Washington Wine Country Getaways: Walla Walla

A tour through Washington’s most scenic destination wineries

By Paul Zitarelli October 15, 2014


This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Seattle magazine.


Staying at the Inn At Abeja is the only way to score an appointment at this stalwart Walla Walla producer (unless you’re on the mailing list). It’s best known for its Cabernets, but the Syrah and Viognier—both made from estate vines right on the winery property—are outstanding as well.

Part of the Walla Walla Valley’s allure is that you can go from the pastoral setting of Abeja to the industrial charms of the airport wineries in five minutes. That’s where you’ll head next, preferably with a revivifying espresso stop at the Walla Walla Roastery (Walla Walla, 290 A St.; 509.526.3211; wallawallaroastery.com) before strolling into Dunham Cellars (Walla Walla, 150 E Boeing Ave.; 509.529.4685; dunhamcellars.com), where you’ll likely be greeted by Maysy and/or Munch, two of the state’s friendliest winery dogs. The Dunham tasting room belies its airport location, offering rustic warmth in both its main tasting room as well as the adjacent Hangar Lounge, which serves as overflow tasting/retail or private event space. The exposed wood and the upside-down hanging parasols, painted by senior winemaker Eric Dunham, make a perfect setting for convivial sipping.
For today’s lunch, consider The Green Lantern (Walla Walla, 1606 E Isaacs Ave.; 509.525.6303; thegreenlantern-tavern.com), a tavern that doubles as a Walla Walla institution. The Green, as it is fondly known, calls itself “a crossroads for farmers, academics, hillbillies, carpetbaggers and malingerers of every ilk,” and that’s about the measure of it. The beer is cold, the pool table is usually open, and the fish tacos are surprisingly good.

Then, remain downtown and check out the so-hip-it-hurts exposed-brick tasting room of Charles Smith Wines (Walla Walla, 35 S Spokane St.; 509.526.5230; charlessmithwines.com). Housed in a converted auto repair warehouse, the space is a maze of modular tables made of pallets with custom wood tops. The highlight of this lesson in modern design are the two hand-cranked pivot doors that open the space to the street, forming an awning for alfresco wine tasting.

The rustic-sleek Charles Smith Wines tasting room, in downtown Walla Walla

Best Bottles to Bring Home
Dunham Cellars Riesling, Lewis Vineyard // Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley // Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot

Where to Stay:
Now that your day of wine tasting is finished, make the 30-minute drive through the rolling wheatfields of Middle Waitsburg Road. When you arrive in the Americana-drenched town of Waitsburg, head immediately for Jimgermanbar (Waitsburg, 119 Main St.; 509.337.6001; jimgermanbar.com), one of the finest bars on planet Earth, perhaps known best for the cocktail wizardry of Jim German, but also for serving food that is the easy equal of the beverages. Just get one of everything.

Then, if you’d prefer to stay in charming Waitsburg for the night, consider a visit to one of the three Waitsburg Cottages (Waitsburg, various locations; 206.409.8399; waitsburgcottages.com), lovingly renovated by Karen and Paul Gregutt. (Paul is the Pacific Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and also makes wine for Waitsburg Cellars.)

Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg

Nearby Historic Sites
For wine country road-trippers whose taste for yesteryear extends beyond well-aged bottles, HistoryLink.org’s new Seattle–Walla Walla map makes regional touring a historical experience. Detailing the transportation corridor’s wagon routes and historic highways, the map explores the communities that shaped the wine-growing areas. Descriptions bring to life little-known landmarks, such as Keechelus Lake, the site of perilous crossings for early settlers on hastily crafted rafts. Following the Columbia and Snake rivers, and the thread of French-Canadian history distinctive to the region, history hounds can visit cemeteries, battle sites, trading posts and museums along the way. Produced by HistoryLink.org, a Seattle-based continually updated online encyclopedia of local history, the map is part of a two-year-long Historic Corridor project, which also includes 40 documentary essays, found by searching “wallatrail2013” at HistoryLink.org; K–12 educational materials; and even an app, to be launched in the fall, with questions for kids on family road trips. Free; available at visitors centers and museums along the route. Lexi Bolton


Start your day with a breakfast of good strong coffee and intricate pastries that rival the best of Seattle’s artisan bakeries at sun-drenched Colville Street Patisserie (Walla Walla, 40 S Colville St.; 509.301.7289; colvillestreetpatisserie.com), and then it’s time for an activity that requires some advance planning, but is well worth it. Months before your trip, join the Vine Society mailing list for Cadaretta (Walla Walla, 315 E Main St.; 509.525.1352; cadaretta.com). Weeks before your trip, make an appointment for a guided tour of its estate Southwind Vineyard. Below the ridgeline of that vineyard (20 minutes south of Walla Walla in the foothills of the Blue Mountains) sits the Cadaretta “Glass House,” a remarkable tasting and event space that provides a 360-degree panorama over the entirety of the Walla Walla Valley.

On your way back into town, stop at Amavi Cellars (Walla Walla, 3796 Peppers Bridge Road; 509.525.3541; amavi-cellars.com), whose new tasting room is a modern marvel of metal and wood, offering pastoral views back into the Blue Mountains from which you just descended. Amavi is a sister winery to Pepper Bridge, and the wines are made by Pepper Bridge winemaker Jean-François Pellet. They are some of the most affordable, consistently delicious bottles to showcase Walla Walla Valley fruit.
Pop back into town for lunch today at the Walla Walla Worm Ranch & Tackle Shop, where many a hungry, underpaid winemaker scarfs down a quick meal before heading back to rack some barrels. Yes, you’re essentially eating in a bait-and-tackle shop, but this particular fisherman’s supply stop is also the home to Dora’s Deli (Walla Walla, 1186 Wallula Ave.; 509.529.3629), home of simple, honest, wildly good Mexican food. Tacos, tamales, burritos—you can’t go wrong.

Amavi Cellars’ scenic spot in Walla Walla vineyards

Now, if you’re staying at The Marcus Whitman, it would be tempting to taste Tero wines in their shared tasting room on the lobby floor of the hotel. Don’t do it. Plan ahead and make an appointment for a detour to Tero Estates winery (Milton-Freewater, Oregon, 52015 Seven Hills Road; 541.203.0020; teroestates.com), which looks like an Italian villa dropped into the middle of Tero’s estate Windrow Vineyard, a site that contains the oldest commercial Cabernet vines in the Walla Walla Valley. The drive alone is worth the visit, passing as it does through “The Rocks” portion of the Walla Walla Valley, where the soil—if you can call it that—is composed mostly of large cobblestones from now dried-up branches of the Walla Walla River. When you arrive at Tero, you’ll find that owners Doug and Jan Roskelley and Mike Tembreull are as friendly as their wines are good.

Best Bottles to Bring Home
Cadaretta SBS // Amavi Syrah // Tero Estates Windrow Vineyard Blend

Where to Stay:
At this point, you can go in one of two directions. If you want one more night in Walla Walla, grab dinner at Saffron (Walla Walla, 125 W Alder St.; 509.525.2112; saffronmediterraneankitchen.com), where Chris and Island Ainsworth have established a devoted following for their character-filled Mediterranean fare. Or, if you’ve had enough of Wallyworld, get a head start on tomorrow’s driving by heading out of town, hugging the Columbia once again until you reach Hermiston, Oregon, a town that has no business containing a restaurant as good as Walker’s Farm Kitchen (Hermiston, Oregon, 920 SE Fourth St.; 541.289.3333; walkersfarmkitchen.com). Expect fresh, seasonal, locally sourced ingredients at this self-described “New American” spot, which seems to have a decidedly Italian sensibility (if arancini are on the menu in any form, don’t hesitate). Then, grab a river-facing room at the RIVER LODGE & GRILL (Boardman, Oregon, 6 Marine Drive; 541.481.6800; riverlodgeandgrill.com) for the night. It’s a spot that sees more anglers than wine tourists, so the rooms in this log-cabin-meets-clapboard motel are sparsely decorated, but the views are eye-catching, and it’s conveniently located for tomorrow’s first stop.

A bustling atmosphere at Saffron



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