Last Updated on October 6, 2022 by
Josh McDaniels is the CEO and Director of Winemaking at Bledsoe Wine Estates. He was born and raised in Walla Walla, where he fell in love with the wine industry at an early age.
Josh started his own winery during high school and pursued this passion by obtaining formal education from the Institute of Enology and Viticulture. He also took extension courses through Washington State University and UC Davis and interned in Argentina at Paul Hobbs’ Vina Cobos Winery to further his education.
Josh has been named a “Game Changer of Washington Wine,” a “Washington Prodigy,” and a “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers of America” from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Josh McDaniels shares how he got started in the wine business
- How Josh and Drew Bledsoe met and ended up as business partners
- Josh talks about the story behind each of their three wine brands
- What motivates Josh to make wine?
- How Josh’s winemaking evolved over the years
- Josh shares how he manages three brands between two different states
- Josh talks about what they do differently at Bledsoe that sets them apart from others in the industry
In this episode with Josh McDaniels
Creating one wine brand from scratch and growing it takes a lot of time, effort, and money. But running multiple brands across different locations is so much tougher. So, how do you successfully build and manage multiple wine brands?
According to Josh McDaniels, the key is to leverage synergies and economies of scale. At Bledsoe Wine Estates, only one core team handles all three brands. One of the main benefits of this setup is having a fixed set of people Josh and his partner can trust. There’s an established trust, understanding, and synergy between different personalities — which helps the brands run smoothly.
In this episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon sit down with Josh McDaniels, the CEO and Director of Winemaking at Bledsoe Wine Estates. Josh shares how he got started in the wine business as early as high school, how he met NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and how they ended up as business partners. He also talks about the process of creating three wine brands and the challenges of managing and growing them.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Barrels Ahead
- Drew Thomas Hendricks on LinkedIn
- Bianca Harmon on LinkedIn
- Josh McDaniels on LinkedIn
- Bledsoe Wine Estates
- Bledsoe McDaniels Winery
- Bledsoe Family Winery
- Figgins Winery
- Drew Bledsoe on LinkedIn
- Greg Harrington on LinkedIn
- Chris Carpenter on LinkedIn
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.
At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.
Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.
So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!
Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show
Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19
Drew Thomas Hendricks here on the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. Barrels Ahead will work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. One that highlights your authenticity tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more today, we also have Bianca Harmon on the show who’s one of our direct consumer marketing strategists. Welcome to the show. Bianca. How are you doing?
Bianca Harmon 0:56
I’m good. Thanks, Drew. Excited to talk with Josh today and learn about these incredible wineries out in the Walla Walla Washington area.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:05
Yes, yes. Today we have Josh McDaniels. He’s the CEO and Director of Winemaking for Bledsoe Wine Estates in Walla Walla, Washington Josh, he oversees the wine business that has three wineries, Doubleback and Bledsoe Family Winery in Walla Walla Valley, and Bledsoe McDaniels in the Willamette Valley. Welcome to the show, Josh.
Josh McDaniels 1:26
Thanks, Drew. Thanks for having me. It’s been, you know, Bianca and I got to catch up a bit a bit a few weeks ago now, but excited to have this conversation and talk a little bit about what we’re doing.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:38
Yes, absolutely. So Josh, what’s what I’m gonna kind of start off and say, How did you kind of get your start in the wine business?
Josh McDaniels 1:46
Yeah, it’s always totally backwards answer. I actually started my own winery when I was in high school. And while Yeah, much my mom would have preferred anything other than the alcohol industry, but I was kind of a young entrepreneur. And honestly, it just brutal honestly kind of found a way I was trying to find a way to make money. I thought that was wine and and started my own winery and ran it for a number of years and and things kind of grew through that.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:20
In high school. That’s amazing. What, how did you figure out how to make wine in high school? Was it just take a drink?
Josh McDaniels 2:27
Yeah. Yeah, it was funny, you know, I hadn’t had a lot of wine, but it was really just that kind of entrepreneurial. proneural side. And my dad had had a lot of small businesses growing up. And you know, I got in actually with the Figgins family who owns lead Edie sellers up here in Walla Walla. Sand. Yeah. Well, they, you know, kind of took me in when I was a kid, gave me a job. It showed me the ropes a little bit, and I figured I could do it myself. And, you know, had had a modicum of success and certainly learned a lot. And actually, no spying, I graduated high school doesn’t seven. And then you know, 2008 2009 financial crisis happens, right? When I kind of had a growth spurt with the winery, and I got, you know, I got so much of a better education I think I could have ever paid for or gotten a scholarship for in college. And it was a it was a great, I can say that it was a great experience now, in hindsight, but at the time, just super challenging. And you know, the amount of problem solving and grit that you had to have to get through that was was pretty cool. So Drew and I met who I work with now, around that time, and obviously things grew and changed and got to utilize all that information that I had learned and experienced then into growing our wine business. Now.
Bianca Harmon 3:56
I got to ask, how did you and drew me I mean,
Josh McDaniels 4:02
this Yeah, so Drew, you know, I always say Drew was the, you know, he’s older than I am, which I like to remind him of, but he was the mythical, you know, godlike figure that every young boy in Walla Walla, you know, aspire to be. And he, I was working for the Figgins family at the time and had my own winery. And, you know, he announced his retirement from the NFL, and then said he was going to launch a wine project in Walla Walla where, you know, volleyball, he grew up in Walla Walla, his hometown. And I remember thinking, you know, that’s great. Seems like a great guy. He obviously good at football. I’ve heard a lot of good things about his reputation, but how does he know about making wine? What the hell does he know about the wine industry? And it was it was cool to see what he did, but he hired my mentor Chris Higgins was the winemaker second generation at lionetti as the original winemaker. So the Drew and I met while I was at Lee Unity. And, you know what, like, eight years, seven, seven years later, I got to take over the brand. And it was, at the time, I think I was 26. When I took over, I don’t think he realized how young I was, I don’t know if he would have given me the job if he had, but got to take over. I was 26. And we hit it off and just have had a, you know, a great a great run and have developed a great friendship. Now, today.
Bianca Harmon 5:27
You have now called collectively have three wineries Correct?
Josh McDaniels 5:31
Yeah. Which is crazy to think about, you know, we, I think we were just together over the lat we’ve spent a lot of time together over the last week. And we kind of joked that we have, like professional add, where, you know, it’s always trying to challenge each other and trying to, you know, push each other to new heights. And obviously, you don’t get to the go to the NFL and do really well in the NFL, if you’re not very competitive. And then I think because I was so young and and, you know, I wasn’t, you know, coming from a wide family, you know, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder, and probably still do. So I had a lot to prove, and just, you know, a lot of you know, that competitive drive within me too. And so we just push each other and keep, you know, developing new things. And as long as we never sacrifice an ounce of the success that we’ve gotten within the existing brands and wines, then then we’re gonna keep keep pushing forward to do new and better things.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 6:29
Or how did the three brands come about?
Josh McDaniels 6:33
Yeah, so Doubleback was started in 2007. That was the original winery, and it was an estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon project. That’s it, you know, it started off with one wine. Now we have four wines under that winery, to basically to cabinas. A Merlo and then a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny amount of Chardonnay that we make under that 10 years later, you know, Doubleback is had grown into this allocated waiting list project that had seen a lot of success. And, you know, both of us I think, being Walla Walla boys, not coming, you know, he obviously, he made a lot of money, and I’ve had some success and wine and, and, but neither of us had money growing up, you know, my dad worked at the cannery and Wawa worked the night shift, and his parents were both teachers in Walla Walla and growing up. And it meant a lot to us that, you know, we weren’t just selling, you know, $150 Cabernet that was allocated on a waiting waiting list. So we launched Bledsoe family winery is a little bit more of an inviting project where, you know, our friends could come, you know, in our, you know, our childhood friends could come enjoy a glass of straw or Cabernet or rosary or whatever it is. And, you know, they didn’t have to make an appointment. They didn’t have to be on the mailing list. And, and they could afford it, you know, and so it was, it was kind of a, almost like a personal project of ours to get into that. And, and that was launched in 2017. And then, you know, Bledsoe McDaniels came about a couple years after that, you know, Drew and I had gotten this really great relationship and had grown this business together, you know, to a pretty solid place. And so we decided to partner together on a project down in what was this, you know, incredible place that we had, you know, a lot of love and affection for in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. So we’re working on Pinot Noir down there, and it’s still a very new project. We launched our first wines in 2000, fall of 2019. And it’s just been a ton of fun, but, you know, we’ve had some have had three great, extremely great successful releases, and then ran into some wildfires 1020 and decided not to make any wine in that vintage. So very challenging, but at the same time, extremely rewarding and exciting. So yeah, that’s long story short, but the three brands kind of proliferated. And
Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:11
that sounds very organic the way it came about. I do have I do have to ask how’s What’s this latest update with this 2022 vintages in the Willamette?
Josh McDaniels 9:20
Yeah, and then Northwest, far between Walla Walla and Willamette. It’s very wet and very cold. So, you know, there’s still time we’re just starting to bloom here in Walla Walla. I’m going down to Willamette in a couple of days to check on our sites down there, but yeah, it’s just wet and cold so far, but it’s not the wettest or the coldest that we’ve ever seen. So I’m still optimistic that that will, you know, adjust and make some changes and tweaks and farming and still continue to make some really fantastic ones.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:51
Yeah, I had no idea that went up to Walla Walla to the coldness, but we talked to another winemaker a few a month or two ago about that. hailstorm We’re freezing got right during budbreak Yeah,
Josh McDaniels 10:03
it’s, you know, it’s just so weird, you know, the end of end of 2019, we had fall frost events in eastern Washington. In 2020, we had wildfires across the whole west coast. And then 21 was the hottest vintage on record of, you know, beautiful and Willamette, but just like half the crop of, of normal in Walla Walla, and so now, it’s just like, you know, now we get these spring frost that roll in and 2,000.2 and we’re just begging for, you know, just some normalcy. She’s throwing everything she has at us, and we’re just, it’s hurtin, but it’s, you know, I tell my staff and our, our sales team, it’s like, you know, that’s what so romantic about the wine industry is every vintage has its own story. And, you know, these are the things that we get to talk about, and drew likes to say, you know, you know, sit back, you know, when you’re, when you’re older, and joke about the games, when you were, you know, up by 40 points. We want to talk about the games when we were down, you know, by by a couple touchdowns and came back and kick some ass. And that’s just how these, these last couple of vintages have been, where, you know, we’ve been, you know, stretched a little thin and, and, you know, we’ve just continued to make some really great wines.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:16
That’s a great analogy. I love that. Because it is when it back when I was selling a lot of wine, if I really love selling Barolo, and there was like, one out of every two or three years was it was a good one. And then they then they got the string where it’s like six years a great mural, and the story got a little monotonous. Another good year, and it’s really hard. If you’re selling the same, then it becomes very productize we’re just like I said, it’s much more fun to talk about the people that overcame the adversity, or they dealt with it or they use the adversity to their advantage.
Josh McDaniels 11:49
Totally, you know, I love for First off I love Burroughs. I’m glad you brought Barolo. But it’s, uh, you know, we always, you know, we’ve always thought that, you know, like, the last of the coldest vintage on record was 2011. And that wines drinking incredible right now. I mean, we love drinking that wine. And, you know, in, in, you know, hard years, find great producers, and you’ll still find, you know, just greatness within, you know, in, you know, it’s weird these days away, critics evaluate things and, and you got to remember that you know what you’re in it for?
Drew Thomas Hendricks 12:20
Absolutely. So I gotta, what motivates you to make the wines that you make?
Josh McDaniels 12:26
Yeah, it’s, that’s a great question. You know, we a few years ago, Drew and I sat down, and we actually developed, like, our core purpose in business. And which is, you know, not romantic way of evaluating a winery, right? Like, nobody ever wants to talk about business in the wine industry. But, you know, it’s it, we got to a point, I think we’re just like, what are we doing? You know, are we just making foods or are we, you know, trying to pretend like, we’re something we’re not once where’s the where’s the value in the in the reason that brings us like, true fulfillment in this industry. And our core purpose ended up being to create genuine happiness for our customers and ourselves. And so it has nothing to do with wine, but wine just happens to be the medium where we, you know, try to bring happiness into other people’s lives. And that, honestly, that really, you know, inspires me to do more with, with what we’re trying to do, and trying to make great wines, we’re trying to, you know, you know, like, three years ago, we started a farming company, where we have our farm team is, is we’ve made a commitment to have them be one of the highest paid farm crews in the northwest, they have full health insurance, full retirement benefits and get paid year round, you know, changing people’s lives internally. And then, you know, you we get these stories that come across our, whether it’s our inboxes, or, you know, through word of mouth, or whatever. But like, places like actually, this morning, I had a guy and one of our good customers texted, Drew, and I said, Hey, you know, I just wanted you to know that my dad passed away last night, we’re opening, we opened a bottle of double back to remember him with, you know, and that stuff hits you hard. You know, that’s when, when the romance of the wine industry becomes a hell of a lot more than just about scores and points, and it becomes real life and you can’t replace that stuff. And I think, you know, those kinds of situations, whether it’s enhancing someone’s life financially, or whether it’s enhancing someone’s life, you know, through the product itself, it’s, you can’t get any better than that. And I think that’s what continues to inspire us to do better.
Bianca Harmon 14:38
I love that. I worked in the wine industry for a long time. And I’ve always said it’s like, you know, there’s, there’s a true sense of self or anything, like when you build these connections with these people from the wind and like, they message you and they tell you like, Hey, I’m just thinking about you. And it could have been four years ago, you know, and they’re like, Pulling out that bottle and you’re who they think about because that experience or that wine, or that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
Josh McDaniels 15:10
Yeah, and you can’t buy that stuff. Right? It’s real, no organic emotion that’s brought out because of the product that you’re trying to create. It’s pretty cool. Yeah,
Bianca Harmon 15:21
that’s great. So do you think that you I mean, this is, this might be a little off the wall but being part of the Bledsoe does that drew being who he was? Does that bring in customers or guests? Do you think? Has that been a big part and who you guys are? Or
Josh McDaniels 15:43
for sure, especially, you know, the, this, you know, the foundational years, you know, the first like five years in the business that was really core to the success of it. Now, you know, you can’t sell, you know, shitty wine for you know, 100 bucks a bottle and, and a bunch of it, you know, maybe you’ll be able to, you know, trick a few people into doing that. But certainly, it’s it was, you know, I always said it was it was important for like the first like 2 million in business. And then, you know, that was pretty much the ceiling. And then you got to, you know, remember what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do and then focus on that. And, you know, one of the things I loved about Drew is he didn’t name you know, it’s not Drew Bledsoe winery that he started out with, you know, it wasn’t super ripe, 200% New American oak kind of style of Cabernets. You know, and I love that and you started off you bought, the first thing you did was buy a piece of property, not you know, buy some bulk wine, slap his name on it, like a Nike shoe endorsement. And so he started off that way, which I love. And then, you know, we’ve actually, you know, this weekend, we had our release party for Doubleback and I heard heard this a number of times, you know, people come the people said, you know, we’ve come We came because of Drew, but we stayed because of Josh. And I, I you know, selfishly appreciated that a lot. Because I think it’s pretty true, where I’ve always thought that, you know, Jews name opens doors, but it’s our job to close them. And, and it’s our job to say and back it up, you know, and it’s our job is, you know, we’re making we’re going to make we are making great Cabernet. We’re doing it in different ways. And we’re doing different things within the winery that make us stand apart also. So this isn’t just, you know, I never want to be something like Caymus. You know, I never want to be, you know, you know, there’s especially you know, back in the mid 2000s. When drew started, there was a lot of, you know, there was a few celebrity, you know, athlete kind of wind projects, but none of them were very good. And so to try to break through that stigma. After a while it kind of works against you, and a lot of
Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:58
guys thinking about that. There’s actually like a little bit of a stigma like, Oh, here’s another celebrity slapping his name on it. Yeah.
Josh McDaniels 18:04
Yeah, I mean, especially, you know, especially with kind of the wine trade, it’s a challenge. You know, you got to break through the psalm that thinks he knows everything. That’s thanks. Like, I don’t want to carry through blood cells wine. And it was when I was a young wine geek, I totally get that I thought the exact same thing. I mean, I started off by saying, you know, Drew’s a great football player. He’s seems like a nice guy. But what the hell does he know about making wine? And that was, you know, and that’s still a stigma that we have to break through. But certainly at the beginning of the business, it helped kind of open those doors.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 18:37
His name’s pretty solidified. There is you in your own winemaking style? If you look back at your high school, so any look about drinking wine now, how is your winemaking evolved over the years?
Josh McDaniels 18:48
Yeah, that’s great question. I think, you know, I think the biggest thing is, you know, I’ve I’ve really believe that as a winemaker, you can only go so far. And then you kind of revert back to the vineyards. And so we’ve, you know, we’ve got five different estate sites in Walla Walla one down in the Willamette Valley, and trying to, you know, make better wines through those sites. And through farming, rather than winemaking has been, I think, the biggest change until like right now, or we’re doing you know, major work through, you know, cover crops and different ways of, of, of managing a canopy. And, you know, different ways of, of just, you know, simple things, pragmatic things like employee retention, you know, rather than, you know, getting some turnover and having, you know, new hands or can your, your vines every year, you’re having the same people doing it all the time, and they know it better than anyone else ever could. So I think, you know, that would be, you know, one of the biggest things but also, you know, and people ask me all the time is like, shouldn’t you just focus on making Cabernet and not go down and make Pinot Noir? You know, that’s, that’s been a question in the last few years and and I Get where it comes from. But I honestly think, you know, Pinot Noir shows it’s false. So well, you know, in Cabernet, you can hide things and in, you know, the bigness and the roundness of it, or, you know, new oak or whatever it is, but Pinot shows everything, and I think because we’re, we’ve learned to fine tune things in Pinot Noir to be very precise and exact and, and, you know, just nail it. And because you have to, it’s gotten us to be better makers of Cabernet, too. And so now we’re very precise and exact and Cabernet. And, you know, we don’t have to, you know, rely on on doing different things like that, or that are kind of fake, like, I think some producers do, or maybe something, you know, even things that I did, you know, when I was quite a bit younger to
Drew Thomas Hendricks 20:46
have access to a lot more material now, better crops, just like you said,
Bianca Harmon 20:50
I think, Pino wise to you know, it’s, it’s such a delicate grape. And I think, you know, not everybody can just make a piano and so, but it seems to me that everybody can make a pack a cab or thinks that they can write, but all these people that just make a cab, they can’t, you can’t make a piano there’s so much more to just the grape alone, the growing rich and everything. And it really shows your expertise and knowledge in the industry when you are doing, you know, granite wall a wall is being Willamette Valley is incredible area for Pino, but just because it’s a good area, not everybody can go in there and start making peanuts.
Josh McDaniels 21:29
Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, it’s like, it’s almost like that old saying about like white wine in general. It’s like, it’s easy to make white wine, it’s really hard to make great white wine. I’ve heard that a lot. And I think I think it’s, it’s probably pretty similar in this regard. And, you know, making Pinot Noir just pushes you to a different level. And that obviously falls across into the next silo and the Cabernet, you know, you can’t compartmentalize, but you can’t do it that much. It’s, it’s been pretty fun, just a great I’ve, I’ve made Pinot Noir since 2011, when I was still working with the Figgins family. So it’s not like, you know, I started a couple years ago, it’s been a lot, a lot of fun and a ton of learning
Drew Thomas Hendricks 22:07
to manage managing three brands between three different two different states. How do you how do you do keep them separate? Just autonomous? is three, three brands, each winery operating autonomously? Or do you have some synergies and economies of scale there that you can leverage?
Josh McDaniels 22:22
Yeah, quite a bit of synergy and economies of scale. You know, I wish in a perfect world, I wish we had the money where we could have three separate teams. But no, we one of the benefits of that, I think too, is just I have, you know, whether it’s production or sales or whatever, you know, I’ve, I’ve gotten a great team that I just trust, and you can’t go by a trust and an understanding and, and, you know, instead just synergy between, you know, personalities. And so we all we manage everything, almost everything within the same team. There’s a few outliers, but it’s just been a we actually, like the peanut for example, we actually put the fruit into refrigerated trucks and, and truck it up to the Wawa which is about four hours away. That’s what I was wondering. Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, we actually bring it into that team’s production area, so we can manage it with the same set of eyes that we make Doubleback and Bledsoe family with.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 23:20
Okay, so they’re made at the same facility and under the same guidance, that helps a lot, I would think,
Josh McDaniels 23:26
yeah, big time. Yeah. And just, you know, it cuts down on my travel, it cuts down on, you know, the, the, you know, overhead for, you know, building another winery, and, and, and whatnot. And, you know, one thing that we’ve always focused on to is, you know, we’ve never wanted to like, go out and spend a ton of money, and just have these beautiful facilities that everyone just thinks we’re just successful overnight. Because of our wanting beautiful wineries are one winery, and Wawa looks like an old barn, and it’s just extremely functional, you know, its function over form, made make great wine. And that’s it’s not just this Taj Mahal that Drew can come in and stamp his name on it’s a real winery that’s trying to, you know, be successful off this off the quality of the lions.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:13
Do do all your wineries love visits.
Josh McDaniels 24:17
They do. Yeah. We’re trying to get established down in the Willamette Valley on our property down there. So that’s kind of the one outlier that’s not you know, fully up and running but we have Doubleback which is the only tasting room for Doubleback is at the winery. Then there’s a wine lounge and wall wall for Bledsoe family winery, and there’s a wine lounge in Bend Oregon for Bledsoe family winery too, which is super fun. Yeah, that’s
Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:45
pretty neat. Yeah. Yeah. As far as your sales are most of it directly to consumers. Are they? Do you distribute out through the three tier system?
Josh McDaniels 24:54
Yeah, we do some distribution it’s about overall it’s about 85% sent direct to consumer, though. So still quite a bit, you know, ship, you know, ordered online or over the phone or an email in shipped right direct to our customer. What should we love? But you know, we are in small allocations about about 30 states, most of that goes through kind of the coasts like Washington, Oregon, California, then New York, Massachusetts, and Florida. Those are, those are kind of the big, you know, six states that we distributed.
Bianca Harmon 25:28
So, are you doing it? Are you just really in wrestling restaurants or is it stores are
Josh McDaniels 25:33
mostly restaurants, so a lot of you know, on premise consumption, you know, higher end restaurants, which obviously, you know, was a challenge in 2020. But, you know, they they seem so far, we’ve been pretty pleasantly surprised with how a lot of people have bounced back. And so that’s, you know, most of that, and then a little bit through, you know, off premise, wine shops and grocery stores and whatnot to
Bianca Harmon 26:01
kind of going back to like the wine, I know that it’s something that you is important to you is and I kind of wanted to talk about was your sustainability practices, and what you’re, what you’re doing what’s important to you, what you guys do differently that you think sets you apart from others in the industry?
Josh McDaniels 26:21
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s all, especially right now, it’s a big, you know, talking point, and it’s gotten, you know, kind of greenwashed I think, too, with a lot of corporations jumping on the bandwagon. But, you know, obviously, you know, you know, the first one is kind of three things for us, which is, you know, the one is financial, you know, to be honest, and I remember, one of my first college professors told me, you know, hey, you know, Josh, doesn’t matter if you like to make wine, if you can’t afford to do it, you know, and that’s always a really good slap in the face, especially when I was younger, but, and I think, I bring that up, because it’s important to be financially sustainable, because if you’re not in a good place financially, you can’t do the other things. So, you know, the other things being, you know, the environmental side of things, you know, we’re, we’re enormously focused right now, which has been huge, you know, kind of a big passion of mine in the last probably about a year now is putting a lot of focus on lessening our water usage, or rice and water as a natural resource. enormously important moving into these warmer climates and warmer integers that we’re seeing. So we’re doing a ton of research and ton of, you know, trials and experiments on just simple things like cover crops, trying to develop, you know, establish cover crops that keep water in the soil. And, you know, and keep plants and fix nutrients and fix different things that the plants can use and be a little bit more efficient. And the other piece that we kind of touched on earlier already is the people part, yes. I think, you know, like three or four years ago, this was really like, overseen and never mentioned, like everyone thought sustainable farming was only about the environment. And while that’s great, you know, it really, quite honestly, like three or four years ago, kind of pissed me off that nobody ever thought about the people that actually fucking farming. Yes. And, and so you know, that’s when we set out on that mission to, you know, start our own farm team. And like I said, you know, make them one of the highest paid crews in the Northwest for health insurance, retirement benefits. And, you know, so many farms lay off their workers after eight or nine months, and we actually keep them fully employed through the whole year. And that was, it was really cool for us, like we’ve liked to joke that, you know, we would do, we made that commitment, because we wanted to make our moms proud of us. But it was pretty cool to see like the unintended consequences of that qualitatively in our wines to where I remember, you know, in 2019, that first year, we had a fall frost event, October 9 2019. And our vineyards were in pretty good shape. So we had to kind of rush out or a few of our neighbors needed help getting their fruit off the vine. And so we took our crew and help help them pick the fruit. And I remember our crew leader Pedro came out of the vineyard, he walked up for a vineyard manager, because boss, you know, this vineyard looks like shit, or whatever, like this. And it was, you know, it was pretty funny, but at the same time, it was this, you know, like, like affirmation that we started a cultural paradigm shift where they actually care about what they’re doing. You know, it’s not they took pride in making our vineyards, the best vineyards in the valley because it was their vineyards. You know, it wasn’t It wasn’t just another vineyard that they were contracted to go work on. They, they took ownership in it. And because we took care of them there, they took, you know, maybe even better care of us. And so that, you know, shift was just enormous. And because we made that shift, and it’s within our sustainability pledge, it’s been one of the biggest things that we could have done over the last few years. So it’s sustainability means, you know, a few things to us, and maybe different than what it means to other people. But it’s just been a huge word, you know, within, within our three wineries and something, you know, it’s pretty irreplaceable, at this point.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:37
I love that you brought that you’re bringing employment and stability and human, right, that’s the wrong word. But humans stability into the equation, because you spend too much time, I believe, too much focus is put on the environmental side of it. And without the custodians in the in the vineyard, you kind of missing the huge piece.
Josh McDaniels 30:58
Totally agree, you know, and I know, it’s interesting, you know, and I hesitate to say this, but, you know, the, there’s been a lot of diversity and inclusion, you know, pledges over the last few years, which are really great. But I remember, you know, when some of that in 2020 really started, I kind of got, I kind of got mad again, because, you know, everyone was saying, well, our industry is all white people. And, and once again, you know, I said, Wait, a second half of my business is spanic. And they’re an enormously important part of our business. And you just totally, you know, gloss right through them. You didn’t even acknowledge them. And so yeah, it’s just it’s frustrating thing. And just, you know, the more spotlight that we can put on it, I think the better
Bianca Harmon 31:42
my family growing up, well, they still do, but they owe to winery in Napa. And I live in St. Alena. And he used to my uncle used to have and they were younger, you know, back then. And this is, you know, this is in the late 80s 90s. But they were illegal. They were illegal immigrants. But they would work for him. And if they worked hard, he would help them get become citizens. And so, like, the workers that work on my family’s property, they’ve, I’ve known in my entire life, I’ll go eat at a restaurant, and they’re the say, and I’m like, they’re like, I’m like, how’s my uncle? And they’re like, he’s good. You know, and they’ve worked for him for over 3040 years, and started as kids and he would help them become, you know, you worked hard. You’d do good for me, I’ll help you. become, you know, stay and, you know, because it was so expensive for these people to become legal immigrants to.
Josh McDaniels 32:49
Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s incredible. I love I love that. Love that mentality. And the culture, too. It’s pretty cool.
Bianca Harmon 32:56
Yeah, it’s just they are they are so important. And it’s like, it’s totally grazed right over?
Josh McDaniels 33:04
Yeah. Which is unfortunate. You know, that’s half of our company, our business, you know, it’s just that piece of it, that it’s just totally glossed over, like you said,
Bianca Harmon 33:13
and so when you find that wineries that take care of those workers, it really makes a huge difference, because otherwise they’re unemployed half the year.
Josh McDaniels 33:25
Yeah. And, you know, it’s been interesting, like, this year, you know, we’re so many farms have been struggling to find labor, we’ve been fine. You know, we’ve, you know, we’ve, we, people come to us, because, you know, we take care of people. And, you know, we’ve got a couple of second generation, you know, family members that are working for us now, to which, you know, that’s incredible to see. And so, yeah, that whole paradigm shift has just been, you know, majorly instrumental in our success.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:56
We’d love to see that paradigm shift towards sustainable employment and health. So also that kind of leads into Walla Walla itself, is this area, a subset of the, you know, the US wine industry? How has the area changed over the last, you know, 1015 years, both positively and negatively?
Josh McDaniels 34:14
That Well, if you ask, you know, I grew up here. I think that, um, do you know, to make fun of some of the old time wheat farmers around town, but, you know, if you ask some of them, they still hate it. So there’s the negative side, but everything else I think has been positive. You know, we’ve got a town I think the city the city’s like 32 or 33,000 people, the counties like 61,000 or something so small town.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:45
Yeah, one of the best airports to fly into. Yeah, totally. Yeah. minutes before your flight and you’re
Josh McDaniels 34:50
good. Exactly. Yeah. And I think Bianca Did you say you’re in Santa Rosa is
Bianca Harmon 34:58
so good. I’m 30 minutes from Santa Rosa. So
Josh McDaniels 35:02
well, what is that Charles Schultz airports? It reminds me. It’s really funny. Okay, yeah. So super easy to get in and out of but you know, town of small, tiny town, we’ve got, you know, James Beard chefs and just incredible food scene. The hospitality industry, like in terms of hotels and, and, and Bnbs and whatnot are really starting to step up. And then like, it’s just a beautiful area. And it’s always been that way, you know, regardless of the wine industry. But the other piece is, you know, restaurants and hotels, and now golf and whatnot are really coming along, too. So it’s just my wife. You know, I always say, like, I grew up here. As a kid, I never thought I would stay in Walla Walla. But now, you know, my wife and I have three young kids, and it’s just the best place to come home to. And we love living here. And it’s just a really cool place that we feel fortunate to be in. So we all we do always tell everyone like, if you haven’t been here, please come. Because obviously you have to experience it to believe it. And, like if you’re in San Francisco, if there’s a lot of traffic in Napa, we go to SFO, it’s a it’s an, it’s an hour, 15 minute flight, you might be here before you get to Napa. So it’s a great place to come and visit so and, you know, you’ll save a ton of money in lodging and wine and whatnot along the way. So we’d definitely welcome that.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:32
Yeah, I was up there. I think the last time was two years ago, and I was really right before the pandemic. I was really surprised at the infrastructure and the food was fantastic. Yeah. Forget the where we ate it was. Yeah, I was very impressed. Yeah, it would make it would make it very easy to live there. Love that.
Bianca Harmon 36:53
Yeah, I haven’t been there. But I would like to I’m actually was just thinking because you were saying that you had a tasting room, I guess didn’t bend. Yeah, you have to we’re gonna be making a trip at the end of July up to Portland. And so I was like, Wait, maybe I could at least hit the Willamette Valley area on the drive to port. Yeah,
Josh McDaniels 37:17
definitely. Yeah. It’s like, like 30 minutes from the airport. So you’re, you’re right in one country. If you make it over, let me know. We’ll definitely help. You know, we can fill an itinerary for you. It’s, it’s, I think it’s great. Laminate is beautiful. Also, Willamette is beautiful.
Bianca Harmon 37:32
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to go there. I just have I just clicked during this episode that Willamette Valley is
Josh McDaniels 37:37
right, all the way there. Exactly.
Bianca Harmon 37:41
Yeah. When you said that it was four hours from Washington. I mean, so I mean, that has to be difficult. I mean, is weather similar, and Willamette Valley and Walla Walla, when you’re like managing grapes, and all of that, are you dealing with at least similarities
Josh McDaniels 37:57
there? The weather, so Walla Walla is quite a bit warmer and drier. But the cool thing, like what we’ve always thought with this, Bledsoe McDaniels is, you know, there’s obvious differences, right? The Willamette Valley cold, it’s colder, it’s dry, or wetter, Pinot Noir Cabernet, but there’s also these really cool similarities that nobody talks about, you know, the, all the lava flows that originally formed, both valleys are the exact same lava flow. People talk about the Missoula floods a lot, which, you know, kind of carved out the Columbia Basin, and then backed up into Walla Walla, you know, those same waters, went down the Columbia River and then backed up into the Willamette Valley. So there’s, you know, we, when we bought our property, last year, I was walking through the upper half of it. And you know, I’m looking down at my feet in this the same exact assault, you know, fractured basalt boulders that are in that vineyard that are in our vineyard up in Walmart and McQueen vineyard. And so it’s just a, there’s obvious differences, but there’s really cool kind of hidden similarities that really make it feel like home. And it’s almost like just making wine just with through a different lens of a variety too. So yeah, come see us. We’d love to love to.
Bianca Harmon 39:19
Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:21
Where do you see Walla Walla going in the next 15 years? Like where would you like to see in an ideal world 15 years from now? With wall wall look like?
Josh McDaniels 39:31
Yeah. Yeah, crystal ball. I mean, you hear that all everyone’s say, you know, net wall walls like Napa, you know, 30 years ago. So you know, you always hear about that. I definitely think there’s some merit to that California influence that’s coming up. You know, right now, the Jackson family. You know, Chris Carpenter, the winemaker, Cardinal and Latoya. They’re making wine at our place actually, and just bought some property. The I think like 80 acre piece of property in Walla Walla, seeing a lot of that kind of interests running around town. You know, as these warmer climate, you know, vintages come and people are looking north. And so I’ve seen a lot of that kind of outside the valley influence that’s coming in. And a lot of people, you know, get scared about that. But we’ve always thought, you know, high tide raises all ships, and the more competition you have, the more it’ll push you to be better. And so, you know, we’ve embraced that. And I think that, overall, that’ll be a positive thing. And we’re trying to, you know, foster those good relationships and help people, you know, do things the right way, if we can. And so I think, you know, that’s probably one of the big changes that will happen over the next 15 years,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:47
people, larger companies coming in from California, what about international I know and Willamette, there’s a lot of French burgundy producers teaming up and just like an apple, a lot of Bordeaux houses kind of moved in and got co-ownership. Are you seeing some of the international involvement in Wawa?
Josh McDaniels 41:02
Yeah, there’s a little bit you know, it’s not quite it’s still, you know, it’s, we just had this conversation, I still can’t believe that drew and family invested in Willamette like 40 years ago. That’s so weird to think. I don’t know how they had that foresight. Incredible family. But, you know, obviously, I saw like the Bollinger team and Lucia downs and some of those investments going into Willamette. We just had Valdemar Bodega Waldemar the what is the oldest winemaking family in Spain? Yes, that’s like eight generations just built a great new beautiful winery facility here in Walla Walla. And definitely a lot of that kind of movement. That’s, that’s been rumored around. So it’s
Drew Thomas Hendricks 41:51
a lot of parallels between Spain and Walla Walla. Yeah, for
Josh McDaniels 41:55
sure. Yeah. And I think, you know, I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more from Bordeaux. But at the same time, you know, being in Bordeaux, it’s like, it’s gotta be like an outside investor that bought into Bordeaux that then goes and buys in Walla Walla because I think the portal, I think, I still don’t think that wine is produced outside of Bordeaux. But, you know, we’ll see what happens. And, you know, obviously, a lot of those wineries like, you know, the feet and whatnot are owned by banks anyways, so we’ll see what happens but yeah, that internationals
Drew Thomas Hendricks 42:27
All right. Do you find it fascinating how internationally the the regions all seem to go to another region, like all the burgundy producers seem to go to Willamette? Yeah, no, went to Napa area. Rome guys went down to Paso Robles for their for their investments. And then it makes sense. I guess it makes sense. So when Voila, Molly got to Spain, I guess St. Michelle’s got a an Italian
Josh McDaniels 42:52
Yeah, the Antinori they own percentages, but they’re big investors and owners of property in Washington State to so yeah, you know, like Michelle rolawn consults on a project in Walla Walla. So there’s definitely some of that influence. But you know, you haven’t seen something like you know, Opus One kind of type of partnership yet. It’s, we’ll see what happens in the future. But obviously, that hasn’t happened yet.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 43:21
One question, I probably could look at it, but I’d like to ask you anyways. So while the walls one of the one Appalachians actually spans two states, yeah. Yeah, we’re in Walla Walla, Washington, Walla Walla, how did? Is there a marketing difference on the two?
Josh McDaniels 43:39
A lot of people are think so we personally don’t care at all, you know, wall wall, to, you know, the, it’s kind of like it to me, it’s almost intellectually boring to think about where the state line is. And not just focus on wall a wall, you know, we want to make when you’re growing up here, you see the valley, you know, the geological Valley. And that’s really what we focus on. You know, there’s, like, Sean Sullivan, you know, I love the guy. But if he writes another damn article about Washington, Oregon, and Walla Walla, it’s just boring to me. You know, it’s just, I don’t I don’t really understand the argument. You know, it’s just, it’s like a Masters of wind kind of thing that they get stuck on and can’t get over that hurdle. It’s just a weird thing. But to me, you know, we just focus on the geological Walla Walla Valley. And what makes those wines Great.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 44:35
That makes a lot more sense to focus on the geographic rather than the state line. Yeah. Well, gosh, Josh, is we’re kind of wrapping down here. I got to ask, Who do you respect most right now in the wine industry, or who do you want to give a shout out to?
Josh McDaniels 44:53
Man, it’s such a hard, such a hard question. I mean, I’ve had so many great mentors in my career, you know, Chris, Some very figures like, you know, kind of raised me in the wine industry. Love those guys. And you know, quite honestly, even you know, one of our friends, well, one of our friends, Greg Harrington is a master Somalia. And then also, you know, this one was kind of unexpected, but we’ve just loved having Chris Carpenter up from Cardinal and Latoya. They’ve been it’s been really interesting to see, you know, a style change in a different type of winemaking, you know, come up and do something with with fruit in the same region. And so it’s been fun to learn from people and, you know, and try to understand differences and see how we can all get better. So, yeah, super tough question. And because there’s been great people that I’ve been fortunate to, to experience.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:50
Those are, yeah, it’s so good to surround yourself with so tight, just different thoughts and just different types of different types of like influences.
Josh McDaniels 45:59
Yeah, you know, one of our core values is being open minded. And there’s been so many times where I’ve been prepared to hate someone for something that I’ve heard about that I’ve absolutely love them for. So yeah, try to certainly try to keep an open mind.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:17
That’s a perfect word of wisdom to end on. Josh, where can people find more about you?
Josh McDaniels 46:23
Go, just bledsoewineestates.com You can see all of our three individual wineries there and then shoot off to one of them to learn more about or right now everything sold out. But Bledsoe Family Winery has a live shopping page on that. So go check that out. Or join one of the mailing lists for the other two wineries.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:46
Get on the allocation list. Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you so much, Josh, for joining us.
Josh McDaniels 46:54
Thank you both. It’s been certainly fun and super interesting to you know, talk to you guys. And hopefully, Bianca, when you get up here later this year, we can show you around Willamette
Bianca Harmon 47:05
Yes, I would love that. And my family would to
Drew Thomas Hendricks 47:11
have a great day, Josh.
Josh McDaniels 47:13
You too. Cheers.
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