Above: Walla Walla's Westside District
One of Washington’s founding wineries, Woodward Canyon has made its name over the decades by creating age-worthy cabernet sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends. Just as notable? The best in class chardonnay.
2 ► L’Ecole No 41
Founded in 1983, family-owned L’Ecole No 41 produces a wide range of Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley designated bottles, all bearing a picture of their headquarters, a former schoolhouse. While the red wines get much of the attention—and they deserve it—the whites, including chenin blanc, sémillon, and a sauvignon blanc-sémillon blend are easily their equals.
Whether you want a six-pack of rosé cans or an exclusive 2013 cabernet for $46, Waterbrook’s wines— along with those at sister tasting rooms Canoe Ridge and Browne Family—span the price spectrum, delivering quality at each level.
This project from former Chateau Ste. Michelle CEO Allen Shoup brings renowned winemakers from around the world to make one release each from Washington fruit. Napa Valley’s Rand Dunn crafts the outrageously good Feather cabernet sauvignon. Bordeaux’s Michel Rolland offers an unrestrained take on merlot with Pedestal. Whoever’s at the helm, the lineup doesn’t miss.
5 ► Reininger Winery
There’s something to be said for knowing a place. Tracy Tucker’s family goes back five generations in Walla Walla Valley. She and her husband Chuck Reininger founded the winery in 1997, one of the first to focus exclusively on Walla Walla Valley fruit, then added a second label, Helix, that homes in on Columbia Valley.
1 ► Gramercy Cellars
Master sommelier Greg Harrington left behind a restaurant career to come to Walla Walla and make wines that “taste like dirt” (read: earthy). But you can still sense that restaurant background in his lower oak, lower alcohol wines—clearly meant for the dinner table. These are some of the best wines in the state, with distinctly high acidity.
Walla Walla is known for wine and (a little more quietly) its large foundry, dedicated to creating large-scale sculptures from local and international artists. Mark and Patty Anderson, who started the Foundry, brought this same vision to their winery, which includes a sculpture garden as well as exhibitions—all paired with wines made from fruit sourced throughout the state.
3 ► The Walls
This winery offers both Rocks District savory reds and cutting-edge Red Mountain wines, with grape varieties that digress from cabernet norms. Taste, for instance, the touriga naçional and souzão based Stanley Groovy.
4 ► Corliss Estate
Corliss makes a commitment few wineries in Washington can match: Vintages see extended time in the barrel and in the bottle before release. This fall, the winery is releasing 2015 vintages, instead of 2018. These are cult wines, made in a rich, luxurious style. They’re ready to drink when released, but built for the long haul.
Since 1988, Seven Hills has focused on making wines more reserved than the Washington norm. It’s now owned by California giant Crimson Wine Group—though founders Casey and Vicky McClellan remain on, steadfastly producing some of the state’s best and longest lived Bordeaux-style wines.
6 ► Elephant Seven
Don’t be fooled by the whimsical label—an elephant floating away with a snout full of red balloons. Elephant Seven produces serious wines driven by fruit purity and simplicity. Several hail from Yellow Bird Vineyard, a site that highlights some excellent grenache and syrah in a part of Walla Walla known for cabernets.
7 ► Forgeron Cellars
You can get various Forgeron wines from the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, and larger Columbia Valley. But it’s always hung its hat on understated chardonnay and syrah, with the latter coming from the ever-excellent Boushey Vineyard.
8 ► Maison Bleue
While this winery once dedicated itself to the fruits of Yakima Valley, it subsequently relocated to Walla Walla and turned its attention to the renowned Rocks District—emphasizing fruit purity in its Rhône-style offerings.
Part of the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates family, this winery deftly explores an area of the valley north of downtown, where few else have planted. The wines, all reds, except a rosé, find something special there, like the mixture of red fruit and savory herb displayed in the exceptional, merlot-heavy Uriah.
This side project from longtime Washington winemaker Kendall Mix is genuinely singular, releasing wines that already have 10 to 15 years aging in the bottle. The winery takes care of all patient cellaring: You just get glorious cabernets and syrahs in their prime.
11 ► Kontos Cellars
Second-generation winemaker and sixth-generation Walla Wallan Cameron Kontos and his brother Chris make power-packed red wines, with generous fruit and plentiful oak spicing.
Winemaker Steve Wells left the East Coast and moved to Walla Walla Valley to make wine. He made the right choice, never getting in the way of his wines’ ample fruit intensity and balance. A number of the Time and Direction bottles focus on fruit from the Royal Slope, an area of the Columbia Valley that is quickly becoming one of Washington’s top syrah locations.
13 ► Morell Family Wines
Aryn Morell has an outsized imprint in Washington, overseeing winemaking for several top-tier producers (Matthews, Gård). Here, with his own brand, he creates everything from a shockingly good sauvignon blanc to a knockout malbec-dominant blend.
14 ► Charles Smith Wines
In 2016, Charles Smith (Wines of Substance) sold the namesake portion of his wine empire to Constellation Brands. No matter. The focus here remains on value wines, with the Kung Fu Girl Riesling still a standout.
1 ► Valdemar Estates
Established by a family with a 130-year winemaking history in Spain, Valdemar offers a visitor experience few in the valley can match, with expansive views of the Blue Mountains, exceptional Spanish tapas, outdoor seating, and water features. In addition to their nascent Washington offerings (their first releases were only a few hundred cases each), the winery also pours some of its Spanish wines, like Gran Reserva and Crianza.
2 ► Amavi Cellars
A sibling to nearby Pepper Bridge Winery, Amavi offers outdoor seating, sweeping views of the Blue Mountains, and cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and sémillon, many of which you can pick up for $25–$33.
3 ► Saviah Cellars
Don’t tell affable owner and winemaker Richard Funk nice guys finish last. In his 20 years in business, Funk has moved Saviah to the head of the pack, with a broad selection of well-priced wines, especially elegant syrahs and Bordeaux-style blends. The winery’s the Jack label, with wines from $15–$25, provides an unbeatable value.
People might come to Sleight of Hand for co-owner, winemaker, and audiophile Trey Busch’s extensive vinyl and rock poster collection, but they stay for the wines, such as the Psychedelic Syrah (as black olivey as a good tapenade) and the white peach and lime filled Magician Riesling.
The Washington label for Napa Valley luxury brand Duckhorn Vineyards, Canvasback emphasizes cabernet sauvignon from its Red Mountain vineyard. But it also makes limited amounts of syrah and cabernet from Walla Walla Valley as well as a fine counterpoint to those rich reds: a bone-dry, lip-smacking, high-acid riesling.
Set in the middle of its estate vineyard and surrounded by undulating hills, Va Piano is wine country as you imagine it: captivating vistas and commanding wines.
Majestic views of the Blue Mountains? Yup. Refined, structured, ageable red wines from estate vineyards, such as highly regarded Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills? Absolutely.
8 ► Northstar Winery
While this winery, part of the Chateau Ste. Michelle family, now serves red and white wines from throughout the state, the reason for its founding remains its draw: Inside its tasting room, looking onto the Blue Mountains, you’ll find a showcase for Washington merlot’s potential in the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys.
9 ► Tertulia Cellars
Tertulia has long made intriguing Rocks District wines. But its Elevation Vineyard wines take things to, yes, another level. This higher elevation site has a long growing season, which creates lower alcohol wines with a whole lot of acid and tannin structure.
Want to easily check out what’s going on across the Walla Walla and Columbia valleys? At Dusted Valley, brothers-in-law Chad Johnson and Cory Braunel source fruit from all over, including estate sites Stoney Vine and Southwind, with a focus on Bordeaux and Rhône-style reds. For a casual, value-priced entry point, see its Boomtown label.
11 ► Rasa Vineyards
Brothers Billo and Pinto Naravane left behind tech jobs to make wine. Billo, who serves as winemaker, followed up degrees from MIT and Stanford University with an MS in viticulture and enology from Stanford and an elite degree from the Institute of Masters of Wine. This is not an academic footnote: The wines are ecstatically meticulous. If you want to take tasting notes, bring graph paper.
12 ► Doubleback Winery
This winery, founded by local boy turned star NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, is located inside a reconstructed barn-style building. That may sound like a rural-chic vanity project, but Doubleback uses estate vineyards to put out exceptional cabernet sauvignon. Sister winery Bledsoe Family Wines in downtown Walla Walla offers more range, from pinot noir to chardonnay.
Washington wine has become largely known for its decadent reds. But Grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain) has something new to say. Founded by Matt and Kelly Austin, the winery champions “underdog” varieties in a reserved style: a lemberger pet-nat, a particularly vigorous albariño. The reds are light and nimble. In just a year and a half, Grosgrain has expanded the idea of what Washington wine can be. Not pictured on map
After spending its first few years in Woodinville, this project, working with estate fruit from Red Mountain and in Walla Walla, recently set up in the Rocks District in an old schoolhouse. These are opulent, topshelf wines with plenty of tannins holding it all together.
2 ► Rotie Cellars
The wines here pay homage to the Rhône Valley. Try the savory, syrah dominant Northern Red. If the winery stopped there, it’d easily be among the top of the Washington class, but Rotie also kicks out thrilling white wine blends—and a stunning grenache blanc. A new Rocks District tasting room hovers above its estate vineyard.
3 ► Cayuse Vineyards
When Christophe Baron planted his first vineyard on a cobblestone riverbed in 1997, he created a series of vineyard-designated, earthy, savory wines—singular to this region and truly among the best in the world. Alas, the winery is not open to the public and is mailing list only, though you can find occasional bottles in Walla Walla shops and in the secondary market—expect a profiteer’s markup.
1 ► Devona
Devona’s owner John Abbott, formerly the longtime winemaker at Abeja, crafts some of the state’s best chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, which balance immediate appeal with excellent cellaring potential.
2 ► Dunham Cellars
Founded in 1995, Dunham has come far, and is now known for its omnipresent Three Legged Red Wine, named after a winery dog. Bottles come at a variety of price points from the Trutina Red Blend to high-end Lewis Vineyard offerings—all worth it.
3 ► Buty Winery
Over the years, Buty has dedicated itself largely to savory red blends from estate vineyards in Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and Columbia Valley. Not to be missed though is the winery’s ode to Bordeaux blanc—a sémillon, sauv blanc, and muscadelle white.
Owners and winemakers Jay Krutulis and Matt Reilly left behind law and architecture careers respectively to study winemaking at Walla Walla Community College. They found kinship there and decided to start a winery together. Prospice, which debuted last year, is one of the most exciting entrants on the Washington wine stage in the last decade. These wines—syrahs, a cabernet sauvignon, a viognier—smack with finesse. Not pictured on map
Itä is one of five wineries in Walla Walla’s “incubator” buildings, facilities the city built to help newer producers find their footing. Owner and winemaker Kelsey Albro Itämeri focuses on grapes from the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where she is currently planting an estate vineyard. This year’s inaugural release has a couple of racy Les Collines vineyard sémillons, one aged in stainless steel and the other in neutral oak, that announce Itä as a producer to watch. Not pictured on map
1 ► Leonetti Cellar
Try the one that started it all in the valley in 1977. These are cellar-worthy wines, especially the revered cabernet sauvignon. While Leonetti is not open to the public, a careful eye will find bottles in Walla Walla and Seattle restaurants.
2 ► Tranche Estate
Located in its estate Blue Mountain Vineyard, Tranche’s winery presents grapevined and mountainous vistas. Luckily, what’s in the glass doesn’t disappoint either: consistently delicious Bordeaux- and Rhône-style wines.
College Cellars is the teaching winery for Walla Walla Community College’s viticulture and enology program, where budding winegrowers and winemakers learn their skills. In the glass that means wild experimentation and innovation—like a white wine released about a month after bottling.
4 ► Abeja
Abeja has one of Walla Walla Valley’s most charming locations, on a century-old restored farmstead. The wines match—venerated grapes, like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, vinted with energy.
Located in the obscenely scenic Upper Mill Creek area, this valley stalwart changed ownership in 2017, but has continued doing its thing. While luscious, ripe Bordeaux- and Rhône- style reds remain the focal points, a mouthwatering rosé is a nice swerve.
This winery’s setting in the Upper Mill Creek area is among the prettiest in the valley. Winemaker Anna Schafer has made her name on viognier and malbec, but the whole lineup is a delight.
7 ► Figgins
Chris Figgins’s parents founded the first winery in the valley, Leonetti Cellar. His own, Figgins, takes an old-world approach—focusing on a single vineyard per bottling. The red wine offers dense flavors and firm, brawny tannins, while the riesling pays tribute to the first wine the family made.
This cult winery works only with fruit from its estate vineyards in the Rocks District and in the relatively unexplored foothills of the Blue Mountains. The wines capture that area so singularly (black pepper!) that fans will know them with a whiff. Mailing list only but well worth seeking out.
Methods: To compile this list, Sean P. Sullivan selected wineries based on the overall quality of their wines, focusing on those that are local to that area, versus satellite tasting rooms for a winery located elsewhere.