Wine Country Escape

Walla Walla: The Maiden Voyage

How to make the most of a first-time visit to Washington's ultimate wine region.

By Sean P. Sullivan September 14, 2021

Image: Brooke Fitts

What’s this? You haven’t yet made it to Washington’s wine epicenter? If it’s your first time in the valley, try to spend a minimum of three days and assemble an itinerary that gives you an overview of the region, all while tasting great wine.

Day 1

Image: Brooke Fitts

Any inaugural visit should include a stop at adjacent L’Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon on the way into town. These two founding wineries in the Walla Walla Valley also happen to make some of the area’s best wines. L’Ecole occupies a historic schoolhouse and Woodward Canyon pours its cabernet amid expansive gardens. Sip while appreciating that these two helped define Walla Walla as a wine destination.

Plan for a casual dinner the first night at Brasserie Four. The downtown restaurant embraces French cuisine, from escargot to steak frites. If the bouillabaisse is on the menu, do not hesitate. Before dinner, if there’s time, grab a glass at one of the many tasting rooms along these blocks.

Day 2

Image: Brooke Fitts

Start your next day with a fortifying breakfast burrito at Bacon and Eggs, then head to Walla Walla Vintners in the Upper Mill Creek area. The tasting room has evolved considerably from its board-atop-two-barrels days, but it’s still pretty unassuming, until you factor in the view. A lawn next to the vineyard, dotted with tables and Adirondack chairs, lets you take in the broad sweep of sky and hills. Next up is Tranche Cellars, which sits next to its own Blue Mountain Vineyard. As the name suggests, the Blues serve as the backdrop. The tasting setup is restrained; you’re here for the perpetual happenings on the lawn outside—and for the wines.

Keep hydrating, and head downtown to another one of the valley’s founding wineries. Seven Hills Winery operates out of a converted brick planing mill. Before retiring earlier this year, founder Casey McClellan spent decades making wines in a reserved, age-worthy style. His wares are as long-lasting today as they were when McClellan started out in the 1980s, but there’s no shortage of enjoyment should you open a bottle now.

If you can, score a dinner reservation at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen’s new location. The restaurant has been an institution since 2007, with its grilled octopus, farmhouse flatbread, and housemade pasta.

Day 3

Image: Brooke Fitts

It’s time to head south of town, to one of the most scenic areas of the (already incredibly scenic) Walla Walla Valley. Before you do, grab some croissants, seasonal danish, and an espresso at Colville Street Patisserie.

Newcomer Valdemar Estates was founded by a fifth-generation Spanish winemaking family that’s taken an interest in Washington. An arresting modern building embraces broad balconies, all perfectly situated to let visitors stare at the Blue Mountains, glass in hand. Valdemar offers its Spanish wines in addition to their Washington counterparts and some classic tapas.

You’ve taken in the rolling mountains at Valdemar. Now get ready for some rock (of the musical variety) at Sleight of Hand. Pearl Jam superfan and co-owner Trey Busch recently remodeled the winery’s tasting room, but its commitment to vinyl records remains the same. So does the consistently excellent Psychedelic Syrah.

Some of Washington’s most distinct wine awaits just across Stateline Road, technically in Oregon. Here in the Rocks District, vineyards grow on top of the fist-sized cobblestones of an ancestral riverbed. Rôtie Cellars has long been making some of Washington’s most impressive Rhône-style wines. Its Rôtie Rocks Estate tasting room, completed in 2020, rises from those stony vineyards and lets you sample the region’s distinct flavors (the term “funk” often gets used, though others balk at it) while looking out upon the soil that drives them.

Image: Brooke Fitts

As lunchtime approaches, so do thoughts of AK’s Mercado. For years, chef Andrae Bopp’s restaurant in a nearby gas station was the stuff of culinary legend. Bopp recently moved into prime real estate downtown, a two-level space with outdoor seating that offers a lineup of tacos, salads, and pastries. Even housemade biscuits for your dog.

More Walla Walla Insider Picks

Grosgrain Vineyards champions underdog varieties (sparkling lemberger, anyone?) made in a reserved style. The tasting room has outdoor seating by one of the winery’s estate vineyards. 

Stylish newcomer Grosgrain Vineyards.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Prospice Wines winemakers Matt Reilly and Jay Krutulis both left successful careers to attend Walla Walla Community College’s enology and viticulture program. There, they not only learned how to make wine, they found a partnership. Don’t miss the viognier.

Show Comments

Related Content