CAVU Cellars  175 E. Aeronca Avenue, Walla Walla, WA 99362   USA   509-540-6350   Terms

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Want to learn more about life in Alaska?  Visit Gullible’s blog, written by Jim’s sister, Jeanne, who lives in Moose Pass, Alaska.


Most people would probably think deciding to start a winery is something you do after many years of planning, saving, and learning about the craft of wine-making.  Well, sometimes it happens a little differently.  Jim and Karen grew up in the great outdoors of Alaska, enjoying a country few people get to see for extended periods of time. Jim Waite, in Anchorage, and Karen Viale, in Seward, never dreamed how their futures would become intertwined, then slowly point them to Walla Walla where they would join with son, Joel, to start CAVU Cellars. 

As a teenager, Jim would often travel down to Seward to enjoy the great fishing and camping to be had there.  The Seward Mount Marathon Race on the 4th of July and the Silver Salmon Derby in August were not to be missed.  Downtown Seward was basically one main street and shopping choices were limited. So, it is quite likely he noticed that cute girl working the cash register at The Alaska Shop.  Too shy to introduce himself.

Jim had never really thought much about going to college.  Getting outdoors in Alaska occupied much of his time and thoughts. So, it wasn’t until the end of his high school senior year, when a friend asked if he was going to college, that he really considered it. “Come to the U of A in Fairbanks”, his friend said.  So, Jim went home that evening and told his stunned parents that was what he was going to do. And somehow, it happened. Enrolled at the University of Alaska, just outside Fairbanks, he was studying to be a geologist, but two years of the ROTC program was mandatory at that land-grant college.  Two years and done, for sure….until the ROTC director enticed him into the flight program where he earned his private pilot’s license while flying into many of the small airfields in central Alaska.  This committed him to entering the Army after his graduation and commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant.  Certainly, this was a direction in his life he had never considered until it just sort of happened. After all, he was earning his B.S. in Geology.  He was going to be a bush pilot, discovering the treasures of Alaska while working for the Alaska Highway Department as a geologist, helping build the roads the young State so desperately needed. A career in the Army?  Hah, hah, hah. Not this kid.

Seward, Alaska has more natural beauty than almost any place on earth.  Nestled between towering mountains and Resurrection Bay, it attracts visitors year-around.  Marvin and Lynette Viale reared six beautiful daughters to complement this small town.  Karen was number two of six.  (Please spare a moment of admiration for Marvin, surviving in a home with seven women and one bathroom).  Working to save for college, Karen most likely never noticed one more scruffy teenage boy, smelling of campfire smoke, coming into The Alaska Shop to buy fishing supplies. Going to college was a given for all the Viale girls.  Karen worked in school for top grades and at her job to earn money for tuition.  She had a plan for her future. She would be a teacher or psychologist. Or so she thought.

Karen followed her older sister, Marlene, to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  Jim was a few years ahead of Karen at the university.  He certainly noticed the beautiful freshman, but he also noticed the boy friend.  The next year, when Jim came in from his field work to register for classes, they met on the steps of the Commons where a weekend dance was being held.  The boy friend was now a former boy friend.  The rest, as they saying goes, is history.  They married before Jim’s graduation.  Jim delayed entry into the Army and first son, Joel was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. 

Joel was born a traveler.  The first two years of Army life, his family moved a dozen times. He lived, and travelled, all over the world with his parents.  It wasn’t until his high-school years that things finally settled down in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington D.C.  After high school, Joel tried a year at his parent’s old alma mater.  As things would have it, this turned out to be a year of epic cold weather as a tremendous high pressure ridge settled over central Alaska.  Extended periods of sixty below zero, airplanes grounded because their altimeters couldn’t be adjusted accurately for such high pressure, and Joel up longing for a more balmy Virginia ended that adventure.  Returning to Virginia, Joel started his career in the wine and beverage industry.  Waiting tables, bartending, chef’s helper, etc., Joel did it all.  He moved into the heart of Washington D.C. and enjoyed all the wonders and excitement that city had to offer.  It was through these experiences that Joel developed a love of cooking.  While some young men might be watching football on TV, it wasn’t unusual to see Joel tuned into a cooking program.  Thus began his yearly sojourns to Napa Valley, visiting the great wineries and attending cooking classes led by renowned chefs.  Running his own catering company and working as a private chef, Joel was a big city boy, true and through.  Move out of D.C.?  Sure, to New York City.  Anyplace else just wouldn’t do.

Not so, Jim and Karen.  Remember Karen’s big sister, Marlene?  She married and eventually moved out of Alaska.  Her and husband, Bob, moved to Walla Walla, Washington, so Bob could help his ailing father on his farm.  Multi-generation farmers growing the world famous Walla Walla Sweet Onions.  Just one of those temporary moves that somehow became permanent.  So, Jim had retired from the Army and he and Karen were still in Virginia working as defense contractors.  Karen had finally been able to finish her interrupted college degree in psychology, but Virginia never really felt like home.  They often visited Marlene and family, attending weddings and other special family events and they started seriously considering a move to Walla Walla. Early retirement it would be. Or so they thought.

Marlene and Bob’s oldest son Ryan married in La Conner, north of Seattle.  After the wedding, Joel traveled down to visit his small town relatives in Walla Walla.  Such a surprise he had when he saw the nice downtown area; friendly, helpful wineries; and the clincher:  The Center for Enology and Viticulture, offering a two year program and turning out some of Washington’s best up and coming winemakers.  He returned to the East Coast and told his parents he was finally moving out of D.C.  New York City?  No, no.  Little Walla Walla, it would be. 

To say his parents were skeptical would be an understatement, but Joel had his interview, application, and acceptance at the wine college in record time.  He could start in the second semester beginning in January, so in December Joel, parents, and many friends packed up a large moving truck with all Joel’s belongings.  His two cats stayed at the parent’s home, awaiting Joel’s safe arrival in Walla Walla.  Many winter adventures later, Joel and a very good friend drove through the last of the snowy mountain passes and knocked on Bob and Marlene’s door. 

Joel started his studies and, as Marlene would later recount, took Walla Walla by storm. Joel took to his studies with a zeal and dedication his parents had never witnessed before. Joel had found his calling. Cooking, bartending, sommelier training, Napa Valley, et al had Joel’s palate finely developed.  He put it to good use and eagerly learned the art and craftsmanship of making fine wines. 

So, Joel had preceded his parents to Walla Walla.  They came out for a visit to look at houses and available land upon which they might build their retirement home.  That was the plan, after all. Joel showed them the college and they toured several wineries, in between house hunting with a real estate agent, who just happened to be a new friend of Joel’s and who was also a student at the Center for Enology and Viticulture. After some visits to wineries, Jim remarked to Karen that, once they sold their house in Virginia, maybe they should consider putting some money into starting a small winery so Joel could make his own wines.  A small start-up winery couldn’t be too expensive, could it?

The idea was tossed around and a tentative plan was formed.  Very tentative as the Waite’s found out.  So much to learn to get a business going.  An old World War II building was leased at the Walla Walla Regional Airport complex.  It had good possibilities as a small winery but would take a lot of work and money.  The airport was an area where a number of very good wineries were getting their start. 

Joel graduated in June 2007 and was immediately hired as assistant winemaker at Maryhill Winery, about 2-1/2 hours from Walla Walla.  He learned a lot there, but it was a long way from Walla Walla and the leased building did nothing more than sit and store Joel’s belongings. His parents finally sold their Virginia house and drove into Walla Walla in December 2007.

That winter they got a lucky break when the Port of Walla Walla informed them of their plans to build two more winery incubators at the airport.  First in with an application, vetted and accepted, the concerns over getting a building fixed up were settled. The new winery would be in a new building.  The summer of 2008, Joel left his position at Maryhill to return to Walla Walla and help his parents turn the winery idea into reality.    All the Waite’s had to do was get federal and state winery permits and equipment ready to go for the 2008 fall harvest. Easy? Uh uh.  Not too expensive? Hah, hah, hah!!! That new retirement house to be built?  Uh, maybe we should put that off a bit until the winery gets off the ground and can pay for itself.

CAVU Cellars was born.  With a location at the airport, and Jim being a former Army pilot, the idea of an aviation theme seemed a natural.  CAVU is an old aviation weather acronym that means ‘Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited’.  Pilots always like seeing that acronym on their weather forecast as it means a good flying day.

Joel has another good friend he met at the college. Dustin Tobin has an encyclopedic knowledge of Washington wineries and vineyards.  After much discussion concerning the types of wines Joel wanted to make, Dustin helped him secure grape contracts from some of Washington’s premiere vineyards. CAVU Cellars leased a large storage space at the airport and equipment started pouring in.   There were many fits and starts and much frustration and nail-biting but, finally permits and building were in place just in time for first fruit.  CAVU Cellars was under way in the fall of 2008.

Sometimes you just have to have faith that events in life will work out for the best. Jim never did become that Alaska bush pilot/geologist. Karen never became a teacher nor a psychologist.  But, they had many great adventures getting to Walla Walla and CAVU Cellars, and Joel has finally landed on his two feet in a big way.  His parents couldn’t be any more proud of their first son. Oh, and did we mention son number two earned his PhD at the University of Alaska and their daughter is now living in Seattle, having earned her masters in psychology while raising Jim and Karen’s first beautiful grand daughter?  More family and a new adventure. What a life.

Please come out and visit with us.