Winery Spotlight: Meet CAVU Cellars

Cavu Cellars produces high quality wines in the town of Walla Walla with its founder's roots based in military aviation.


SEATTLE, Dec. 8, 2015 — In a modest part of town lies a modest winery with a large dream, fueled by a passionate family. While this could be almost anywhere in the world that produces wine, it’s not. It’s CAVU Cellars, located in the airport district of Walla Walla, Washington.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock when it comes to world-class wine, it’s no secret that Washington state plays an important role in the area of fine wine. Walla Walla is perhaps the best-known wine-producing area in Washington, as the wineries there make some of the highest-rated domestic wines.

The Port of Walla Walla Airport area hosts numerous wineries in the many old military buildings that have been renovated on the inside. One such producer is CAVU Cellars. CAVU is a U.S. aviation acronym that stands for “ceiling and visibility unlimited,” rather fitting given Jim’s roots in aviation.

Jim and Karen sort fruit as we crush and destem.
Jim and Karen sort fruit as we crush and destem. (Image from CAVU Cellars)

It’s somewhat unfathomable to think that Jim and Karen Waite could have imagined owning a winery when they lived in Alaska. A former second lieutenant in the Army, Jim earned his private pilot’s license while in the ROTC’s flight program. But it was at the University of Alaska, just outside of Fairbanks, where he would meet Karen – it was in Fairbanks where their son, Joel, would be born.

Cavu Cellars’ first harvest of Sauvignon Blanc grapes in 2008 from Lonesome Spring Vineyard.

Fast forward nearly two decades, and we find Joel living in the greater Washington D.C. area, where he started his career in the food and wine industry. He’d wait tables, bartend or work as a chef’s helper – whatever it took — and this is where he honed his love for cooking and food. This would spur Joel on to areas like the Napa Valley to absorb himself in the world of wine and going to cooking classes by world-class chefs. He started a catering company while in D.C. and also hired himself out as a private chef.

The tasting room inside Cavu Cellars

It was Karen’s sister, Marlene however, who would eventually lead Joel and his parents to Walla Walla. Marlene and her husband moved there to help her husband’s father on his onion farm – a staple crop that put this sleepy town on the culinary map decades ago.

Joel often visited these relatives, fell in love with the chilled vibe of Walla Walla and decided to make the move once he found out about the Center for Enology and Viticulture. It is here he would enroll to learn winemaking and convince his parents to be partners, CAVU Cellars was born in the fall of 2008.

Winemaker of Cavu Cellars, Joel Waite.
Winemaker of Cavu Cellars, Joel Waite.

Since that time, CAVU has enjoyed a tremendous amount of local success and is ramping up availability throughout other key markets as well. It’s host to an art gallery of local artists and has a huge area inside the building for events such as weddings and private parties.

Art gallery and private event area at Cavu Cellars

Joel’s winemaking style shows restraint and doesn’t come across as being heavy-handed – perhaps his Barbera is the best example of this. The bountiful aroma, flavors, acidity and finish make it one of the better domestic Barberas you can find.

CAVU produces Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and a Barbera Rosé. Additionally, there’s a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the Winemaker’s Select, which has a changing blend from year to year, depending on which grapes Joel feels are the best. Joel partners with some of the best vineyards in Washington, such as Horse Heaven Hills AVA of Yakima Valley.

Some favorites of mine include the beautiful rose, which is done in the style of one we’d see out of the Provence region of France. Light in color but stellar mouthfeel, texture and acidity. The combination of fresh melon, strawberries, orange zest and spice make this a no-brainer wine to pound all year long.

There aren’t too many Petit Verdots being produced domestically, so when you find one it can be a real treat. Black, inky, exploding with flavor – this grape is mainly used as a blending varietal in both France and the USA. However, there are more producers and wine lovers discovering how great-tasting it can be on its own.

It’s a wine that almost demands you tap it while eating a well-seasoned steak, wild game, sausage, veal or lamb. It’s a “manly-man’s” wine, if you will, and comes to life on the palate with blackberry, black cherry, squid ink, currant and spice.

Cavu Cellars’ event area and stage.

To find out more about CAVU Cellars and the great-tasting wines it produces, check out its website:

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