Wine Adventure in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley
Wine travel is pretty high on my list and the only way it can be improved upon is by including friends. Our group traveled to Washington’s Walla Walla Wine County to learn about the wine and enjoy a fun weekend. We were surprised to find out there are more than 100 wineries in the region, which made it challenging to narrow down the list to a few places to visit during our brief stay.
We settled on Walla Walla Valley because as a wine region it is under the radar so we knew we could customize our visit and receive the one-on-one interaction with owners and winemakers we were seeking. Farming has been the heart of this region for decades, and residents have been pioneering winemaking for 30 years. When selecting wineries, we looked for tasting rooms and locations that provided a range of experiences. It turned out we made some great choices.
Adamant Cellars is located in a 1942 Air Force Base building, which we found charming. The owners were pouring wine tastings that day, so we had a chance to ask lots of questions. We learned they moved to Walla Walla from Portland and began making wine here in 2005. The white wines included a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend and an Albarino; both were refreshing. The Rose of Cabernet Franc was a perfect paring with warm-weather food. We loved the red wines, which included a Bordeaux blend, a Syrah, and a Cabernet Sauvignon—all were fruit-forward and balanced. The winemakers also make sparkling wine, but with limited production it is sold out until the next release in 2015.
Five Star Cellars was another family operation, and we instantly felt welcome. The whites here included a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend and a 100% Semillon. The reds included Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. On many of the labels you will see a hand or footprint of the owners’ daughters—a cute touch. They have received numerous awards for their wines, with good reason.
We were excited for the blending experience offered at Northstar Vineyards, which began with a vineyard tour with glass of wine in hand. After looking at the production facility, we were escorted to the blending room and ensconced at a long table with wine glasses, beakers, and cylinders, reminiscent of chemistry class. After learning about the history of the Walla Walla Valley and the characteristics of the vineyards, we were ready to taste four Merlot vineyard designates, a Petite Verdot, and a Cabernet Sauvignon to begin crafting our own unique Merlot blend to take home.
Upon completing the intense blending seminar, we were ready to enjoy our lunch on the patio overlooking the vineyards while sipping a bottle of the winery’s refreshing white wine. Our conversation focused around the wine and comparing our own experiences playing winemaker.
Castillo de Feliciana allowed us to taste outdoors on a sunny patio surrounded by a fountain, fire pit, lawn, and vineyards. The winemakers specialize in Spanish varietals, which we were excited to try. Alborino was refreshing with tropical fruit flavors, and red wines included Tempranillo Rose, Tempranilllo, Reserve Tempranillo, Malbec, and a sparkling wine. We enjoyed our tasting overlooking vineyards, which greatly increased our appreciation of the wine.
The following day we began our excursion at L’Ecole No. 41, located in a historic school. We tasted Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Grenache Rose, Estate Merlot, and Estate Cabernet Franc. The tasting room exuded old-fashioned charm, and if it had been warmer we might have preferred to taste or linger in the outdoor seating area. The staff was accommodating when guiding us through our tasting and helped us appreciate the flavors of the wine. Later we learned L’Ecole No. 41 was one of the founding wineries of this AVA, in 1984.
Reininger Winery made us feel instantly welcome in its airy, modern tasting room. The staff poured us wine and brought out warm flatbread, a delicious complement to the Semillon. We later sampled the Mr. Owl’s Red blend, which was also tasty with the flatbread. The winemakers specialize in red wine, which suited our palate; the Helix SoRo, a Southern Rhône blend of Mourvédre, Cinsault, and Grenache, was a hands-down favorite.
Three Rivers Winery offered a large and bright tasting room, expansive terrace, and a three-hole golf course. We chose to enjoy our boxed lunches outdoors with a bottle of the Semillon, which was an ideal pairing. Then we shifted into tasting the red wines: Malbec, Insania Red, a Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. We loved everything we tried, but after a day of tasting the short holes of golf beckoned to us, especially since the winery supplied the clubs.
The Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel provides gourmet offerings with Pacific Northwest fresh ingredients. The restaurant is the recent winner of Restaurant of the Year by Washington Wine Commission.
Bacon and Eggs is the locals’ choice for breakfast and lunch with a hearty menu of favorites, as well as beer and cocktails.
The historic Marcus Whitman Hotel is an elegant and comfortable place to stay, a short walk from downtown restaurants and shops. Luxury Tower Suite rooms provide a view of downtown and comfy beds, soft linens, down pillows and comforters, and luxury bath products.
Since Walla Walla has 93 additional wineries we didn’t have the chance to visit we will definitely be back to experience more of the hospitality in Washington’s wine county.