The US’ Newest AVA: The Rocks District of Milton Freewater


It’s not every day that your town gets a new AVA.  Yesterday was special for many of us Walla Wallans, but especially so for Steve Robertson and Kevin Pogue.  Their proposed AVA was, after months and years of hard work, officially approved yesterday.  Below is an interview with Steve Robertson on the new “The Rocks District of Milton Freewater.” Steve is the founder and owner (with his wife Mary) of SJR Vineyard and Delmas.

This new AVA sits on the south side of the Walla Walla AVA and has been garnering awards, accolades and respect for a long time.  Only now, there are some official names involved.  Within our family of wines, our Old Stones Syrah for the Waters label comes out of this new AVA.  With great honor, I introduce you to Steve’s version of making an AVA:

What really propelled you to launch the campaign for this new AVA?

It was such an obvious opportunity. Some of the most distinctive wines anywhere were being produced off of these soils. WA/OR wines struggles to garner attention for distinctiveness/importance on the world stage…there is no question as to the distinctiveness of Rocks District wines. Further, it was an opportunity to refresh the importance of WWV, M-F and even OR. Finally, it forced a long, overdue discussion as to how an AVA that is shared between two states should work. The result of this conversation has been the working together of more people who previously were restricted by geographical and political boundaries. Now those same people are actively and creatively working together with a more NW perspective as to the desired results.

You moved here for a new project, but at what point in purchasing your vineyard or planting it or making wine or drinking Walla Walla and “TRDOMF” wines did you say, this place needs to be recognized as something different?

I knew before we moved here. There were two driving elements for our family project; 1) we were looking for an estate project, small enough that we could engage every step in the process as a family and 2) where the end-product was capable of receiving global respect.

Speaking of which, I know that you and so many others had originally wanted a different and shorter name for the region.  Since it is officially “The Rocks District of Milton Freewater,” and since you were the official creator of that, can you now officially on this blog tell me what a shorthand name for this place can be?

Either ’The Rocks District’ or ‘Rocks District’.majestic bloom

Was getting everything approved harder than you thought it would be?  Did it take longer than you thought it would? 

We understood that this was going to take a while…good things come to those who persevere! What is so cool, is that there is now such strong support/recognition for this positive result!

Was there ever a point at which you thought the whole thing was going to fall through?  When and why- if you feel that you can discuss openly.

Often…we were prepared for push-back from both local and regional factions. Of course, any process that engages something new, or the status quo, will struggle without a strong sense of the possible from leadership. Add state boundaries as well as federal rule making and, well…..this is a recipe for perseverance.

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Was there a governing body that was easier to work with than you thought they would be?

Yes, the TTB was incredibly encouraging from the get go. They were excited to see such a unique AVA petition (where the boundaries were defined by a soils series).

What are the defining characteristics of the geology and terroir of this region?

96% of the AVA is made up of the Freewater series of soils (gravels and cobbles)….no other AVA in the U.S. can claim one land form and one soil series!! Additionally, these soils are incredibly deep.

What are some of the defining characteristics of the wines coming out of this region?

Lovely perfumed bouquet, with a savory palate and prominent minerality on the finish.

What one piece of advice would you give someone out there who wants to create the next AVA?

Be distinctive. Be meaningful.

Thanks so much for being a creator, visionary and organizer for this region,


For more reading on the new AVA, go to:

and it has already landed on Wikipedia: