How to Wander Walla Walla Wine Country

The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 with only four wineries, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41 and Waterbrook. It was unique at the time not only because there were only four wineries but because approximately 57 percent of the vineyards were in Washington, the other 43 percent were in Oregon.

With few vineyards planted, those wineries sourced grapes from Columbia Valley. While many of today’s wineries continue this practice, the increased vineyard size allows some wineries to put the Walla Walla AVA designation on their wine labels. Wineries must source at least 85 percent of the grapes from a specified area if that area is on the label.

A mere 23 years later, thanks to a combination of climate and charm, Walla Walla boasts almost 130 wineries and more than 2,960 acres of vineyards. Walla Walla wineries and tasting rooms are spread around six designated areas: airport, downtown, westside, eastside, southside and Oregon.

So now imagine, it’s fall, the leaves are turning and crush is just about over. You’re in Walla Walla wine country, map in hand. You’ve picked a favorite winery to visit but need to break for lunch. Or you’re in a downtown tasting bar and you want to figure out what other tasting bars or wineries are within walking distance. Or maybe a place to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride or go for a run.

Well, cool news! The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has cooked up  wonderful wine experiences called “WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine.”  These Saturday itineraries are curated by 10 pretty cool Walla Walla winemakers.

Each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with  suggestions by the winemakers to their favorite places to eat, taste and explore. They offer perks such as exclusive tastings, helping out with the harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings.

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander  Registration is free and you get an official badge to wander like a winemaker.

We recently did a trial run and I can tell you, this is a real treat. This partial itinerary was compiled by Woodward Canyon’s Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small, first- and second-generation owners.

The first stop on the tour was breakfast at the Colville Street Patisserie. Owners David Christensen and Tiffany Cain’s case displays mouthwatering classic French pastries. We had to make the hard choice of which to have with the locally roasted freshly brewed coffee. So I picked two, one with coffee and one for later.

We  took a stroll through the 115-year-old Pioneer Park, designed by the celebrated Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame. There’s a lot to take in — the beautiful old sycamores, the aviary, and an incredibly whimsical sculpture by Tom Otterness to name a few.

On to Woodward Canyon’s tasting room, located in a beautifully restored farmhouse next door to the old tasting room, a converted machine shop. The complimentary estate vineyard tasting will give you a sense of the vineyard’s maturity and the winemaking that is more French in style with balance, complexity and the ability to age gracefully.

We tasted the Estate Sauvignon Blanc sourced from 15 year old vines, fermented in stainless and briefly aged in neutral oak. It was wonderfully crisp, full bodied and well balanced, a perfect food wine.

Next, the 2014 Barbera was juicy with plenty of dark fruits and acidity, the kind that makes you wish for a plate full of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with balsamic, olive oil and shaved parm.

The family has been working with clones and root stock to prepare for the coming climatic changes. We tasted the Estate Cab where a blend of three clones produce a wine with dark fruits, bright acidity and a long finish.

The 2013 Reserve was a blend of 33% Merlot, 33% Petite Verdot, 22% Cab Franc and 12% Cab. It’s also a blend, this time with 13 clones that give it depth and richness not found in wines this young. With some age, this wine will be stunning.

We finished up with the 2013 Erratic, a southern Rhone blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. This gorgeous wine is big with rich raspberry and spice flavors. It would accompany a leg of lamb perfectly.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the family’s ranch.  In addition to the Chardonnay, it’s now planted with Cab, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc with a few rows of Barbera, Dolcetto, Mourvedre and Grenache.

The winery continues to purchase grapes from Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards where a section planted in 1972 is part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Next on the itinerary was lunch at Brasserie Four. It’s a local favorite, with amazing moules-frites and Coquille St Jacques. We took Rick and Jordan’s advice to indulge in a glass of something imported with lunch. The J J Prum Kabinett was a standout. Mouthwatering French cuisine and an amazing collection of wines by the glass and by the bottle. What more could you ask for?

A trip focusing on wine, food and the obligatory after-indulging exercise in the Walla Walla Valley is a slice of heaven. It can also be a bargain when you keep in mind that this is the shoulder season and many area hotels and airlines offer lower rates. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. And remember, your first case of wine flies free.

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