The Funks

The Funks: Rich and JaredIt’s all about the Funks! Specifically, we are talking about Saviah Cellars’ incredible co-owner/winemaker Rich Funk; his talented son and viticulturist Jared Funk; captivating Funk Vineyard (and Stones Speak Vineyard) and some of the best funky wines from the Rocks District. But it’s important to note that Saviah Cellars also features a stellar lineup of wines from other vineyards. In short, the Funks are some of our favorite people in the Washington wine industry. And we have more Saviah Cellars wines in our cellar than any other brand. Read on for details of our recent trip to see the Funks, who also gave us a tour of some of their vineyards, and poured some of their impressive wines.

The Funks: Saviah Cellars

The Funks Estate SyrahWe have been Saviah Cellars fans for almost two decades, not long after Rich and Anita Funk launched the winery in 2000, with a goal to showcase varietal characteristics that reflect the unique soils and climate of the Walla Walla area. That same year, Rich learned the ropes from Mike Januik, then the winemaker at Three Rivers Winery. Furthermore, in 2001, the Funks formed a relationship with the Brown family to create a world-class Estate Vineyard Program. The first two vineyards were Anna Marie and McClellan. Next, the Brown family hired Rich to help establish their own Watermill winery in 2005. Consequently, he quit his day job as a microbiologist and turned his full attention to the wine business.

In 2009, Wine & Spirits Magazine named Saviah Cellars “One of the Top 100 Wineries.” The following year, Wine Spectator called the winery “One of the Rising Stars in Washington.” The rest, as they say, is history.

The Funks at Funk Vineyard

Photo by Chuck Kinzer

In the last couple of years, we have had the honor and pleasure of spending time with Rich and Jared Funk. Rich is  a superb winemaker, and such a friendly, wise man with a great sense of humor. Jared is a viticulturist, who is not only insightful but also a lot of fun. Both Rich and Jared guided us on an excellent adventure touring some of their vineyards, and explaining the differences in soil, elevation and fruit in each one. We started in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. Located within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, the Rocks District resides just across the border in Oregon.


The Funks Vineyard Rocks

Photo by Chuck Kinzer

The Stones Speak and Funk vineyards are two of our favorites in the Rocks District. You can see by the rocks in the photos how the AVA got its name. Recognized as one of the most distinctive growing regions in the world, the Rocks District is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries (96%) have been fixed by virtue of a single soil series and a single land form (alluvial fan). As well, we drove by McLellan and Dugger Creek Vineyards, where Rich also sources fruit.

Funk and Stones Speak Estate Vineyards

The Funks - Estate Vineyards

Photo by Chuck Kinzer

The Funk Estate Vineyard consists of very deep, excessively drained soils that contain a large fraction of basalt cobbles and iron. As a result, Rich told us, Syrah clearly excels under these conditions, as does his recently crafted Funk Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. “There’s higher PH in rocks so the tannins are less bitter. That’s the magic.”

The site sits at an elevation of 970 feet, and is considered the warmer area of The Rocks District. The team at Saviah Cellars planted vines in 2007 and 2017 — five acres of Syrah (Joseph Phelps Clone), and five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Meanwhile, the Stones Speak Estate Vineyard rests on bedrock, and consists of very deep soils with larger basalt cobbles than Funk Vineyard. As well, Stones Speak has a lower elevation, 870 feet, compared to Funk Vineyard, less than a mile away.

Rich added, “The Funk grows more brooding black fruit while the Stones Speak features high-tone red fruit. In other words, the hotter you go (Funk), more black fruit, and the cooler you go (Stones Speak), more red fruit.” However, the wines are similarly savory, with distinct Rocks District aromas and flavors of red fruit, smoked meats, charcuterie, olive tapenade and minerality.

Of note, Rich told us Châteauneuf-du-Pape soil consists of three feet of cobble, then clay, while Stones Speak’s cobbles go down 150 feet before turning to bedrock.

McClellan and Duggar Creek Vineyards

The Funks Vines outside Rocks District

Photo by Chuck Kinzer

Rich also drove us by McClellan Vineyard, which was planted in 2003. Located on the south side of the Walla Walla Valley AVA in Oregon, the vineyard provides Saviah Cellars with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Rich said they all exhibit fruit-driven elegance with an earthiness, along with seductive aromas and silky tannins.

Dugger Creek Vineyard is located across from McClellan. Rich sources Grenache, Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc there. Similar to McClellan, the wines from Dugger Creek fruit are elegant, earthy, seductive and silky. Rich noted that Dugger is on a peninsula that juts to a valley, with a windy ridge that creates heat. So Nebbiolo also grows well there. Jared added, “Dugger Creek has a long growing season, which is just what Nebbiolo needs to be high quality.”

In short, we thoroughly enjoyed our vineyards tour with Rich and Jared. We listened to their wonderful stories, shared a lot of laughs, and then went back to Saviah Cellars to taste their amazing wine.

Saviah Cellars Wines from the Funks

At the tasting room, Jared opened four seriously good wines for us.

Saviah Cellars Wine

Photo by Chuck Kinzer

2022 Rosé ($25) is a delicious, dry blend of Sangiovese (60%) and Barbera (40%) from Dugger Creek Vineyard. Aromas of red berries from the Barbera and watermelon from the Sangiovese, along with hints of citrus and minerality, mirror the palate.

2020 GSM ($40) blends 75% Grenache, 18% Syrah and 7% Mourvèdre. The composition truly represents the GSM initials, which isn’t always the case. Twenty percent of the Grenache was fermented whole cluster, providing more complexity and depth. Aromas and flavors of wild berries, cherries, charcuterie, anise and baking spices entice, making this one of the best GSMs we’ve tasted.

2020 Hunt & Gather Red Wine ($55) continues to wow us. What a magnificent red blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah from Funk Estate Vineyard. Combine the funky, earthy, smoked meats notes from the Rocks Syrah with the blackberry, black cherry, licorice and dark chocolate flavors of the Cab Sauv. The result – a hedonistic jewel in the Funks stunning lineup.

2020 The Stones Speak Syrah ($60) is another of our Saviah favorites. The Stones Speak offers all the smoky, briny and savory notes associated with a pure expression of Syrah from The Rocks District. Think aromas of earth, funk, black olives, bacon fat, red berries and rain-soaked cobblestones, leading into flavors of smoked meats, grilled mushrooms, coffee, spices, and red and black fruit. This beauty is textured and silky at the same time.

More Funk Vineyard Wines

Funk Syrah and Cab We brought home two special Saviah Cellars wines, Funk Estate Vineyards 2020 Syrah and 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon. Be still my heart. They are both killer wines, but for different reasons. We first tasted the 2013 vintage of this full-bodied intense Syrah and loved it – and every vintage since. The 2020 Funk Syrah is co-fermented with 4% Viognier. It is the most funky, fabulous, exceptional, expressive and exotic Saviah Rocks Syrah we’ve had. Wow!

The Funk Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 is a classy, newer addition to the Saviah portfolio. As the saying goes, it got me at hello. While also lush and concentrated like the Syrah, the funk in this debut Cab Sauv is more refined and subtler. Aromas of coffee, vanilla and bittersweet chocolate lead into more chocolatey flavors, with café au lait notes on the finish.

Summary: The Funks

In conclusion, sipping the wines made by Rich and Jared, from the grapes grown at the vineyards we just visited, was a definite highlight of our trip. We highly recommend stopping by Saviah Cellars when you’re in Walla Walla, in addition to purchasing any wine that shows the Saviah label. Prepare to be impressed.

Credit for all but three photos goes to our friend Chuck Kinzer, a professional photographer.

Meanwhile, find us on Instagram, Facebook and of course, here, at Write for Wine – It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere.

Margot and Dave