HISTORY OF ABEJA
JACOB KIBLER ARRIVES TO WALLA WALLA
Jacob Kibler left Missouri in 1853 to claim a land grant in Oregon Territory. But, where the Oregon Trail divided south to California and north to Washington Territory, Jacob's traveling companions robbed him, escaping with his belongings. After five years of fruitless searching for his former friends, Kibler made his way to the Walla Walla Valley with only a pack mule, a bedroll and twenty dollars. Jacob worked in a brickyard until he had enough money to buy a wagon and oxen, and then began freighting to and from the Idaho silver mines. In 1863, he filed a homestead claim for 160 acres on Mill Creek, and seven years later was able to purchase an additional 160 acres from his neighbor, David Buroker. In 1873, 52-year-old Jacob Kibler married David Buroker's daughter, 21- year-old Louisa. Jacob and Louisa's land was to the east of what is now Abeja.
THE KIBLER FARM
The Kiblers eventually had several thousand acres of wheat and timberland, plus four city lots in Seattle. Jacob and Louisa's second son, David, married Miss Katherin Clodius in 1900 and built their home on the now-Abeja property, which had been deeded to David by his father. Between 1903 and 1907, David and Katherin built all of the buildings on this land. At the peak of their farming, they were tending 1,000 acres of wheat from this farmstead using mule-driven combines.
Each of the farm buildings served important roles on the busy farmstead. The Bunk House ensured that the farmhands were always ready and at hand. By all accounts, Katherin Kibler was quite fastidious and resented the intrusion of dirty, dusty farmhands into her home, so hearty harvest meals were prepared and served in the Summer Kitchen. The Summer Kitchen was also used to preserve the bounty from the farm. The Chicken Coop, a farm essential, provided fresh eggs for breakfast and dinners of fresh, grain-fed, chicken. The Small Barn – now used for guest check-in, breakfast, and wine tasting – served as the dairy. The Large Barn, home to our winery, once housed the horses and mules.
RESTORATION BEGINS & MILL CREEK INN
In 1986, Greg and Vanessa Finch purchased the farm, which had been lived in by members of the Kibler family for almost 100 years. By that time, only 42 acres remained and the farmstead was essentially derelict with most of the buildings in a state of abandonment and serious disrepair. Slowly, over a fourteen-year period, Greg and Vanessa began to clean up the individual buildings and eventually started the Mill Creek Inn. The Summer Kitchen and the Chicken Coop were the first two cottages to be restored.
Prior to founding Abeja in 2000, Ken and Ginger Harrison were longtime supporters of the Oregon wine industry. As a Portland business leader, Ken was part of a small delegation that traveled to Burgundy in the late 1980s to bring the famed Joseph Drouhin family to Oregon.
Establishing an Oregon Pinot Noir winery might have seemed a more obvious choice for the Portland-based couple; but Ken’s interest was in Cabernet Sauvignon, and his pursuit of the grape brought him to the Walla Walla Valley in the late 1990s in search of land suitable for growing world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Walla Walla was an unpainted canvas at the time, and the challenge appealed to Ken. Inspired by his travel to European vineyards where he experienced the advantages of estate-grown grapes first-hand, Ken envisioned a true estate winery, one that grows, produces and bottles its own wine.
While searching for a Walla Walla vineyard, the Harrisons stayed as guests at the Mill Creek Inn and knew immediately they had found a site of unparalleled beauty and history that deserved to be protected, tended and shared. They purchased the property in 2000 and renamed it Abeja in 2002. It was the beginning of a transformative undertaking unlike any other in the Washington State wine industry, with Ken focusing on the overall vision for Abeja that included planting estate vineyards and Ginger applying her special talent for aesthetics and design to the Harrisons’ small, world-class inn.
Companions in life and work, John Abbott and Molly Galt joined Ken and Ginger in the spring of 2002, forming a partnership. John began his winemaking career in the Napa Valley when, as a new college graduate, he went to work for Pine Ridge, and later for Acacia Winery. In 1994, he and Molly moved to Walla Walla to begin Canoe Ridge Vineyard, where he was the winemaker for nearly ten years and she was in charge of all on-site marketing and public relations. Proud of their success at Canoe Ridge, eventually both left to begin a winery again, but with a new focus and a new approach. A shared vision of quality and determination to be a leader in the future of Washington State Cabernet made the foursome at Abeja a perfect team. The first wines of Abeja were released in the autumn of 2003. Since that time, the wines of Abeja have become well-known and highly respected in each of their categories.
Beginning in 2000, when Ken and Ginger took ownership of the property, numerous restoration projects have taken place. The Locust Suite and the Carriage House Suite were the first accommodations added to what had been three during the Mill Creek Inn days. In 2009, a second bedroom was added to the Carriage House Suite and the Edison House was completely restored. Meanwhile, the winery and its infrastructure went through a beautiful transformation. In the 2011, the Hayloft Suite, located in the second story of the Small Barn, was completed. Spring of 2012 saw the opening of the new Chicken Coop. All the while, the gardens were being expanded, the vineyards planted, and the grounds improved.
A NEW ERA AT ABEJA
In 2016, Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler took the helm as the winemakers at Abeja. Honing their craft with a combined 30+ years of experience in winemaking and backgrounds at both Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Dunham Cellars, Daniel and Amy’s love of wine, industry expertise, and passion for hospitality made them a perfect fit for the Abeja family.
Also in 2016, the Titus Creek restoration project was completed, protecting and preserving the watershed habitat and providing an additional space for guests to enjoy while staying at The Inn at Abeja.
Over the last two decades, the splendor of the property, the unmatched hospitality, and the quality of the wine have firmly established Abeja in the Walla Walla community and beyond. Preserving an old property, such as this one, is important to all of us who live and work here. It is part of the Walla Walla Valley’s history, and with a new purpose will continue to be for many years to come.