Walla Walla translates to “many waters” in the First Nations language of the area, referring to the confluence of the Columbia River and its tributaries. Today, the Washington town boasts more than 100 wineries, giving its name new meaning. The wine combines with a burgeoning food scene to establish it as a destination for people much farther away than Boise. As the buds break and the vines grow this spring, take the four-hour road trip to taste what’s on offer.
Hit the road before noon to take advantage of the hour gained from the Pacific Time zone change, and there will be enough time for a wine tasting before checking into your lodging for the night. Make the last appointment available at Gramercy Cellars, a boutique label housed in a building west of downtown with an Old West vibe on the outside and unpretentious lounge inside. With labels like Inigo Montoya tempranillo and L’idiot du Village Mourvèdre, there’s a playfulness to the wine that’s elegant. It’s approachable example of Walla Walla’s modern class of winemakers.
Walla Walla sits halfway between Boise and Seattle, and the food scene in town is a direct result of this proximity. Passatempo Taverna is a standout spot for dinner, with a bar program that serves craft cocktails and a kitchen staff that makes the pasta by hand. For American cuisine in a storied setting, Whitehouse-Crawford is a local favorite to celebrate special occasions.
When it comes to planning a full day of wine tasting, it’s normal to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of wineries in the area. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance’s website divides them by area: Westside, Downtown, Eastside, Southside and those just over the border in Oregon. Start by choosing a region, and then select some wineries that have different approaches or size to get a full taste of the region.
Before heading back to Boise, fuel up at the Maple Counter for a classic breakfast or visit Hattaway’s on Alder, a newly opened restaurant with locally-inspired dishes that have a Southern bent. Be sure to make room in the trunk for a case or two of wine to take home. When it’s gone, you’ll know it’s time to get back to Walla Walla.
Here’s a Southside lineup:
Basel Cellars Estate Winery
Begin the day on the Southside of town at this sophisticated estate winery. Set on a hill above the Walla Walla River, the winery has panoramic views that make this an ideal place to start and see the vastness of the valley’s vineyards.
The 14,000-square-foot mansion is even available for nightly stays.
Just over the border in Oregon, this log cabin-style has a sunny patio with full view of the well-tended vines and the Washington border. The knowledgeable staff will take you through a tasting of their reds and whites. The family-owned winery specializes in Bordeaux varietals but regularly blends outside the box.
Castillo de Feliciana Vineyard and Winery
Before heading back over the border, which in the case of this winery is across the street, order a pitcher of sangria in the Spanish-style tasting room and grab a table on the patio. A complete tasting is also available, but if the group needs a break and place to picnic, this is it.
Brook & Bull Cellars/Vital Wines
Opened in 2014, the small production (2,000 cases) winery is the third to launch by Ashley Trout. Her wines are known for their balance, and the winery’s sister label, Vital, operates as a nonprofit that supports access to affordable healthcare for workers in the Walla Walla Valley vineyard and winery industry.