There is a Mecca for fine wine and heavenly hospitality nestled among rolling wheat fields and beside a babbling brook just outside Walla Walla.
Abeja Winery and Inn is truly something special, a wonderful gift to the Walla Walla Valley and the Washington wine industry.
Spanish for bee, Abeja (pronounced ‘ah-BAY-ha’) shows what can come from melding passion for wine, hospitality and preservation of the Earth and its inhabitants.
You know how you sometimes see something that, on the surface, appears really cool or interesting, but when you start peeling the layers of the onion, you uncover something that’s less than promised?
Abeja is the absolute antithesis of that. On a recent visit to the inn and winery, I was amazed by many things, not the least of which was the attention to detail. Past the gate, the first impression I had was, “Wow, nicely preserved old home, barn and various outbuildings that look like a traditional farmstead.” But upon closer inspection, I don’t know how many times I gawked in amazement and said, “No way, that’s awesome!”
The story of the farm and the surrounding acreage is classic American history. It started when Jacob Kibler headed west from Missouri in 1853 to stake a claim in Oregon, but landed in the Walla Walla Valley after a few Oregon Trail misfortunes.
Kibler’s hard work and perseverance prevailed, and by the late 1800s he and his family owned thousands of acres of wheat and timberland, as well as property in downtown Seattle.
Kibler’s second son, David, built the main home in 1900 on what is now the Abeja property, and over the next seven years built all the buildings on the land. In its day, this was as fastidious a working farm as possible, and continued to be in the Kibler family for nearly 100 years.
In 1986 the property was purchased by Greg Finch. A methodical, meticulous resurrection of the farm began, and for the next 14 years Greg and his wife, Vanessa, restored many buildings and eventually opened the Mill Creek Inn.
In 2000, the old Kibler farm changed hands again, when a successful businessman from Portland, Ore., bought the property. Ken and Ginger Harrison had stayed overnight at the Mill Creek Inn and immediately realized the property was the perfect place to chase their passion for wine.
The evolution of the Kibler farm shifted into high gear under the hands-on, creative guidance of the Harrisons, and Abeja was just about to get wings and start to buzz.
The next critical piece to make this new wine hive fly was the addition of two talented people who had already made quite a splash in the world of wine. John Abbott and his life companion, Molly Galt, joined the Harrisons in 2002, and this partnership has proven to be just about as sweet as honey.
Abbott began his career in wine fresh out of college in Napa Valley, working for prestigious wineries such as Pine Ridge and Acacia. I first met Abbott in 1999, when he was the winemaker at Canoe Ridge Winery, and was immediately a huge fan of his skills as a winemaker, and of his warmth, humility and graciousness.
With all of the success Abbott has had over the years he certainly possesses the credentials to mount up and embrace the “rock star” persona of (luckily, just a few) of his peers, but the absolute opposite is true.
Abeja wines are as elegant, pristine and correct as the facility in which they are made, and the people tending to this little slice of Eden have raised expectations for an inn and winery in our state — or anywhere, for that matter.
The new proprietors of the old Kibler farm have created a treasure with Abeja, and the really cool thing about it is that it’s available for any of us to immerse ourselves in its soul-soothing ambience. Add a dose (or two) of the beautifully handcrafted wine, and I think we’ve found Shangri-la.
The newly released wines from Abeja are a stunning 2005 cabernet sauvignon, a beautiful 2006 chardonnay and a fun red called Beekeeper’s Blend. Sadly, the demand for these wines always exceeds the supply, and they tend to evaporate off the shelves of retailers quite quickly. But, they are still available through the winery, should you wish to reward yourself with a bottle.
To get more information, purchase Abeja wine or reserve a heavenly retreat go to www.abeja.net.
Jeff Wicklund can be reached at 425-737-2600, 360-756-0422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.