In the arid, sun-soaked southeast corner of Washington state the growing conditions are perfect for cultivating grapes, so it’s no surprise there are a staggering number of wineries in Walla Walla.
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With 120 vineyards and counting, the Walla Walla AVA has the highest concentration of wineries in Washington State, even stretching into neighbouring Oregon in an area called the Rocks district. The top three most commonly planted varieties are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the latter being so exceptional that even most wanna-be-Merlot-haters will likely find themselves leaving with at least a few bottles.
Walla Walla wine country
Walla Walla wine country dates back to the 1970s, and is made up of six districts. If you’re heading out for a day of wine tasting, it’s best to stick to a specific area to cut down on driving.
- Westside- Home to the most established Walla Walla wineries, this is usually the first stop when heading into town.
- Airport- Some of the wineries found here play off the aviation theme, and have set up their tasting rooms in hangar buildings and halls dating back to WWII.
- Downtown- More than 30 Walla Walla tasting rooms are found in the heart of historic downtown, including half a dozen that can be accessed from the lobby of the famed Marcus Whitman hotel.
- Eastside- This district’s location at the base of the Blue Mountains with views of the Palouse River makes it one of the most scenic, and there are a handful of award-winning wineries in the Mill Creek growing area.
- Southside- Some of the most architecturally-impressive wineries are in the Southside district, pairing great vino with some serious eye candy.
- Oregon- The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater got its name from the basalt, gravel and cobblestones that make up the soil that was formed by a former river bed, giving the wine a taste that’s been nicknamed ‘The Funk.’
With so many choices around the valley it’s impossible to select a favourite, so here are some of the best wineries in Walla Walla, Washington in no particular order.
1) Valdemar Estates
The tapas and wines from this Spanish-inspired winery are excellent; however, the real showstopper is the stunning tasting room.
The entrance into Valdemar Estates in the Southside district leads past a production area and up a multi-storey staircase, arriving at the sleek, modern tasting room. Gleaming stone countertops, a roaring fireplace and towers of wine bottles are a few highlights of the interior, with huge windows looking out to the Blue Mountains.
The outdoor patio is incredible, thanks to its reflection pool, 58-foot long waterfall wall and spritzers that help guests cool off in the summer heat. Nosh on tapas while sipping Valdemar Estates’s hybrid wines, which draw influences from winemaking in both Washington State and Rioja, Spain.
2) L’Ecole No. 41
Get caught drinking in class with a visit to L’Ecole No. 41, a former elementary school dating back to 1915 that was converted to a winery in 1983.
Fittingly, this great Walla Walla winery is owned by a pair of retired teachers, who kept the theme going by converting the former cafeteria and gym into a private tasting space, and turned the principal’s office into a wine cellar. Guests can also ring a school bell when they arrive, and walls of books line the tasting room.
This family-run operation was the third winery in Walla Walla, and currently produces about 50-thousand cases per year using fruit from the surrounding Columbia and Walla Walla valleys.
The fantastic Merlot was the first wine that L’Ecole No. 41 produced, and it’s worth trying the Grenache Rose which is made in stainless steel tanks instead of barrels to avoid oakiness and keep in the fruit flavours.
3) Kontos Cellars
Located just off main street downtown, Kontos Cellars was started by two brothers whose family has a long history in the area, going back generations to the mid-1800s when their grandfather helped found the bank and railroad. Their father started Fort Walla Walla Cellars in the ‘80s which sparked an interest in viticulture within the family, and brothers Cameron and Chris came up with the idea to start their own winery and continue the legacy.
They mocked up a label with a dragonfly which is Washington’s official insect, and were shocked when the next day an unusual number of dragonflies were swirling all around the combines while working out in the field. They took it as a sign, and launched Kontos Cellars shortly after.
The tasting room has a fun space with beautiful exposed brick, an upper loft area and an outdoor patio complete with handmade swings. Kontos creates one flagship blend each year using grapes from places like Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge, and Cameron says he’s most proud of their Merlot due to its dimension.
4) Revelry Vintners
Aside from the award-winning wine, Revelry Vintners also received architectural accolades with the launch of its stunning tasting room in the Southside.
Formerly housed in the Airport District, the winery focuses on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties and is best known for its D11 Cabernet Sauvignon which won top prize in the first competition it was entered in, and was once auctioned off for a staggering $100,000 per case.
“Wine has this ability to bring people together and make memories, kind of like music,” says winemaker and founder Jared Burns, in explaining the ethos behind Revelry. He also recommends their Merlot, explaining they’re not manipulated in Walla Walla in contrast to other regions.
Enjoy a glass paired with a charcuterie board, and soak in the timeless design of the winery that’s surrounded by 20 acres of farmland, with great views of the Blue Mountains.
5) Long Shadows
Come for the wine, stay for the swanky tasting room at Long Shadows which features show stopping Chihuly glass sculptures.
This Westside winery opened in 2007, and has sweeping views of the surrounding countryside which can be enjoyed while sipping varietals like the Reisling which has hints of saffron. Long Shadow’s French winemaker Gilles Nicault partners with vineyards around the world, blending Washington grapes with techniques honed from places like Chile, Tuscany and Germany.
6) Garrison Creek Cellars
If you like big, bold reds, head to Garrison Creek Cellars in the Southside wine district. The tasting room is in a beautiful barn inspired by the 1916 Winn Family barn in eastern Oregon, and features sky-high vaulted ceilings and a downstairs ‘library’ which holds their premium, handcrafted wines.
Limited seatings are available at this boutique winery in Walla Walla, which focuses on small batch production and methods such as hand sorting. The views of the surrounding Blue Mountains and 300-acre Les Collines Vineyard make a visit here well worth the trip out.
7) Seven Hills Winery
With a large, bright tasting room conveniently located in a historic brick building in downtown Walla Walla, Seven Hills Winery has a strong focus on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignons.
Founded in the ‘80s by fourth-generation farmer Casey McClellan, the winery is housed in the Whitehouse-Crawford building, which was built as a wood mill in 1904 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places after undergoing a restoration in 2000.
Open every day for tastings, Seven Hills Winery also hosts groups as well as several events throughout the year.
8) Rotie Cellars
The Rocks district may be relatively close to town, but the incredibly rocky, arid landscape makes it feel a world away. Head over to Rotie Cellars to learn more about ‘The Funk’ that seeps into wines produced in this area, and head up to their second-floor tasting room for cool views.
Rotie Cellars doesn’t take itself too seriously (as evidenced by wines named after rappers), despite its name being a nod to Côte Rôtie, a prestigious red-wine appellation at the tip of France’s Rhône Valley.
Rotie’s wines like the Southern White have crisp acidity, and showcase Washington fruit done in the Rhône Valley style. They have about 16 acres that produce the likes of Grenache and Voinier, and the vines are planted close enough together that they can be harvested by horse instead of a tractor.
9) Waterbrook Winery & Kitchen
Waterbrook is among the original Walla Walla wineries dating back to 1984, and one of the largest operations in the area which is clear as you wind past the massive production facilities en route to the gorgeous restaurant and tasting room.
Overlooking serene ponds, this family-friendly spot is surrounded by a sprawling outdoor area complete with patio seating and lawn games. Slide up to the bar for a tasting, and enjoy a flight of the classic, reserve or ICON collection wines produced from their 49-acre estate vineyard. The kitchen is open every day, which makes Waterbrook a great midday stop during a Walla Walla wine tour.
10) Woodward Canyon Winery
Woodward Canyon Winery is a family-run vineyard with deep roots in Walla Walla including four generations of farming in the area, and was the valley’s second winery when it was established in 1981. With a focus on quality, organic and biodynamic grape growing, Woodward’s hillside vineyard now grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay alongside Italian and Rhone varieties.
The country-chic tasting room is on the outskirts of town in the Westside district, and the restored 1870’s farmhouse features rustic beams, an old bell and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
Walla Walla wine tours
The welcoming, down-home atmosphere at the wineries means there’s a good chance you’ll get to chat with the winemaker or owner, whether you choose to visit on your own or during an organized group excursion.
There are plenty of different options for booking Walla Walla winery tours, including e-biking or being driven around in an old fashioned car or limo. Tesla Winery Tours is one of the best and was founded by Chris Wood who worked at both Revelry Vintners and L’Ecole. His company offers customized, guided tours for up to six people, from the comfort of a high-tech Model X or Model S Tesla.
Globe Guide explored Walla Walla as a guest of Visit Walla Walla. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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