If you’re looking for a new wine country travel destination, we suggest you consider the Walla Walla Valley, an AVA (American Viticultural Area) with over 2,800 acres of planted vineyards. The region actually straddles the Washington/Oregon border and the city of Walla Walla (in Southeastern Washington) provides a great base camp for easy exploration of the area’s 6 wine regions: Downtown, Eastside, Westside, Airport, Southside and last (but not least) Oregon.
The Walla Walla Valley is already well-known for its farming, producing crops such as wheat, asparagus, strawberries and (of course) Walla Walla Sweet Onions. Now, its wine grape production is significantly adding to that agricultural reputation. Downtown Walla Walla has been recognized as one of the best small town Main Streets in the country, where tree-lined streets offer a combination of boutiques, tasting rooms, restaurants and more.
The Walla Walla Valley is home to over 100 wineries including àMaurice Cellars, Cayuse Vineyards, L’Ecole Nº 41, Long Shadows Vintners and Rulo Winery. If you keep reading we’ll tell you which wineries, restaurants and other food purveyors we’ve personally experienced and happily suggest adding to your own itinerary. We’ll also give you a heads-up on some food and wine events coming up the next few months in the Walla Walla Valley which you may want to consider framing a trip around.
The top five varieties in the Valley are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec and there are many wonderful wines made from those varietals. However, we also found outstanding white wines made from Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Picpoul.
Favorite Walla Walla Valley Wineries
Our first trip to Walla Walla was centered around Cayuse Vineyards Weekend, a once-a-year event when the winery opens up to the public (invitation-only) for a tasting of extremely limited wines (which frequently require years on a wait list to gain the ability to buy). So, while Cayuse isn’t open to visitors the rest of the year, we do encourage you to taste their wines when given the opportunity. Our personal favorites were the 2013 God Only Knows (Grenache), 2014 Impulsivo (Tempranillo) and 2014 Bionic Frog (Syrah).
On the other hand, these are the Walla Walla wineries more accessible to the public we suggest you visit and explore for yourself (or at least seek the wines out at local restaurants or wine stores):
Abeja Cellars – The winery’s name is Spanish for “bee” and was selected for its reminder of how farming implies a respect for the environment and a close connection to the earth. The onsite Inn is a stunning turn-of-the-century farmstead surrounded by 35 acres of gardens, lawns, creeks and vineyards. We were fans of both the 2014 Walla Walla Valley Chardonnay and the 2014 Washington State Chardonnay. The winery is usually open for tasting just for mailing list members and guests at the onsite Inn, by appointment. 2014 Mill Creek Road, Walla Walla, WA 509-526-7400
àMaurice Cellars – Headed by charming winemaker Anna Schafer and her family, àMaurice has been included several times in the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year. The winery is located on 20 acres in the Blue Mountain foothills and our favorites were the 2015 Viognier, 2015 Boushey Vineyard Viognier/Marsanne, 2013 “Fred” Estate Syrah and 2011 Gamache Vineyard Malbec. Open (mid-Feb to mid-Dec) Fri & Sat 10:30 am to 4:30 pm and by appointment. 178 Vineyard Lane, Walla Walla, WA 509-522-5444
Gramercy Cellars – This 8,000-case winery was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife Pam to make Rhône- and Bordeaux-based wines. Brandon Moss joined Gramercy during the 2008 harvest as Assistant Winemaker and became a partner in 2011. We particularly enjoyed the casual environment here (hello, wide screen TV) and their 2014 Viognier, 2015 Picpoul, 2015 Rosé (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah), 2013 “The Deuce” Syrah, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 “Inigo Montoya” Tempranillo. Open Fri-Sat, 11 am – 5 pm, Wed & Thur by appointment. 635 North 13th Avenue, Walla Walla, WA 509-876-2427
L’Ecole Nº 41 – The name comes from the property’s history of being an old schoolhouse located in Lowden School District number 41. The setting is quaint, the service is friendly, and the wines are so good the winery has been named a Wine & Spirits Top 100 Winery for the last fourteen years. Our favorite wines were the 2015 Chenin Blanc, 2014 Estate Luminesce (Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc), and four different Cabernets: 2012 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Apogee (Pepper Bridge Vineyard), 2013 Perigee (Seven Hills Vineyard) and the 2013 Ferguson Vineyard. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm. 41 Lowden School Road, Lowden, WA 509-525-0940
Long Shadows Vintners – Founded by Allen Shoup, this is actually a collection of ultra-premium wineries comprised of internationally acclaimed winemakers from the major wine regions of the world, each focused on producing a single wine. Our favorites here were the 2014 Poet’s Leap Riesling (by Armin Diel), 2013 Pedastal Merlot (by Michel Rolland) and the 2013 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon (by Randy Dunn). Open daily by appointment only. 1604 Frenchtown Road, Walla Walla, WA 509-526-0905
Maison Bleue Family Winery and Domaine J Meuret – Wines from both wineries are poured under the same roof in downtown Walla Walla, which makes sense as both wineries were founded by Jon Meuret. Maison Bleue is dedicated to the production of terroir-driven wines focused primarily on Rhône varieties and Domaine J. Meuret was established with the vision of creating small lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Our favorites here were the Domaine J. Meuret 2014 “La Pacte” Chardonnay and the Maison Bleue 2013 “Bourgeois” Grenache. Open Thur – Mon 11 am to 5 pm. 20 North 2nd Avenue, Walla Walla, WA 509-525-9084
Rotie Cellars – This downtown tasting room can get a little noisy when it’s crowded, but with wines this good it’s not much of a surprise when that happens. Since 2007, winemaker and owner Sean Boyd’s goal has been to make traditional Rhône blends in Washington State and his winery production is limited. We strongly suggest trying the 2015 Southern White (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne) and 2014 Southern Blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) for yourself. Open Fri-Sat noon to 6 pm, Sun 11 am to 4 pm, or by appointment. 31 East Main Street, Walla Walla, WA 509-301-9074
Rulo Winery – Headed by husband and wife Kurt and Vicki Schlicker, this small winery produces outstanding wines adding up to about 2600 cases per year. The Rulo label and logo reflect three of the six grain silos which comprise the Rulo grain elevator station, part of the local “farmer GPS” system using grain elevators in the Valley to guide travelers. The wines we enjoyed so much we ended up buying and taking home were the 2014 Combine (Marsanne, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne), 2013 Grenache Blanc, 2015 Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault), 2014 ORB (Our Red Blend: Grenache, Mourvedre), and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Open by appointment, or during Special Release Weekends. 3525 Pranger Road, Walla Walla, WA 509-525-RULO
Favorite Walla Walla Valley Restaurants
Bacon & Eggs – This popular breakfast and lunch place limits their menu to breakfast items only on the weekends, so plan accordingly. We heartily recommend the Bacon, the Hash Browns, and the Chilaquiles here, and our favorite scramble is the Migas (with Fried Tortillas, Onions, Green Chiles, Sharp Cheddar, Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream). If you do head here, make sure you go to the correct (newer) address – some browser searches still come up with the old location several blocks away. 57 East Main Street, Walla Walla 509-876-4553
Brasserie Four – If you enjoy classic French Bistro fare then aim directly for this lovely and airy downtown restaurant (which also has some outside tables, weather permitting). We heartily recommend the classics here: Escargot, Croque Monsieur (and Madame). The Steak Frites are awesome, but you are probably going to want to share it with someone because it’s a plateful. 4 East Main Street, Walla Walla 509-529-2011
Frosted – This quaint little cupcake shop has a wide spectrum of flavors, with well-made cakes topped with proportionally-appropriate frosting. Favorite? Lemon Lavender (but the Salted Caramel wasn’t exactly a distant second). 7 South 1st Avenue, Walla Walla 509-525-2434
Maple Counter Café – Having won several “Best Breakfast” awards over the years, the phenomenal customer service and long lines for tables shouldn’t surprise you. If you can’t decide between an egg dish and pancakes, you don’t have to because a side plate of three outstanding pancakes are the standard side with scrambles or omelets. But please, heed our warnings and consider sharing a meal: the food is delicious but the portions are huge. Maple Counter Café only serves breakfast on the weekends, so if you want to try their lunch menu please come here Mondays through Fridays. 209 East Alder Street, Walla Walla 509-876-2527
Plow & Vine – For an outstanding four course Friday night dinner (and the opportunity to make new friends at a communal table) consider this intimate and excellent restaurant headed by Chef Rich Koby at the Fat Duck Inn, run by the Chef and his wife Cynthia. Sometimes, you may even be able to score seats at the “Chef’s Table” for a special experience in the kitchen where you can chat with the Chef and his assistant as they prepare and plate the meal. Our personal meal experience included Fresh Pacific Halibut, a Sunchoke and Garlic Soup, a main course of a Double R Ranch Hanger Steak with Salsa Verde and Mama Lil’s Peppers, followed by a lovely Star Anise and Local Honey Mousse for dessert. Between April and November, Chef Koby also usually hosts Winemaker Dinners on Saturday nights. 527 Catherine Street, Walla Walla 509-526-3825
Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen – This Mediterranean restaurant expanded in 2015, making it only marginally easier to score a reservation (but the food is outstanding so please make the effort). For starters, we recommend the Patatas Bravas, the Grilled Octopus, the Pita Bread, and an Egg Salad made with Capers, Cumin and Coriander. We were also fans of the Saffron Orecchiette a la Grecia with Pork Ragú, but we most strongly suggest you order the Lahmacun, a thin flatbread with Tomato-Pepper Purée, Parsley, Spiced Lamb and Lemon Oil. 125 West Alder Street, Walla Walla 509-525-2112
Walla Walla Bread Company – This outstanding bakery actually provides breads for many of the best restaurants in town but this is your chance to go straight to the source yourself (just realize that they are closed on Sundays). You can find everything from loaves of bread to sandwiches to cookies to pastries, and if you need some good coffee to pair it with, the house coffee is Illy. Our favorites here include the Danish pastries and the Cookies (particularly the Oatmeal). 225 East Main Street, Walla Walla 509-522-8422
Upcoming Walla Walla Valley Events
If you’re looking for one more reason to finalize that trip to Walla Walla Valley, here are some events coming up in the near future that may fill that need:
Rosé Partay – On April 16, starting at 5 pm, you can taste Rosé wines from over a dozen wineries at Waterbrook Winery along with appetizers on the patio from 5 pm to 7 pm, followed by a buffet dinner starting at 7 pm. Participating wineries include Browne Family Vineyards, Canoe Ridge Vineyard, Gramercy Cellars, Long Shadows, Reininger and Seven Hills Winery.
Spring Release Weekend – On the weekend of May 6-8, the Valley’s Spring Release festivities offer a comprehensive chance to explore the region and enjoy newly released wines, many of which can only be tasted (and purchased) at the wineries and tasting rooms themselves. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet and mingle with the Walla Walla Valley winemakers and learn more about the joys and challenges of the latest vintages. If you’re coming, another activity option for that Mother’s Day weekend is the Walla Walla Swim Club’s 5K/10K “Mum’s Fun Run” on Saturday morning.
Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine – Between June 16-18, more than 60 Walla Walla Valley winemakers, 3 international winemakers and 2 Master Sommeliers join forces to explore Cabernet Sauvignon (this year’s varietal selection for the celebration). Participate in special tastings, intimate winemaker dinners, a Grand Tasting and/or an opportunity to compare Cabernet Sauvignons from Walla Walla Valley, Napa Valley, the Bordeaux region and the Millahue Valley in Chile. Celebrated Chefs from the area joining in the festivities include Jake Crenshaw (Olive Marketplace and Café), Andrae Bopp (Andrae’s Kitchen) and Jim Cooley (Bon Appétit).
Sweet Onion Festival – On June 18 & 19, the 32nd annual Sweet Onion Festival celebrates Walla Walla Sweet Onions which have been produced as a specialty vegetable crop since 1900. There is a packed agenda of activities including a 5K “Funion Runion,” an Onion Eating Contest, Sweet Onion Bowling, Chef Demonstrations and Live Entertainment. The famous local onions are best when eaten raw or only slightly cooked, so if you enjoy cooking (or eating) this may be a good event for you.
Walla Walla Valley Lodging
If you are travelling to Walla Walla Valley, there are plenty of lodging options to accommodate any budget. The Valley is a place where scenic beauty, alluring restaurants, premium wineries, outdoor adventures and small-town charm come together to create an experience you’ll want to make time for (and quite possibly, more than once).
Within Walla Walla, you may want to consider Best Western Suites Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Fat Duck Inn, Green Gables Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express, the Inn at Abeja or the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Other nearby options include the Best Western Plus in Dayton and the Cameo Heights Mansion in Touchet.
The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is a non-profit organization whose primary mission is the marketing of the Walla Walla Valley wine region. Their website contains helpful information including a calendar of events and other advice for visitors to the valley. Their Winery Guide is an awesome resource for anyone visiting the area and looking for help in planning their wine tasting routine.