I love all things international, but I also love to drink domestic. Every American knows the world famous wine region in northern California. But what about in southeastern Washington at the foothills of the Blue Mountains? With a population of 30,000 people, Walla Walla is small in size but big in personality. I’ve frolicked on the beaches of Belize and mingled with the Israeli locals, but I have never experienced a warmer welcome than in rural Washington state.
The Homeland Tribes called this area Walla Walla, meaning a place of many waters due to the many streams here. To me, it’s a place so nice, they named it twice. I have never met a group of strangers who were so willing and ready to make sure someone whom they’ve never met (me) was about to have the time of her life in wine country. I had more genuine, friendly conversations in a 10 mile radius than ever before. I was welcomed back into more people’s homes than ever before. I had more bottles of wine gifted to me than ever before, and I was truly humbled by this overwhelming sense of hospitality. If more people could be like Walla Wallans, the world would be a better place.
Many of my readers have requested my exact itineraries. Lucky for you, I provided Walla Walla’s itinerary below! I’d highly suggest copying all of it, drinking your way through the valley one red or white at a time.
With a unique blend of climate, character, charm and culture, the Walla Walla Valley has become home to one of the finest wine regions in the nation, with more than 100 wineries and 2,800 acres of grapes. Grab a glass and let’s get to drinking…
Arrival: Arrive in Walla Walla @ 5:30 p.m. just in time for a party in my honor.
Reception: 6:30 p.m. – Waldheim Mansion
As a means of conveying Walla Walla’s reputation for hospitality, a welcome reception was held at the Waldheim Mansion by “Mama” Julia Russell and her husband Roger, owners of Mansion Creek Cellars. To Mama Julia and Roger, thank you from the bottom of my heart for opening your doors to a complete stranger and opening your wine for hardly a connoisseur. I do know great wine when I taste it, and yours is “the best!” as you say it is!
Event: 6-10 p.m. – Dunham Days
Oh, what a night! Now in its 7th year, the much anticipated Dunham Days celebration at Dunham Cellars annually attracts hundreds of locals to celebrate the beginning of harvest season in Walla Walla. Think live music, copious amounts of wine and the liveliest crowd you’ll ever meet. If you caught me swinging dancing on Snapchat a few weeks ago, it took place at this fine party.
Pick-up: 9:30 a.m. – Wine tasting/touring transportation
I was picked up bright and early by wine expert Daylan Gibbard in his vintage 1962 Pontiac Tempest convertible for a day of wine tasting and touring. Surprise! By lunch, we switched out cars like ballers and spent the remainder of the day in a 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak. What did I do to deserve this treatment?!
Breakfast: 9:30 a.m. – Bacon and Eggs Restaurant
This breakfast staple has everything I desire in the morning hours: bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, granola, amongst other caloric intakes. What more could you ask for after a night of wine indulgence? Short answer: nothing (except more wine).
Experience: 11 a.m. – Pepper Bridge Winery Food & Wine Pairing in the Cellar
An exclusive wine & food pairing? Twist my arm. Sure, it’s easy to pair a bold red with an even bolder meat, but it doesn’t have to be the usual suspects. Here, Manager Jenn Clapp challenges guests with different pairings. A Cab Sav was matched with beets, a highly unusual couple that definitely won over the tastebuds. Jenn explained how, for example, you can pair fish with red wine, but just think about how you prepare it. Don’t do a citrus glaze with big red wine, and definitely don’t write things off because you have preconceived notions about something (read: Merlot and Chardonnay).
Experience: 1:00 p.m. @ Sleight of Hand Cellars
This eclectic tasting room is full of vivid colors, tastes and sounds – quite the threesome if you ask me. The winemaker, Trey Busch, loves some good tunes just as much as he loves a good Cab. Being the Pearl Jam fanatic that he is, he went ahead and named the winery after one of the band’s songs. The names of his wines then followed suit. My favorite is known as The Illusionist, a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon which incorporates 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Mmmmmm.
Experience: 2:00 p.m. @ Abeja Winery
Spanish for the word ‘bee,’ Abeja is straight out of a winery storybook, if there is such a thing. Their focus is Cabernet Sauvignon which was delightful, but my focus was on the stunning grounds and interiors. With a beautiful inn and narnia-like feel, it’s no wonder they are booked out years in advance!
Tasting/tour: 3:45 p.m. – Va Piano Vineyards
Va Piano was last on our itinerary for the day, so you know what that meant: yes, I was a wee bit overserved, but not overserved enough to forget about the story that goes along with this Tuscan-style winery. Owner/winemaker Justin Wylie was seduced by the culture of Florence, Italy, while studying abroad. While overseas, Justin befriended a man named Father Bruno Segatta, dean of the school and an artist himself. Justin and Father Bruno’s longtime relationship can be seen in the winery’s production of Bruno’s Blend, a red blend bearing the Father’s paintings. His paintings even adorn the winery walls. During our tour, I was lucky to meet the man himself as he just so happened to be in town from Italy! I love a winery with a good story and even better people.
Dinner: 8 p.m. – Ox & Cart
After all the wine from the day, my body craved something green and healthy. I ordered a salad and wasn’t incredibly thrilled with my decision since, well, who is when they order a salad? To my utmost surprise, it was damn delicious and I’d order it again and again. Highly recommend the new Ox & Cart restaurant!
Pick-up: 10:30 a.m. – Tesla Winery Tours
Dear Tesla, how I love thee and your crazy awesome doors that make me feel oh so A-list. Walla Walla’s newest wine tour operator should be your one stop shop when researching for transportation on wine tasting day because a Tesla Model X 90D is the only thing you should be backseat driving in.
Tasting/tour: 11 a.m.- L’Ecole No. 41
Located in a historic Frenchtown school building, L’Ecole (meaning ‘school’ in French) is the third oldest winery in Walla Walla and holds my favorite varietal from the weekend: Candy Mountain Vineyard Red Wine. The 2014 Grenache is highly sought after as well.
Lunch, Tasting, Tour: 12:30 p.m. @ Walla Walla Vintners
This was one of the most beautiful settings for a picnic EVER. Not only that, but lunch (provided by La Cocina de la Abuela) went swimmingly with Walla Walla Vintners’ Sangiovese. Owner Gordy Vennari, among the forefathers of Walla Walla’s wine industry, gave us a tour of the grounds providing a unique take on production while allowing an awesome photo opp in the wine barn.
Tasting/tour: 3 p.m. – Garrison Creek Cellars
Winery dogs, Malbec, Teslas and the Blue Mountains. *Le sigh* What more could a girl want in life? This pretty setting had me paparazzi-ing the unreal 300-acre grounds for many minutes in the warm Walla Walla sun. I’d like to thank Bacchus and my Nikon for this obligatory twirling-in-wine-country photo.
Dinner: 7 p.m. – Chef’s Table @ The Marc at the Marcus Whitman Hotel
Walla Walla’s iconic Marcus Whitman Hotel is home to one of its finest dining establishments – The Marc – including the unique Chef’s Table experience. Sourcing many of its greens and herbs from its own gardens, The Marc was a highlight with amazing cuisine and inspirational people.
Departure: Depart Walla Walla @ 6 a.m. (which made for a fantastic sunrise from 30,000 ft. up!)
Where to Stay
Lodging: View 360; downtown Walla Walla
My lodging for three lovely nights was at the Vue 360 vacation rental apartments. I felt like a queen in my 3br, 3.5ba private townhouse which was conveniently located in downtown Walla Walla, all within walking distance to restaurants, tasting rooms and shops. That being said, it was still difficult to leave my giant rooftop with these kind of sunsets…
The city may be away from the hustle and bustle, but in my opinion, the further you go the better! I had a direct flight from Seattle to Walla Walla that provided the most amazing view. I felt like I was back in South America with crazy scenic landscapes below. I suggest making a week out of Washington by starting in busy Seattle and ending in mellow Walla Walla.
It’s a great thing to realize you don’t have to travel halfway across the world to stand in awe of a destination or its local inhabitants. I’m officially in love with all things Walla Walla and truly feel lucky to have been in these fine people’s presence: Ron, Raffaele, Mama Julia and Roger, Luke and TJ Hansell, Melissa and her husband, Zibby, Caroline, Dana, Ashley, Jim, Jenn, Daylan, Rodrigo, and Justin.
Visit Walla Walla, thanks for allowing me to tick something off the ole’ bucket list!