Each fall, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance brings together some of the best Walla Walla winemakers to create custom itineraries to help visitors wander Walla Walla, Washington. I knew it was perfect for this wine-loving wanderer. I discovered some amazing Walla Walla Valley wines and incredible winemakers—plus some great things to do—on my visit. Follow along as I suggest some great moments from some of this year's custom itineraries.
Where is Walla Walla?
Walla Walla Valley, in southeastern Washington, has more than 3,000 acres of vineyards with the beautiful Blue Mountains to the east. I wasn't sure what to expect on my visit, but I discovered the beautiful small town of Walla Walla and its surrounding valleys, filled with great wines, a rich local food scene and amazing people with a passion for the land and their wines.
There are a variety of things to do and places to stay in Walla Walla. Wander contributor Elizabeth Rose stayed at The Marcus Whitman in the heart of downtown and she loved the historic hotel. This is also the hotel that Armstrong Family Winery suggests on their itinerary.
I had a more contemporary stay at the new Courtyard Marriott Walla Walla and was impressed with the friendly staff and great selection of local wines available here. It's also extremely easy to walk from the hotel into downtown, about two blocks away. For more great places to stay, visit The Walla Walla Wine Alliance website and keep in mind that weekends tend to be busy, but you'll find more availability later in the season.
With my bags unpacked and a comfortable room waiting for me, I was ready to start exploring. Of course, with a wine tasting itinerary, it was important to have a great car service lined up. I was completely impressed with the service from Chris Wood, owner of Tesla Winery Tours. Make arrangements with Chris and he will take great care of you as he whisks you through your itinerary with great knowledge—all in the comfort of his Tesla Model X 90D. It will take your Walla Walla wine experience over the top.
WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine Itineraries
I love the idea of the Walla Walla winemakers creating itineraries for visitors. Who better to share the best of this beautiful region than those who live, work and make wine there?
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has created 10 itineraries highlighting what the winemakers suggest doing when you visit. Not only are these great suggestions for how to experience the area, but those who register for free and download the itineraries from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance website here, receive waived tasting fees when they check in at the itinerary author's winery and a 10% discount on two or more bottles of wine at the host winery. You can download the itineraries now to start planning and the deals are available Thursday through Sunday from October 11 through December 16, 2018.
But where do you start? Here are some of my favorites from across the 10 itineraries.
Wow Moments with Armstrong Family Winery
Tim and Jen Armstrong are the owners and winemakers of Armstrong Family Winery in historic downtown Walla Walla. There is live music available some days, so you can enjoy the “Flights After Five” with wine flights and paired cheese while live jazz plays.
The Armstrongs include some of my favorite stops listed on their itinerary. After your tasting, wander down the quaint Main Street to explore such fun shops as Trove Home and Vintage Goods and Book & Game Co. I enjoyed visiting both of these and love that there is still an independent bookstore in town. Make sure you also stop by Bright’s Candies, established back in 1934, for some homemade sweet treats. Personally, I loved the Earl Gray chocolate, with just a subtle hint of flavor inside a smooth dark chocolate shell. I really wish I had purchased an entire box of those delicious little bites. I crave them!
In their itinerary, the Armstrongs also suggest visiting Brook & Bull Cellars, which is our next featured itinerary and another memorable stop on my Walla Walla wine tasting visit.
Wow Moments with Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wines
The Armstrongs suggest Brook & Bull Cellars, and I really must concur. Winemaker Ashely Trout, named one of Wine Enthusiast‘s Top 40 Under 40, is a woman with a great story and even better wines, especially her Cabernet Franc. I also enjoyed “The Few and Far Between,” which is a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
Trout has created a second label, VITAL Wines, which is a not-for-profit winery that supports healthcare for local farm and vineyard workers. I recommend the 2017 Rosé, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley AVA.
On her itinerary, Trout recommends three restaurants I had a chance to sample. Stop by Colville Street Patisserie, located right off the main street in downtown. This charming little pastry shop serves up great coffee, is popular with locals, and has delicious French-style pastries. Try the Cannelés, which are tiny little French pastries with rum and vanilla and a soft custard center. These take me right back to Paris! If you prefer, they also have a great gelato selection.
Another suggestion on the Brook & Bull Cellars itinerary is eating breakfast at Andrae's Kitchen. Okay, this one really blew me away. First off, it's in a gas station. Yes, a gas station with pumps and convenience store. Chef Andrae Bopp started out with a food truck and moved on to the gas station—but don't be fooled by appearances. He makes some of the best breakfast tacos, chilaquiles and smoked brisket around. Be sure to check out the smoker where he creates that amazing brisket.
Another great suggestion is Graze, a Drive-Thru located at 213 S. 9th Avenue in Walla Walla. This is ideal for grabbing lunch and heading out for a picnic at one of the vineyards. The sandwiches, both hot and cold, are huge. I recommend the Veggie Torta or Turkey Cucumber sandwich.
Trout suggests stopping by L'Ecole N° 41 for a wine tasting. Founded in 1983, L'Ecole (French for school) was Walla Walla's third winery and is housed in a historic old school.
L'Ecole has some amazing wines, even taking home the 2014 Decanter World Wine Award for best Bordeaux Blend in the World with their 2011 Estate Ferguson. I recommend the Apogee from Pepper Bridge Vineyard (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc) and the Estate Perigee from Seven Hills Vineyard (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). This gives you a real, side-by-side tasting of the Walla Walla Valley wines and why they're so popular.
Back in downtown Walla Walla, DAMA Wines is another woman-owned winery. Owner Mary Derby takes us along on a search for vintage treasure as we explore Walla Walla. Be sure to start off at DAMA's new tasting room, which has great spaces to relax and enjoy wine. It has an art gallery feel and I could sit for hours in the loft and watch the world go past. For the wines, I suggest either the 2017 Rosé of Cabernet France or the Merlot from the Golden Ridge Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley.
One of the great spots suggested by the DAMA Wines itinerary is Ime's Kitchen, a taco truck located in the parking lot just a few doors down from the tasting room. They serve up great street tacos and the salsa is delicious, with a bite!
DAMA also suggests heading over to Whitman College campus to check out the works of art. Honestly, I was questioning why a winemaker would send me to a college campus—until I arrived and realized this is such a gem. Be sure to go online and download the PDF guide to the Outdoor Sculpture Walk before you leave. You can park in the Hall of Science parking lot (at Isaacs Avenue and Baker Street), then walk past the Greenhouse to Ankeny Field to begin the tour. The tour lists 23 sculptures, but just wandering the gorgeous and serene campus is a treat.
Wow Moments with Eternal Wines and Drink Washington State
Walla Walla has one of the most impressive concepts I've seen anywhere—a wine incubator, located near Walla Walla Regional Airport on the sight of the former Walla Walla Army Air Base. Eternal Wines and Drink Washington State has one of the wineries at the incubator on 602 Piper Avenue. While you can visit there, they also have a tasting room on 1st Street in downtown Walla Walla. If you're out at the airport location, Eternal Wines winemaker and owner Brad Binko suggests stopping by Quirk Brewing to check out the locally crafted beer.
If you're looking for food and morning cocktails, head downtown to Bacon & Eggs. I agree with Binko that this is an ideal way to start the day. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, serving up great coffee and a selection of morning cocktails. The Bloody Mary features a housemade bloody mix and The Morning Paper is gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice and a prosecco float.
You won't be disappointed with their food, either. I had the classic eggs Benedict, sampled the cheesy grits (they pass my tough “from-the-South” test), and the pancakes are served with Vermont Trade Winds farm maple syrup.
Binko suggests several area wineries, including Seven Hills Winery, located in a reclaimed lumber planing mill, and Dunham Cellars in the Airport District. Of course, the full itinerary is packed full of even more to see and do in Walla Walla.
Wow Moments with Reininger Winery
One of my wow moments was visiting Reininger Winery, so I love being able to share part of the itinerary for winemaker and owner Chuck Reininger. Chuck and his wife Tracy founded the winery in 1997 and were originally located near the Walla Walla Regional Airport in the old “base theater” for the WWII Army Air Corps base. Today, Reininger is indeed a family business with Tracey's brothers, sisters-in-law, parents and the couple's children involved. The new location opened in 2004 and it was beautiful sitting outside on the lawn, enjoying wines and the stories with Chuck Reininger.
The winery has two labels—Reininger Wines are all wines from the Walla Walla Valley and Helix Wines feature fruits from the Columbia Valley. I enjoyed all of the wines I tasted, but I loved the Reininger labels, that offer a real taste of the Walla Walla Valley. I suggest the 2015 Reininger Carménère, which is 100% Carménère from Seven Hills Vineyard.
On his itinerary, Reininger suggests dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, which served up some of the best dishes I've eaten anywhere. Hands down. I enjoyed the depth of flavors created by Chef Chris Aimsworth in every single dish at Saffron. The restaurant recently relaunched in a beautiful new location on Main Street and features a really unique design. I loved the antique iron gates and discovered that some of the tables are repurposed riddling racks, used in France to hold Champagne bottles during fermentation.
Begin dinner with the quail, served with R&R Farm grilled cherries, ras el hanout, sunflower seeds, and a rose petal jam. I could eat these all day long, every day.
My other best bite of the evening was the Moroccan fried chicken with hand-rolled couscous, grilled R&R Farm peaches, ginger, turmeric, green olives, cinnamon, and cilantro. I will crave this dish. In fact, I will return to Walla Walla just to have this dish.
Wow Moments with Three Rivers Winery
One of my favorite experiences in Walla Walla was visiting Three Rivers Winery. I had dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen with winemaker Holly Turner, and she had treated me to her Three Rivers 2017 Sauvignon Blanc and the Three Rivers 2015 Syrah, so I was excited to check out the winery.
The winery and tasting room are absolutely gorgeous, with sweeping views of the valley from a massive outdoor balcony. You can visit and get the signature flight of three wines for $10, but I suggest booking the VIP tasting experience for $30, where you have a chance to tour the production facility, walk through the estate vineyard, and then sit down to a tasting of five wines. I love that Three Rivers has a display of the different soils and they really know their wines. I was impressed with my initial tastes with dinner, but hands-down, my favorite wine at Three Rivers, and perhaps anywhere in the Walla Walla Valley, was the 2015 Three Rivers Svelte Bordeaux. This is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak.
On her customized itinerary, Turner suggests two other wineries that I really enjoyed. Not far out of downtown is beautiful Tranche Cellars. This is a fun mix of a modern winery with a farm feel. The winery has great views of the surrounding Blue Mountains. You can sip wines on the patio and wander down to the barn, which houses Babydoll sheep, hens, and donkeys. If you're looking for a white wine, I suggest the 2015 Pape Blanc, from the Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla. For a red wine that truly showcases the local terroir, I suggest the Cabernet Franc, also from the Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla. This had flavors of dark cherry and cassis that really brought the Walla Walla Valley wines to life.
On her Three Rivers Winery itinerary, Turner also suggests a stop at Foundry Vineyards, located on the West side. I love the artsy vibe at Foundry, with a massive kinetic sculpture in their sculpture garden and a rotating art display in the gallery. You can enjoy a wine while you explore the art—I suggest the 2017 Syrah Rosé or the 2017 White on White (a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier). Be sure to save time to visit the lovely new gift shop that features some unique, fun finds.
Getting to Walla Walla Washington
Be sure to check out the complete itineraries, from these wineries and more, online on the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance website. Remember, you need to register and download the itineraries, available now, to get the specials every Thursday through Sunday, from October 11 through December 16, 2018.
Getting to Walla Walla is easy—you can fly right into Walla Walla Regional Airport (ALW) with Alaska Airlines. You can also fly into Tri-Cities Airport (PSC) in nearby Pasco on Alaska, United Airlines, and Delta. Walla Walla is about 4 hours east of Seattle and Portland. Discover more of the great Walla Walla wines online at www.wallawallawine.com. You can discover more about Washington from Wander writers here.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meal and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.