It’s the summer of 1986 and two high-school teenagers, JJ and Kelly Menozzi, are pondering their futures in their respective hometowns. When they entered their local movie theaters to watch the blockbuster hit “Top Gun,” neither anticipated how the film would influence their careers and, eventually, lead them to meet and marry. The movie motivated them to become pilots and they each entered the Air Force Academy after graduation to pursue that goal.
The Menozzi’s became pilots in 1992 shortly after the end of the first Gulf War. As one of a handful of women pilots, Kelly flew a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker that essentially performed as a flying gas station. JJ flew F-16 fighter planes. They met several years later when both were living in Washington, D.C., pursuing master’s degrees. After they married, they were able to be stationed together. As they advanced their careers, they both became squadron commanders and both ultimately achieved the rank of colonel.
The Air Force moved them 17 times during their 24 years of service. While being relocated frequently may not sound like an appealing lifestyle, it afforded them the opportunity to visit many wine regions in the United States and Europe. JJ reminisces, “We had the good fortune to be stationed in Europe. We wanted to see local wineries and chose to do that together on weekends everywhere we lived. Every weekend we’d take a hop down to Italy, France or Spain and fell in love with small estate vineyards.”
While stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, the two would drive 11+ hours to California’s Napa Valley for wine country getaways. That long drive got old fast. But with the help of a Google search they discovered — and were intrigued — by Walla Walla, Washington. They made the first of many visits in 2001. It was love at first sight. Plus, it was only a four-hour drive from Idaho.
Those weekend excursions were the catalyst for their vision to eventually open their own winery. “We wanted to have a house where we could live among the vineyards and make a small amount of wine,” says JJ. After an extensive multi-year search, the couple purchased a 10-acre property in Walla Walla that would become the future site for their Aluvé winery, estate vineyard and home. In 2015, the couple retired from the military and made a permanent move to Walla Walla.
They continued their journey by earning their degrees in Enology and Viticulture from Walla Walla Community College. The program was invaluable. “It was exactly what we needed. From day one you are either learning about making wine or you’re out in the vineyard learning how to take care of grapes,” says JJ. “It was 100% hands-on. Everything was evaluated based on you doing the work as opposed to just reading about it.”
Another benefit of the program that JJ points out is the alumni network. “There is a large awesome network of people who graduated before, during and after us,” he says. He is still impressed by what one of his predecessors imparted to him, saying “It’s our duty to push those in front of us to make better wine and pull those behind us to help get them to our level.”
Aluvé produces 1,500 cases, primarily Bordeaux varietals and blends. This fall marks the initial release of a Tempranillo. In addition, Aluvé is one of the few Walla Walla wineries showcasing an estate-grown Chardonnay. All their wines are either estate grown or sourced from local vineyards.
In honor of Veterans Day, it is worth noting that, in addition to Aluvé, there are other Walla Walla wineries owned by veterans that are also alumni of the Walla Walla Community College program. They are: Deux Soldats, Lacewing and Smoky Rose. We thank you all for your service and your wines.
Photos by ©Richard Duval Images