one luxurious, intimate swoop.