Most Likely to Succeed
When you set up shop in a schoolhouse, you’d best be a smarty pants. L’Ecole No 41 began in a 1915 building constructed for tiny Frenchtown, a settlement west of Walla Walla proper, and founders Jean and Baker Ferguson knew it wouldn’t hurt to have a winery among lands planted by French-Canadian immigrants. It worked. Now only the tasting room and event spaces fit in the two-story school building; pours happen next to bookcases crammed with classic tomes and one of those fun sliding ladders you see in the best old libraries.
It’s the best concentration of Washington wines per foot: The stretch of Walla Walla’s North Second Avenue south of East Main Street, then around the corner onto East Rose, crammed with wines from our Top 100. Every stop has its own style, starting with Maison Bleue, where blue walls and blue velvet couches create a haute salon suited for high-class Smurfs. A few doors down, Trust Cellars leans into modern-casual design with a bike parked against the wall and exposed pipes—this joint isn’t pretending to be in eighteenth-century France. Don’t bother stopping at Cayuse Vineyards where the electric-yellow storefront with striped awning has Parisian flair but never opens; have better luck at Mark Ryan Winery across the street, which earns badass cred for the motorcycle often propped in the front window.
Pick your own soundtrack for wine o’clock; there are hundreds of vinyl records inside the Sleight of Hand Cellars rural tasting room, and visitors are encouraged to select slow jams or Sub Pop classics. The magicians that grace the wine labels have vintage flair, but one might look familiar: the face of actor and amateur illusionist Neil Patrick Harris mugs on the bottle of the Conjurer red blend.
At Amavi Cellars, the tasting counter isn’t the highlight of a visit; it’s merely a stop on the way to somewhere else: The broad balcony behind the two-story building faces east, meaning that the light is warm and not too blinding for an afternoon tasting. However, to fully take in the winery’s own green fields and the distant hills dotted with white windmills, you might need a pair of Amavi-branded sunglasses or a peek through the winery’s telescope. With a parking spot for food trucks out back, expect to spend as much time outside as indoors.
Downtown Walla Walla is a good place to mix tasting and shopping; farther-flung wineries are ideal for kicking back in the sunshine. The airport-area wineries, just four miles from the town center, are for focused tasting in the industrial environs of a former WWII air base. Tempus Cellars has limited hours and is known for personal attention to the wine curious. Nearby Tamarack Cellars is similarly all business: With the tasting counter recently moved from its crammed location up against the grape vats, Tamarack makes a point to indulge in informal wine education over pours. But it’s not all bleak chic; Dunham Cellars spruces up an old hangar with a wine-bottle tree, an art installation that took two years of gathering the winery’s best bottles to create.