Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top 10 Walla Walla Wineries

We fell in love with Walla Walla Valley when we first visited it in 2007. The beautiful wine country was a 4-5 hours' drive from Seattle and about an hour by flight. In the hot Mediterranean-like summer, the vineyards in Walla Walla are vibrant with Palouse hills and Blue Mountains in the backdrop. However, the valley can get below freezing in the winter as the vines are wrapped in snow and silent beauty.
Walla Walla vineyards in the summer
Walla Walla vineyards in the winter

Five years ago, we were fortunate to find the perfect second home in Walla Walla, which we also made into a vacation rental. This led to many more trips shared with friends and family, tasting new wines and stocking up old favorites. For this post, I want to share with you my top ten wineries to visit in Walla Walla.

My Top 10 Walla Walla Wineries to Visit (in somewhat geographical order)
  • Woodward Canyon (west) - Second winery in the valley and famous for their Cabernet 
    Woodward Canyon
    Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but my new favorite is the Rhone-style Erratic.
  • LE'cole (west) - Third winery in the valley, you can't miss the school house building next to Woodward Canyon and famous for their Bordeaux-style wines, especially the Apogee and Perigee.
  • Gramercy Cellars (west) - Founded by Master Sommelier Greg Harrison, the winery creates amazing Syrah.
  • Abeja (east) - Rather exclusive, you need to either stay at the beautiful inn or be a mailing list member to taste at the exquisite winery. Abeja makes some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley. It will be interesting to see what the 2015 departure of John Abbott (formerly Abeja winemaker who helped launch Abeja) does to future vintages.

    • Revelry Vintners (east) - I discovered this winery through a friend. Revelry was launched by former Whitman grad, Jared Burns, in 2005. My favorites are the Aerial Series that focus on terroir-driven wines.
    • Spring Valley Vineyard (north/downtown) - Free tasting is getting rarer these days, not to mention free tasting of very high quality wines accompanied by the story of the winery and its wines. Spring Valley always ends the tasting with the Syrah, named Nina Lee, paired with custom-made Syrah-infused chocolate truffles. Delicious! Besides Nina Lee, my other favorites are Frederick and Uriah, both Bordeaux-style blends.
    • Rotie Cellars (north/downtown) - Winemaker and owner Sean Boyd makes some of the most compelling Rhone-style wines in the valley. The two popular ones are the Northern Blend (Syrah-Viognier) and Southern Blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre). I also love the Homage, a Mouvedre-based wine, and the Swordfight, a Mouvedre-Syrah blend that is a collaboration with El Corazon Winery.
    • Amavi Cellars (south) - Probably the winery with the best view from the tasting room and located in the most scenic part of Walla Walla. Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet also manages sister winery, Pepper Bridge. The wines tend to be big and quite extracted with aging potential.
    • Va Piano (south) - Another beautiful winery in the midst of vineyards, this is also another must-visit. Va Piano owner and winemaker Justin Wylie makes delicious Syrah. The new Black Label wines are vineyard-designated and are my favorites. 
    • Northstar Winery (south) - Also located in the midst of vineyards, Northstar is the winery  hat helped me appreciate Merlot the most. And if you feel like splurging, the Premier Merlot is something else. You can also order the wine and cheese tasting and enjoy it in its beautiful tasting room. 
    Northstar Winery
      Some thoughts on Accommodation
      Accommodation was challenging in Walla Walla when the wine industry first exploded several years ago. Hotels and inns would be booked up way in advance during peak season. Some visitors had to stay as far as Prosser and make day trips into Walla Walla. This propelled alternate lodging arrangements, such as vacation rentals, which work out well for those who travel in groups and who prefer the comfort and convenience of an entire property over a room.
      • Walla Walla Vacation Rentals - We are partial to Walla Walla Vacation Rentals, locally owned and operated by Alexa Palmer. Alexa operates over 30 properties, including our very own Jasper's by Pioneer Park. She is very resourceful and is happy to answer any questions. Look for pet-friendly properties or if you want a pool or hot tub.
      • Fat Duck Inn - If you prefer a room and good food to boot, try the boutique inn. Located in a residential area within walking distance to downtown, Fat Duck Inn is beautifully and lavishly decorated yet comfortable and welcoming.
      If you are looking for hotels, there is the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel as well as the usual chain hotels, such as Marriott Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, and so forth.

      My Verdict: Spend a few days in Walla Walla and enjoy the wineries. There are many high quality wines that are considered a steal. Prepare to spend up $10-$25 for your tasting. It is still less spendy than Napa, Sonoma, or Willamette.