Nestled in the heart of Washington state is the country’s best kept secret for wine and drink lovers. Four spectacular wine trails allow the public to discover 119 wineries, most of which have a dedicated tasting room open to the public, as well as local hard cider craft makers and breweries.
Voted best wine destination of the Year 2005 by Sonoma Magazine, the picturesque Walla Walla wine country is a very special destination to experience delectable blends in the most scenic, civilized of settings.
The trails consist of 1,800 acres of grapes distributed across four main areas: Downtown, the Westside, the Eastside, and South of town, including a handful of wineries across the border in Oregon.
But it isn’t the spectacular hikes or the international acclaim of its wines that make Walla Walla Valley unique: it’s the people.
Since the 1970s, industry founders were very aware of the importance of mentoring and elevating the community as a whole. From the beginning, they have supported each other in their winemaking endeavor, teaching them the techniques and basics of their craft, perhaps an element that contributes to giving visitor an unmistakable feeling of hospitality and unity.
Walla Walla Valley also boasts an incredible range of soils that fuel remarkable flavors.
At the lowest elevations are well-drained cobblestones rich in minerals, resulting in great wine quality. Other types of soil carpeting the valley are loess, sand, and gravels, making for a complex mix of minerals. The higher elevations are covered with an even more precious kind of soil: silts, a fine type of loess, allowing vines to send their roots very deep, resulting in pure, aromatic, and flavorful grapes.
Walla Walla’s reputation was made by the local terroir’s renderings of classic Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Over the years, Rhône varieties have taken hold, particularly Syrah. In Walla Walla, these all produce dark, fragrant red wines of exceptional intensity and complexity.
Each region has its own distinct feel, yet all combine to make Walla Walla Valley a wine country rivaled by no other.
The elegant Westside wine region hosts some of the most established wineries in Walla Walla Valley. More hectic yet equally charming, Downtown Walla Walla boasts over 25 tasting rooms within walking distance of award winning restaurants, hotels, incredible shopping and a charming historic Main Street.
On the far Eastside, wine lovers will be able to visit the spectacular Mill Creek Growing area as well as the local 1940s airport, where dozens of founding wineries and startups have established tasting rooms in hangers, mess halls and firehouses.
The Southside is where most of the biggest players are located, including Dusted Valley, Pepper Bridge and Northstar. Keep heading South and you’ll find yourself across the Oregon border, where more wineries and spectacular views await.
Touring the wineries is an exciting, yet humbling, experience that will enable you to better understand this renowned wine region by experiencing the passion and commitment of the artisans that make Walla Walla Valley unique in the wine world.
Make sure to check the wineries’ schedules to make sure that they are open when you plan to drop by. Keep also in mind that winemaking is very much a seasonal affair, and that the good stuff happens roughly from April to December. The biggest events are the Spring Release, during first weekend in May, and the Fall Release, which takes place the first weekend in November.
Open daily all year-round except for the main holidays, L’Ecole 41 hosts tastings in a 1915 schoolhouse and debuts guided walking tours from April through November.
Founded in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson, the family-owned award winning winery is the third oldest winery in the Valley and a must-halt on the trail. Located in in the Westside of Walla Walla, L’Ecole 41 received numerous national and international accolades and was named Winery of the Year twelve years in a row by Wine & Spirits Magazine.
Another winery that is worth the trip is Karen La Bonte’s Trio Vintners, in the heart of Downtown Walla Walla. Terroir-driven, Trio produces 1, 500 cases a year only and focuses on unusual varietal wines, like Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Sangiovese.
More high profile and as much a historic as it is a gustative stop, 34-year old Woodward Canyon features an exceptional tasting room located in a 1870s farmhouse, a cosy garden, and, yes, spectacular local food serve at the Reserve House Restaurant.
Guests are able to enjoy seasonal creations made from fresh produce and locally-made charcuterie as well as Woodward Canyon’s cellar worthy cabernet sauvignons, merlots, and chardonnays.
Aside from getting acquainted with some of the country’s most celebrated wineries, there are endless things to do in Walla Walla Valley, from a world-class hot air balloon festival in May to the historical Kirkman House or the Walla Walla Symphony, the oldest operating symphony west of the Mississippi.
Rest assured that there is plenty to keep you entertained in Walla Walla Valley, and like all good things, that your trip may very well be over before you even know it.
So, before you have to get on the road again, raise your glass, take a sip, and appreciate: this is life. Cheers!