For fans of wine, the Walla Walla region offers one of the most stimulating scenes in the country. The eastern Washington city is best known as the birthplace of Adam West, the original Batman. But if the next ten years function anything like the previous ten, Walla Walla and wine will be forever intertwined.
One of the town’s many charms is its full embrace of the industry. Downtown is historic, walkable, and teeming with tasting rooms and production facilities. It’s a perfect home base for a long weekend devoted to getting out into some of the surrounding foothills to taste by day and returning to the city for a memorable dinner or bar drop-in at night.
The Walla Walla Valley spans Washington and Oregon and is comprised of a large and eponymous wine appellation, as well as sub-region The Rocks, which sits on the Oregon side of the border in Milton-Freewater. A few hours ride away is Oregon’s most famous wine region, the Willamette Valley. Farming has long existed here, but before grapes, it was the land of wheat, onions, and orchard fruit. Now, it’s an established spot turning out incredible Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, among others.
In town there are some great stops, like Passatempo Taverna for pasta and a strong local wine list or Walla Walla Steak Company for a nice cut (and great beer at the adjacent Crossbuck Brewing). Seven Hills Winery is one of the area’s oldest and occupies a beautifully restored building in the heart of the city. The Browne Family Tasting Room is also a suggested stop, featuring its own lineup and often the work of a lot of talented small-production producers in the area. For lodging, there are few spots better than the architectural gem that is the Marcus Whitman Hotel.
There are some impressive winery names in the region, some so in-form that they’re waiting-list-only enterprises. But it’s worth combing bottle shops for releases from Cayuse or the Syrah masters at Delmas. The sommelier owned-and-operated Gramercy Cellars is doing great work and the wines of The Walls are full of life.
Getting into the thick of surrounding wine country requires little more than a short drive. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Palouse with the distant peaks of the scenic Umatilla National Forest for company, it’s as pretty as it is palate-satisfying. A few winery stops worthy of your trip:
With an incredibly sleek new facility in The Rocks and some bang-up wines to match, Force Majeure is a great appointment-only visit. The Viognier and Syrah releases are routinely fantastic, but the label’s best work may just be in its deft blends. These wines encapsulate the beauty of big, bursting flavors anchored by balance.
Also in The Rocks, Watermill is also a cider house, which makes sense given its rich history in the apple realm. Today, it’s responsible for lovely Cab Franc, Petit Syrah, Merlot, and even a Nebbiolo. It’s a great spot for a patio lunch in the summer (you can bring your own grub) and offers a nice glimpse of bold flavors that come from this truly unique appellation, known for its large resident rocks (which radiate heat near vines) and huge diurnal shifts.
Woodward Canyon is a somewhat unassuming spot in a great old farmhouse setting. Part of the old guard having launched in 1981, the label is making fantastic blends and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s so above and beyond what you’re accustomed to that you’ll have a change of heart (assuming you weren’t crazy about the grape beforehand).
Another cool happening in the Walla Walla area is right near the airport. There, a handful of producers are occupying hangar-like spaces and creating some intriguing wines. Nicknamed the “incubators,” this wine-soaked zone of up-and-coming producers is a convenient stop and a fun place to see the collaboration at play within the larger Walla Walla scene.
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