What's New in Walla Walla

Spend a weekend here sampling a variety of delicious Washington wines.
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It’s hard to find a prettier wine town than Walla Walla, the capital of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. With its restored turn-of-the-century brick buildings, well-stocked wine tasting rooms and upscale restaurants, the city of 30,000 makes an ideal base for exploring the region’s wine country, which includes some of our state’s best-known red wine producers. It’s hard to keep up with the spectacular growth here; with gorgeous new tasting rooms—such as the one at Canoe Ridge—opening up, and appealing new restaurants adding to the culinary mix, this “mini Napa” is fast becoming the de facto wine-touring destination in the Northwest.

Standout Wineries
Tasting rooms are popping up all over downtown Walla Walla, making it easy to sample the region’s wine. Winemaker Serge Laville, who studied enology in France, showcases the gorgeous fruit from Spring Valley Vineyard in all his wines, yielding rich, silky reds that epitomize the Walla Walla style (18 N Second Ave.; 509.525.1506; springvalleyvineyard.com). Don’t let the amazing industrial design of the Charles Smith Wines tasting room (35 S Spokane St.; 509.526.5230; charlessmithwines.com) distract you from the wines; the product is just as outstanding as the packaging. Deep, rich reds predominate at the Seven Hills Winery tasting room (212 N Third Ave.; 509.529.7198; sevenhillswinery.com). Sample stylish Merlot at Canoe Ridge’s newly refurbished tasting room (1102 W Cherry St.; 509.527.0885; canoeridgevineyard.com). Taste wine from the family that put Walla Walla on the map with Leonetti many years ago at the new Figgins tasting room (2900 Melrose St.; 509.522.7098; figginsfamily.com).

Where to Eat
Start your day of wine touring with a textbook-perfect latte and scrumptious huevos con chorizo ($11.50) at Bacon & Eggs, a lively new restaurant across from Whitman College (503 E Main St.; 509.876.4553; baconandeggswallawalla.com). Stop at Brassiere Four to enjoy a salade niçoise ($13.75) for lunch (4 E Main St.; 509.529.2011; brasseriefour.com). With its intimate room and sensuous cuisine, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen (125 W Alder St.; 509.525.2112; saffronmediterraneankitchen.com) makes a great destination for dinner; try the saffron malloreddus pasta heaped with albacore tuna, tomato, olives, fennel seed and green onion ($23). For dessert, visit the Colville Street Patisserie, where the chocolate caramel tart ($6) makes pastry lovers swoon (40 S Colville; 509.301.7289; colvillestreetpatisserie.com).

Where to Stay
The city’s tallest building, the 13-story Marcus Whitman Hotel makes a great base for exploring tasting rooms and outlying wine country. Recently renovated, the hotel gleams with lovingly restored fixtures and furniture, and sports four brand-new tasting rooms, where you can sample wines from local boutique wineries, including Lodmell Cellars, Tero Estates and Flying Trout. Its three restaurants—The Marc, Vineyard Lounge, Chef’s Table—provide a nice variety and allow you to sample the region’s wine (6 W Rose St.; 866.826.9422; marcuswhitmanhotel.com). For a cozier home base, and a sumptuous dinner, visit the Fat Duck Inn (527 Catherine St.; 888.526.8718; fatduckinn.com), which opened in 2006 and features five-course tasting menus ($95; one seating a night) paired with outstanding local wines. Sleep surrounded by grape vines at Girasol Vineyard and Inn, an idyllic retreat within walking distance of Northstar and Pepper Bridge wineries (504 Basel Lane; 509.956.9743; casagirasol.com).

SIDE TRIP
Waitsburg

For a sweet small-town jaunt, make the 20-minute drive to the teeny town of Waitsburg, population 1,217. After a winding ramble through flowing wheatfields, you’ll arrive at the Jimgermanbar (named after the relocated Seattleite Jim German; 119 Main St.; 509.337.6001; jimgermanbar.com) for a classic martini and some serious ambiance, including stuffed deer heads, beautifully milled wood tables, and convivial conversations of farmers, ranchers, winemakers and hipsters. Sidle over to the Whoopemup Hollow Café (120 Main St.; 509.337.9000; whoopemuphollowcafe.com) for a plate of goat cheese ravioli made with delicious curds ($21) from Monteillet Fromagerie, just up the road outside of Dayton (109 Ward Road; 509.382.1917 or 509.876.1429; monteilletcheese.com).

Spend the night at Three Maples Cottage or The Tea House (waitsburgcottages.com), a pair of sweet, fully furnished guest cottages owned by Seattle Times wine writer Paul Gregutt and his wife, Karen Stanton Gregutt, who offer custom wine-tasting events and guidance on local wineries and restaurants.

Must-try Walla Walla Wines
Spring Valley Vineyard 2009 Uriah, $50
Charles Smith 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, $12
Seven Hills Vineyard 2009 Cabernet, $36
Canoe Ridge 2009 Merlot, $22
Figgins 2009 Bordeaux Blend, $85

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

An intimate affair for wine lovers who get their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude
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A flight of wine awaiting tasting at one of the educational panels

If you love good wine—really good wine—you’ll want to put Northwest Wine Encounter on your radar.

Haven’t heard of it before? That’s not surprising. The inaugural event, which I attended last spring, was an intimate affair with space for just a few dozen wine lovers who got their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude on winemaking, learning about these during educational panels led by some of the region’s finest winemakers. And, of course, it helped to taste through flights of really fine wine as the winemakers offered insights and perspective.

The return engagement, on the weekend of April 28-30 (from $485/person including lodging, events and gala dinner), will follow a similar format and will once again be held at Semiahmoo Resort, a lovely spot overlooking Semiahmoo Bay, with the U.S./Canadian border and Peace Arch in view across the water. This year, there will be room for around 100 wine lovers (sign up for Northwest Wine Encounter here).


Winemakers and guests enjoying Friday night’s bonfire at Semiahmoo 

This quintessential Northwest location was chosen to complement the local wines that are the focus of the weekend. At Semiahmoo, Mount Baker frames the view in one direction, the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in another. At one time in its history, Semiahmoo was also the site of a salmon cannery. Hard to get more Northwest than that.

The 2017 winemaker lineup includes a few superstars from Oregon and Washington: Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellars, Walla Walla’s oldest winery; David Merfeld of Northstar Winery, Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars; Tony Rynders of Panther Creek and wine grower Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyards. New this year is the addition of a British Columbia winemaker, Walter Gehriner of Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery.

 

At last year’s events, the panel discussions were interesting, but the Friday night kick-off event was almost worth the price of admission alone. It had the air of an informal party where everyone was enjoying each other’s company. All the winemakers were in attendance, pouring and chatting about what they love most: making wine. The party eventually spilled out onto the beach where a bonfire warmed the crowd. Marshmallows optional, wine required.