It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Washington wine, in my opinion one of the best wine regions in the United States. A town that is rising to be the epicenter of Washington state’s wine revolution is Walla Walla, a town so nice, they named it twice, they say.
Recently we roadtripped into southeast Washington to enjoy a wine weekend getaway in Walla Walla. Here’s what we found.
Wait, Where is Walla Walla?
Walla Walla is located a few miles from the Oregon/Washington border in far southeast Washington state. It’s about a 4-5 hour drive from Seattle or Portland or Boise. Basically, it’s a bit of a road trip no matter how you look at it, but well worth it to explore one of America’s great farming plains.
This used to be miles of apple orchards here, I’m told; today, there are still miles of farms, but most of those orchards have been replaced with vines, an economic transition that has had a huge impact on the culture and fortunes of Walla Walla families. The future is bright: the geography here lends itself towards hot days and cool nights, making it perfect for growing a variety of varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make up the bulk of the grapes produced.
Walla Walla Wines I Liked
I have never been anywhere with more wineries than Walla Walla. There’s literally a book you can pick up from the tourist bureau full of maps of them - they are everywhere. You can break it down into three distinct sections, geographically: the airport wineries (very industrial, kitsch, hip), the downtown wineries (convenient, no driving), and the southern wineries (where you’ll be in a tasting room on-site in the vineyard).
TIP: I suggest you stick to only one geographic area per day, otherwise you’ll be running around too much. Also, keep in mind, wineries are not open every day. This is a big challenge for Walla Walla, because everyone’s schedule is different, and because many of these companies are small and independent, schedules change. Also keep in mind that most wineries charge a small tasting fee, refundable with purchase. My advice is to plan ahead and keep expectations in check for best results.
I couldn’t possibly list all the “best” Walla Walla wineries, but we managed to hit quite a few. Here were some standouts:
- Revelry Vinters: This was one of my favorite wineries of the whole trip – their tasting room and facility used to be a movie theater on the military base here at the airport. I love their branding and almost all of their wines. Top choices: the Block 19 Syrah, the 2010 Merlot, and the Chardonnay.
- DaMa Wines: This tasting room is gorgeous and has a wonderful upscale feel. Fun and slightly feminine, these wines are very good: I loved the 2012 Viognier, the 2009 Cowgirl Cab, the classic 2008 Merlot, and the unique taste of their 2009 Dama Nation Red Blend.
- Chocolate Shop: I love this brand because it is so fun. Having said that, some of their wines are a bit sweet, so this is a good opportunity to try them and see what you think. (Their chocolate wine is not as rich as you would expect.) They also have some nice cocktails for sale, if you’d rather just relax and not taste the full lineup.
- Maison Bleue: One of the most “traditionally French” feeling wineries I visited, this was another winery where it was hard to find a bad wine. Loved the Viognier, the Rose, the Marsanne; their Jaja red blend is the perfect blend, and their 2010 Liberate Syrah sings just like a Syrah should.
- Lodmell: Another well-rounded winery with both classic and out-of-the-box wines. Try their port (a late harvest Merlot) – really wonderful. Their 2009 Cab Sauvignon or the Sublime Red blend are a great party wines; for something unique, try the 2009 Estate Sagnee, a light rosé.
- Balboa Winery: Independently owned and operated, I loved the ‘simple luxury’ nature of these wines. Their Mith blend is so light it floats. Their estate Syrah is fresh and invigorating. I also loved the 2012 Chardonnay – clean and buttery.
- Amavi Cellars: This winery has the best view of them all – and a wonderful terrace where you can sit and enjoy it (and you can have your tasting out there!). Big thanks to Amavi for their hospitality, we brought a packed lunch and they had plates and silverware, the perfect low-hassle picnic. As for the wines, I loved both their Semillion and the Cabernet – both go great with picnic food, believe it or not.
Foodie Finds in Walla Walla
You’ll need some sustenance if you are going to manage to get through all those wineries. Thankfully, Walla Walla delivers. Some of my favorite spots:
- Olive Marketplace and Cafe: flatbreads, sandwiches, pizzas. Great for lunch or a light dinner.
- Brasserie Four: classic French cuisine without the fussiness. If you forgot to make reservations, you can eat at the bar.
- Red Reina: a cute lunch spot with soups and sandwiches, good coffee, treats and other snacks.
- Whitehouse Crawford: treat yourself to a nice dinner at this first-class restaurant, which offers fresh, seasonal ingredients, top-notch service, and some of the best ambiance in town. Reservations required.
- Walla Walla Bread Company: is there anything better on vacation than homemade baked treats? Pick up snacks for on-the-go, and bring some back to have in your hotel room.
TIP: Feeling a little, uh, over-fed and watered? Head out towards the airport and follow the signs for Bennington Lake, which offers some excellent walking trails, good for a couple of hours of calorie burn. Bring shoes you don’t mind getting dusty.
Where to Stay
You will not be uncomfortable in Walla Walla. I cannot more highly recommend the downtown luxury apartments, Walla Faces. They have a main street tasting room, and upstairs are several well-appointed and spacious units, complete with massive showers, jacuzzi tubs, high-end kitchens, and comfy bedrooms (pictured above). Safeway is two blocks away, so you can cook in your kitchen and enjoy some of the day’s wine purchases. If you don’t feel like cooking, you can grab a takeout from any of the nearby restaurants - one night we were so tired we just grabbed pizza from the Sweet Basil Pizzeria and relaxed in the apartment.
Each unit is a bit different since this is a luxury retrofit, but they’re all full of character – I loved falling asleep looking up at the stars through the large skylight up in the ceiling. Walla Faces also has guest rooms at the vineyard, if you prefer a vineyard stay.
If you’d like the traditional hotel experience, you can’t go wrong with the Marcus Whitman Hotel: One of the most ‘famous’ downtown hotels is the Marcus Whitman, and it couldn’t be more convenient for wine travelers – there are several tasting rooms in the lobby, as well as a bar and restaurant.
Do you have a favorite Walla Walla wine or experience? Come tell us your story on our Facebook page.
Editorial Disclosure: Portions of this trip were sponsored by Walla Faces. The opinions reflected here are the author’s own.