WALLA WALLA, WA - A couple that has lived all over the world decided to settle down in Walla Walla a few years ago. Of course, JJ and Kelly Menozzi have an appreciation of good wine and also a love of flying planes and jets.
"We did a career in the Air Force for a little over 23 years both as pilots and Air Force Academy classmates," said JJ. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world and it was a great way to see the world and get enthusiastic about the job we were doing. Being passionate about what we did serving our country. When we were trying to figure out a second career that we were equally as passionate about and could have just as much fun with, the wine making thing seemed to recur. It was always where we went to spend our time off and we would try to go everywhere the Air Force sent us to new wine regions."
"So our last name is Menozzi," said Kelly. "Very Italian heritage on his side. So he remembers great grandpa coming through Ellis Island and making wine in the basement. Just celebrating food and family and marking occasions with wine back in the day."
JJ and Kelly have been married now for almost two decades and they don't believe going from flying to wine making is a huge reach.
"You don't think there are that many parallels between flying and making wine but there are more than people think. It's a lot of art and science," said Kelly. "You have to get the science right and make sure you understand what you're doing there and you can play with the art side a little. When you're flying, we would do what are called procedures and techniques. So you have the procedure that you need to follow and then your technique that might make your flying improved or smoother or better, so we kind of apply that same thing to wine making."
The Menozzis moved almost 20 times and made wine tourism a part of their travels.
"So you get to see the world and there's good and bad but I would say the resounding theme that I learned from all that is to appreciate what we have as Americans," said JJ. "The life that we have is definitely a privilege that's not just given to us. You really just come to appreciate, for all the faults and angryness you might have periodically about things in our country... our problems are minor compared to the rest of the world and I feel honored to be part of America."
If they had to pick a favorite wine region: "For a lot of reasons, maybe it's the Italian heritage, touring the wine regions of Italy has always been fascinating for us. There's a lot we haven't seen over there yet that we hope to get to in the near future," said JJ. "So I would say of all the areas we have seen, the one we truly fell in love with and kept coming back to year after year is Walla Walla."
"Part of an unexpected surprise for us, I would say, is just the outpouring of support we get as veterans here. It was not something that I expected and there is a very strong veterans community here," said Kelly. "So we get a lot of folks who have served themselves and come and want to tell us their story which is really cool."
They discovered Walla Walla while stationed at the Air Force base in Mountain Home, Idaho. Now that they're several years retired they're often asked if they miss flying.
"Some days," said JJ. "There's certainly a liberating fun aspect of it but it's also something we did long enough that we realized it's tough to do part time. It's tough to be a safe pilot without being a proficient pilot so when we're done hopefully getting this business up and running, got it a little bit more on stable footing.. We actually hope to do some instructing at the local aeroclub and maybe some things with some other airports here in town."
Both JJ and Kelly are recent graduates of Walla Walla Community College's wine making program. Aluve Winery does have a sort of substitute tasting room at this point but the couple is in the process of building a dedicated space with plans to break ground this spring.