Five Questions About Tasting Room Design: Et Fille Interview with Common Bond Design

Et Fille Wines is so happy to finally have a tasting room to welcome guests after thirteen years of being open by appointment only! We were very careful with the design of the space and loved our experience of partnering with New York based interior design firm Common Bond Design. Our partnership with Common Bond Design was a natural extension for us as it is owned by Sherry and Alex Kalita. Yes- as in Kalita Vineyard, from which we have proudly produced single vineyard Pinot Noir since 2004. Common Bond Design is run by vineyard co-owner Sherry and her daughter Alex. So... mother/daughter vineyard/design duo with impeccable style and taste. We had a chance to discuss our collaboration with Sherry and Alex. Here are the highlights:

One of the Common Bond Design goals seems to be about bringing personality into a space's design. How did you bring the Et Fille brand to life when designing the tasting room?

The name, the logo, the tasting notes…they all nod at the father-daughter effort behind the wine, particularly the dualities implicit in that relationship, though always in a light-hearted, playful way.

 The yin and yang wall paint – an off-black and white – was the most “on the nose” interpretation of the great work that comes out of the pull between masculine and feminine, the gravitas of age and the expansiveness of youth. We interspersed playful pale pink to tie in the logo and keep it from feeling too literal.

 A subtler move was to invert the branding on Et Fille’s website: instead of black and white photography on a colorful background, we displayed large-format color photography against a black and white background. Jessica and Howard wanted storytelling to be central. The photographs are so vivid – they visually signal that the featured people, process and terroir are the life of the wine. The map of the Willamette Valley on the back wall achieves that same impact through scale.

 Honestly, Howard and Jessica made it easy for us to inject personality! Et Fille as a brand has a clearly defined, consistent and fun personality. And we had the added bonus of a pre-existing relationship through Kalita Vineyards.


What did you learn about designing a wine tasting room and how was it different from other projects that Common Bond Design has done before? 

This was Common Bond Design’s first commercial project. We’re used to the process of function leading form in residential projects – but with Et Fille’s Tasting Room we had to apply a whole new industry-specific rulebook. Textiles had to stand up to commercial traffic and red wine spills, storage had to be designed to accommodate specific bottle and glass dimensions, the bathroom and bar had to be ADA compliant.

 We learned from the local winemaking community. We asked Jessica and Howard how they anticipated their needs. We visited tasting rooms throughout the Willamette Valley to ask questions about their spaces (what worked? what didn’t? how would you improve it?), took measurements, and snapped photos. It was wonderful how openly neighboring tasting room directors shared feedback.


The Et Fille Tasting Room feels open and welcoming. What advice would you offer to create a welcoming environment? 

Well, first off, Et Fille is open and welcoming.  When a guest walks into the tasting room, a warm, knowledgeable Et Fille representative – often Howard or Jessica – greets them. It’s the people who create the experience.

 The space design honors that. The bar is situated on the left, so that guests’ bodies are positioned towards a friendly face when they swing the right-hinged door open from the street. Furnishings are spare, so that people have space to congregrate and interact with the wall art, which tells the story of the people and terroir behind the wines. The bar is open on one side, so that an Et Fille rep can circulate between the standing tasting counter, seated tasting table and club member seating, answering questions or refilling glasses. Seating is organized into smaller, more intimate pods, with wall paint and furniture layout serving to reinforcing the visual illusion of a series of more comfortably proportioned “rooms” within an open plan.

 Howard and Jessica were clear that the objective shouldn’t be to maximize occupancy, but to maximize personal interaction with each guest. The storytelling element behind the photographs and map allow guests to engage with the brand, even if the Et Fille representatives are momentarily tied up with others.


The Et Fille Tasting Room is designed to serve multiple purposes in a small space. How did you approach that? 

We took the same approach as in residential design: multi-purpose furniture and storage, storage, storage.

The key distinction with commercial design is that I think people want less ambiguity from public spaces. Ambiguity leads to misuse leads to awkwardness.

It can make multi-use furniture trickier to incorporate, but it can also be an asset. For example, we originally lobbied for a bar open on both ends for traffic flow. Jessica and the contractor came up with the idea of incorporating the ADA-compliant bar on one end. In practice, it serves two purposes: it’s a tasting surface for wheelchair users and it clearly communicates to guests which side of the bar they are meant to stand on.

The “room” order subtly communicates a continuum of public to private. You enter into a waiting area – where you could comfortably poke your head in and ask a question; you progress to the casual standing tasting bar – available to anyone during open hours; then, the club seating area where members are encouraged to drop in and hang out; then, the more structured seated tasting area on an appointment basis; and finally, the private office and the bathroom. 


What have you learned about working as a mother/daughter team? How is a family business different from other businesses?

Alex: I can tackle this one. It’s different in a million subtle ways; I’ll pick one. As a young adult, it’s tempting to define your identity in opposition to your parents.  Running a business requires a very pragmatic type of introspection. I watch my mom regularly interact with clients and grapple with creative puzzles. The success of our business depends on my ability to recognize when her interpersonal communication style is more effective, when her instinct trumps mine, when her creative process is just more efficient. Instead of the common refrain, “please don’t let me become my mother,” there’s a career incentive – an imperative really – to say, “here’s how I need to become my mother, because she is just so good at X,Y and Z.”

Sherry: It provides a financial incentive to admire your parents?

Alex: Yikes, it does sound like that I’m saying that, doesn’t it?...I think it’s more about observing how your family member moves successfully through society as an individual and seeking that same success? It’s cool to see your parent operate outside the family dynamic! And as for the parent-child business, I think that’s particularly unique – and at times, uniquely challenging – because you throw a generational gap into the mix. 


5 Reasons to Drink Pink

Why should you keep rosé on hand as a summer sipper?

1) Lighter bodied wines seem appropriately paired with warmer weather.... sometimes a heavy red just feels a bit too robust for the heat.

2) Rosé can be a terrific pairing for summer grilling... grilled fish and vegetables, insalata Caprese, summer salads...

3) When entertaining, it can be a patio pleaser.

4) It can be found at accessible price points.

5) Let's face it... it does look Pretty in Pink.

What Does This Mild Spring Mean for Harvest 2015?

It has been a mild, warm, and dry winter and spring in Oregon's Willamette Valley. A question we are frequently asked is, "What does that mean for the grapes?" Here are five possible implications for Harvest 2015 in the Willamette Valley:

1) Growth Acceleration: Heat provides grapes what they need to develop. We measure this in Growing Degree Days. According to Oregon expert Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University, "To date in 2015, growing degree-days are higher than normal over all of California, Oregon, and Washington with April accumulations running between the last two warm years (2013 and 2014)." If this were sustained, we would expect an early harvest, though May is too early to make that call.

2) Dry: Obviously, precipitation has been lower than normal all winter and spring on the west coast. In areas like the Willamette Valley where irrigation is uncommon, it means that we worry a bit, but not too much since our generally mild climate and fertile soils usually keep things healthy even with a bit less water than normal.

3) Predictions for Summer: We expect more of the same warmer and drier weather than normal. National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s seasonal outlook (May-Jun-Jul) continues the strong likelihood for a warm late spring and early summer along the west coast. Additionally, the "blob" reported in the media, which refers to a condition of warm sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific, is creating a persistent ridge over the west coast with dry conditions expected to continue.

4) Possible El Nino: There are some indications that there could be a mild event in the late fall or winter that could bring rainfall into California and possibly Oregon. Bottom line: we need to be prepared for possible rain events in the fall.

5) Ship Wine Now: We plan to ship most wines as soon as possible as a warm west coast summer could mean that we have a very narrow window for shipping.

Five Factors to Determine When it is Time to Harvest Grapes

It’s harvest time in Oregon and a question we get asked frequently is, “How do winemakers know when to pick?” For us, it is a composite decision based on five main factors:

1)   Visual Inspection: Are most of the grape clusters in the vineyard dark purple or do green berries remain? What is the size of the grape clusters? Are the stems turning brown, indicating structural development? Are the skins intact, or has weather made them “mushy”? Is there any sign of mold? Are the leaves shutting down into senescence, suggesting that further development will be halted soon? Does the vineyard look vulnerable to predators (e.g., birds, deer)?

2)   Sugar: The Brix, or sugar level, will indicate alcohol level in the wine. For our Oregon Pinot Noir, we generally want to harvest between 21-25 Brix to keep ultimate alcohol levels between 12-14%.

3)   Acidity: We always want to have a balance between sugar and acidity, so pH is our acidity indicator.

4)   Flavor Development: Are the juice flavors immature (guava, banana, green apple) or have they matured (cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, spice)? Seeds will contribute to tannin development, so do the seeds taste mature (brown and crunchy) or rough (green and bitter)?

5)   Forecast: What does the weather forecast hold and will it allow further development? Do rains threaten the chance of developing mold?

What Does This Warm Summer Mean for Harvest 2014?

Thus far, 2014 has been an extremely warm spring and summer in Oregon's Wine Country. People ask us frequently what this means for Harvest 2014. In short:

  • Oregon Wine Country has been about 5 degrees warmer than normal and growing season markers are running near record levels due to all this sunshine. We measure this in Growing Degree Days (GDD), which is a measurement of heat accumulation that predicts when harvest will occur and provides a comparison to prior vintages. Click here to read a simple definition of GDD.
  • The GDD Data: We can compare this point in the 2014 vintage to other vintages, thanks to Gregory V. Jones, Professor of Geography and Environmental Science, Southern Oregon University. How many GDDs would we expect to have on this date (i.e., how many heat units have we had as of the beginning of August and how does this compare to other vintages)? As of 8/31 in any given year, the average GDD in the Willamette Valley is 1703, according to the historical average that Professor Jones has tracked from 1981-2010. However, as of 8/31, the GDD in 2014 was 2082, representing a 22% increase over average! We are even 8% higher than a recent warm vintage (2013). Click here to see this GDD data courtesy of Professor Jones.
  • Predictions for the Wine: We would expect wine from this vintage to be fruit forward, rich, and higher in alcohol, since we are getting the heat to develop the sugars. Think 2006 and 2009 in Oregon. Since sugar and acid development are basically inverse correlations, warm vintages leave us hoping that acids will be decently balanced.
  • Predictions for Harvest: We are expecting an early harvest, likely in mid September. As a note, the earliest we have ever started harvest was in 2013 on September 20th. The latest we have ever started harvest was in 2011 on October 24th.
  • That said, it is all about September. That is when we experience the greatest variability and the weather in that month will dictate when we ultimately harvest. At this point, the Climate Prediction Center models suggest a warmer than average September-October, but there is no clear signal from the data on precipitation.

For now, things look good and we are hoping for cool nights and a bit of mild rain. As is always the case when we think about the weather, our fingers are crossed.

When Should I Drink the Wines in My Cellar?

We are frequently asked when to drink our wines. This is very subjective- what is "ready" to us may not meet your definition of "ready." However, we have developed a chart to summarize when we think our wines (Oregon Pinot Noir from 2003 on) will be drinking optimally.

View our chart.

Harvest 2013

All this thinking about the upcoming harvest makes us appreciate our Crush Crew 2013 who helped us sort grapes at the winery. Here are a few of our favorite pics...

Photos courtesy of Tom Turner and Cerena Lee