The historic, tree-lined farming community of Walla Walla, until recently best known for its sweet onions, has quickly become the epicenter of Washington wine tourism. It’s an easy 50-minute flight from Seattle, or a relaxing four-hour drive through eastern Washington.
Wheat fields, row crops, rolling hills and a thriving, tourist-friendly downtown await, but the Walla Walla appellation boasts more than 120 wineries and dozens of well-tended vineyards. The AVA spills over into Oregon, where many of the best vineyards can be found. They cover the north-facing slopes of the Blue Mountain foothills, and open out below onto the ancient riverbed known as the Rocks.
Where to Dine
Always packed, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen features delicious and creative plates. Whitehouse Crawford—set in a renovated wood-planing mill—spotlights local meats, poultry and produce, and features regional wines. As good as any French bistro in the state, Brasserie Four serves up frites to die for, croque monsieur and house-made paté, in addition to well-priced regional and European wines. For a hearty breakfast—at any time of day—try Bacon & Eggs. If your comfort-food needs run broader, visit Maple Counter Cafe for farmhouse breakfasts and lunches.
Where to Stay
Built in 1928 and located in the heart of downtown, the landmark Marcus Whitman Hotel includes a cozy bar, an award-winning restaurant and a spacious, welcoming lobby. In the complex and just across the street are more than a dozen tasting rooms. The Inn at Abeja combines a winery and B&B. A bunkhouse, barn and chicken coop have been transformed into luxury lodging. Guests may sample the wines, among Walla Walla’s best. Vine & Roses is a classic Victorian-era B&B, generously appointed with museum-quality antiques.
Beside the region’s various wine-tasting events, top dates on the annual calendar include the Hot Air Balloon Stampede (May), Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend (September) and the County Fair and Rodeo (September). An easy walking tour of downtown (1.5 miles) highlights the city’s revitalized center.
When to Go
Lovely weather and nonstop events are common in May and June, and then again during the fall.
Local in the Know
Catie McIntyre Walker owns the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman wine shop. “The Walla Walla Symphony is the oldest operating symphony west of the Mississippi. Today, it showcases many series and guest artists. In fact, most evenings, there’s music downtown from jazz to rock, and often concerts at our new Power House Theatre. Museums like Fort Walla Walla and Kirkman House feature our rich history, from fur trading to being the largest community in Territorial Washington.”
Where to Taste
Wine weekends run from early April through the Holiday Barrel Tasting in December. Spring Release (first weekend in May) and Fall Release (first weekend in November) are the biggies. The Walla Walla Wine Alliance posts a complete list on its Web site. Downtown are dozens of tasting rooms, including top local producers Corliss, Doubleback, Forgeron, K Vintners, Rotie, Seven Hills, Sinclair Estate, Spring Valley and Tero. Pick up a winery map (free at most tasting rooms) and head out of town. At the airport is a mix of founding wineries (Buty, Dunham Cellars, Five Star, Tamarack) and startups. Toward the foothills east of town are K Vintners, Abeja, Walla Walla Vintners and à Maurice. Head south, and you’ll find some of the biggest players—Amavi, Dusted Valley, Northstar, Pepper Bridge—along with exciting boutiques like Beresan, Rasa, Rulo, Saviah, Sleight of Hand and Va Piano. Just west of downtown are Bergevin Lane, Canoe Ridge, Foundry and Gramercy Cellars. A bit farther out on (or near) Highway 12 are L’Ecole No 41, Long Shadows, Reininger, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon.
The region’s first five wineries—Leonetti Cellar, L’Ecole No 41, Seven Hills, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon—are all still thriving. Only Leonetti is closed to visitors, but winemaker Chris Figgins also has his own brand (Figgins) and tasting room, as does his Doubleback project with former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Walla Walla’s reputation was made by these wineries and their renderings of classic Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Increasingly, Rhône varieties have taken hold, led by Syrah. In Walla Walla, these all produce dark, intense red wines of remarkable power and complexity.