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Self-Guided Wine Tour of Walla Walla

Self-Guided Wine Tour of Walla Walla Wine Region

Self-Guided Tour of Walla Walla

Want to take a wine tour of Walla Walla? Get ready for some beautiful drives. With more than 3,000 acres in both Washington and Oregon make up Walla Walla Valley. However, Walla Walla AVA is situated in Washington State. The Walla Walla Valley is the second American Viticultural Area in Washington (AVA). The acreage is planted with red grapes on around 95% of it and white grapes on the remaining 5%. Try some Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon while you are there, as they are particularly well-known in the area. There are six distinct wine districts in the Walla Walla Valley: Westside, Downtown, Airport, Eastside, Southside, and Oregon.

Layout

The Walla Walla Valley’s soils are primarily made up of wind-deposited loess, which gives grapes good drainage. Since there is little rainfall in the area, irrigation is necessary. During the 200-day growing season, there are hot days and chilly nights. As cold air descends from the Blue Mountains and becomes trapped in the valleys of the Snake and Columbia rivers, the valley is susceptible to abrupt temperature changes. Although typically milder than the nearby Columbia Valley AVA, lows in the winter can reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius). Hardiness zone 7a covers the majority of the area. After the Rogue Valley, the southern portion of the Walla Walla Valley stretches into Oregon and is one of the warmer wine-growing locations there. A significant planting in this region is Syrah.

Walla Walla Valley

Walla Walla Valley

What is the Overview of Walla Walla?

The Walla Walla Valley AVA between eastern Oregon and Washington, which spans the state’s boundary, may come as a surprise to people who only associate Oregon with the wild Pacific coast and towering Douglas fir woods. The Walla Walla Valley AVA is situated inside the Columbia Valley appellation, about 250 miles (400 km) east of Portland and away from the marine impact of the Pacific.

The Walla Walla Valley AVA is located at latitude 46° N, halfway between Bordeaux and Burgundy. Its bedrock is made of fractured basalt that was set down 15 million years ago, and its soils are made up of sand and gravel that were dumped by ancient floods and are coated with wind-deposited silts. Along with delicious strawberries and decadently sweet onions, those soils also yield some of the best Syrahs, Cabernets, and Merlots in the world. Winegrowers are practicing their trade in the “land of many waters,” which is this oasis in the vast sagebrush desert that sprawls across America’s northwest interior, from the foothills of the magnificent Blue Mountains to the arid regions of the valley’s west, building on a nearly four-decade-old tradition.

The thriving tiny town of Walla Walla in Washington serves as a hub for many tourists. You should go to the area because there are numerous vineyards nearby, as well as hiking, golfing, and sightseeing opportunities. The Milton-Freewater AVA’s Rocks District, located on the Oregon side (only 10 minutes south), gets its name from the little farming town that is within its bounds. Some of the most acclaimed and sought-after wine grapes in the entire Northwest are produced in the cobblestone vines that encircle the town of Milton-Freewater.

What is the Best Time to Visit Walla Walla Wine Region?

A self-guided tour of Walla Walla is, in our opinion, best visited in the spring and fall. Bud break, budding flowers, and milder temperatures—yet warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities—are all signs of spring. Experience harvest in the fall and take advantage of the area’s outdoor haven.

What is the History of Walla Walla?

Narcissa Whitman (1808–1847), a Walla Walla Valley–bound missionary, saw grapevines and wine at Fort Vancouver when she arrived there in 1836. It’s conceivable that French Canadian fur traders who had arrived in the region that became known as “Frenchtown” at that time also planted grapevines in Walla Walla Valley. It is known that several early immigrants in the region planted several European grape varietals they had acquired from the Willamette Valley and France in the late 1850s and early 1860s. In the late half of the nineteenth century, Italian immigrants also established vines and produced wine.

Early in the 1970s, Concord grape vineyards for juice production as well as some commercial endeavors to cultivate vinifera grapes and make the wine were planted in the Walla Walla Valley. Leonetti Cellar, which Gary Figgins bonded in 1977, was the first winery to make Walla Walla’s potential for a modern wine business known. These wineries’ merlots and cabernet sauvignons won prestigious awards in the 1980s. In 1984, the Walla Walla Valley was designated as an exceptional American Viticultural Area (AVA), with only four wineries and about 60 acres of vineyards.

What are the Sub-regions of the Walla Walla wine region?

The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater is the only sub-AVA that exists in Walla Walla at the moment. The entire Walla Walla Valley in Oregon contains this AVA. The Rocks, as implied by its name, stands out from the rest of the valley due to its uniform cobblestone soils, which were left behind by the Walla Walla River during the last ice age. The main grape variety grown here is Syrah, which produces bold, strong red wines.  As one of the smallest AVAs in Oregon, the officially designated region has 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares), and only 340 acres (140 hectares) are planted with vines.

The Rocks District AVA scenery

The Rocks District AVA scenery

What are the Best Wine Grapes Grown In Walla Walla?

The top five grape varieties grown in these vineyards are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. In the Walla Walla Valley AVA, more than half of the vineyard plantings are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. It would be difficult to visit a Walla Walla winery where the tasting list did not include at least one of these grape varieties.

What are the Historical Sites in Walla Walla?

The following are some of the most interesting historical sites for you to enjoy on a self-guided wine tour of Walla Walla:

  1. Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Midway through the 1800s, the Whitmans and other pioneers founded this mission. The Whitmans and eleven other immigrants were slaughtered in an attack on the mission by a group of Cayuse in 1847. The attack led to the Cayuse Nation’s dissolution and guaranteed that Oregon would become a US territory.

  1. Fort Walla Walla Museum

The Fort Walla Walla Museum, which is situated on the grounds of a 19th-century military fort, offers a fun and instructive experience for the whole family. The Museum has five enormous exhibit halls that can hold thousands of objects, a historic pioneer hamlet made up of 17 buildings, and lovely grounds. A free museum shop containing literature, souvenirs inspired by local history, commodities from the area, and other items is also located in the entrance building.

  1. Kirkman House Museum

The Kirkman House is a genuine illustration of the opulent 1880s, a decade that saw significant growth for Walla Walla in both great homes and commercial structures in the city’s center. The Kirkman house is one of the most impressive Victorian buildings in the Northwest. William Kirkman, who left Bolton, England in the middle of the 19th century and found financial success in the West with livestock, built it. Before the family donated the house to Whitman College in 1919, the Kirkman family lived there for three generations starting in 1880.

What are the Best Wineries in Walla Walla?

Walla Walla is well known for being one of the key wine-producing regions in the US. The region not only has a stellar reputation for wine but also has a record number of wineries. The following are some of the best wineries you should visit on your self-guided tour of Walla Walla:

  1. Reininger Winery

Reininger Winery, located exactly in the midst of the Walla Walla Valley and right off Old Highway 12, is the brainchild of Chuck Reininger. It was established in 1997 and was initially situated at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, but in 2004 it relocated to a larger area just west of Walla Walla. Currently, it has a tasting room and a winery measuring 15,000 square feet. Reininger was listed in the top 100 wineries by Wine & Spirits Magazine Buying Guide in 2005 and 2006

  1. L’Ecole No 41

One of the top vineyards in Walla Walla is this family-run winery. The L’Ecole No 41 winery, which produces exceptional artisanal wines like their Estate Merlot and Ferguson Bordeaux blend, is located in the former Frenchtown School building next to Woodward Canyon. The latter was awarded the Best Bordeaux Blend in the World accolade at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards. The following vineyards provide the grapes: Columbia Valley, Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, and Estate Ferguson.

  1. Itä Wines

The current vineyards for Itä Wines, which bear the names of its founder Kelsey Albro Itämeri and Les Collines and Breezy Slop Vineyard, respectively, are located next to the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla and not far from the Washington state line. Itä’s 2019 Semillon from Les Collines, 2019 Merlot, and 2019 Pinot Noir from Breezy Slope Vineyard are among the best wines.

Where Should I Eat in Walla Walla?

Good wine goes well with good cuisine, and Walla Walla’s wine boom has created a genuinely spectacular restaurant scene. Within a few blocks, one may find outstanding French, Italian, Mexican, Southern, and Mediterranean food, as well as conventional diner fare and a few top-notch bakeries. Here are the best places to eat when visiting the region:

  1. Valdemar Estates Winery

Because it is owned and run by a fifth-generation Spanish winemaking family, Valdemar Estates stands out among Walla Walla wineries for its international heritage. It also boasts the only vineyard restaurant in Walla Walla where they serve a wide variety of traditional tapas that go well with their wine selections, such as Iberico ham, stuffed peppers, and boquerones.

  1. Eritage Restaurant and Bar

An open kitchen with a wood-fired grill as its focal point delivers a seasonal menu with an emphasis on fresh, locally produced foods at the restaurant at the exclusive Eritage Resort, located in the rolling hills north of the city. Standouts include grilled meats and excellent veggie dishes.

  1. Saffron

This Walla Walla staple from the Mediterranean has a welcoming closeness. Every item, from tagines to flatbreads to kibbeh to tabouleh, is prepared with a certain level of expertise.

  1. Graze

With a little bit of attitude, Graze is a sandwich shop. Banh mi, pulled pork tortas, and a panini with chicken, bacon, brie, and caramelized onions are available along with classics like pastrami and turkey with provolone.

Where Should I Stay in Walla Walla?

The following is a list of some of the best accommodations in the Walla Walla wine region:

  • Inn at Abeja

The Inn at Abeja offers its visitors a rejuvenating, one-of-a-kind wine-country experience. It is situated on a gorgeous, 38-acre ancient farmstead next to the renowned Abeja winery. The original barns on the property were carefully transformed into the Inn. Private rooms, cottages, suites, and a sizable farmhouse now offer visitors to take a trip down memory lane while still taking advantage of all the contemporary comforts of a wine country hideaway.

  • Eritage Resort

Eritage is a stunning 300-acre property with 10 luxury suites and 10 lakefront bungalows that are tucked away in the rolling vineyards and wheat fields, only minutes from downtown Walla Walla. With a menu that emphasizes locally grown foods acquired from family farmers and ranchers, the food is as amazing as the surroundings. The bar and restaurant at Eritage also feature old-world cuisine and local Washington vineyards.

  • Cameo Heights Mansion

Cameo Heights, billed as Washington’s most romantic bed & breakfast, offers visitors a quaint, boutique hotel experience. The 143-acre Walla Walla River Vineyard and orchards surround the home, creating a tranquil, rural setting ideal for couples seeking a romantic escape.

How May I Save Money in Walla Walla?

Given that there are six primary regions with numerous Walla Walla wineries and tasting rooms, tours are pleasant and convenient ways to visit them all. To create their own itinerary, visitors can select from a variety of expert-led excursions as well as various forms of transportation like shuttles and vehicle rentals. One of the best ways to save money is to avoid expensive accommodations and transportation. It is good to stay near the wineries and other sites you intend to visit. This will cut transportation costs.

Conclusion

Walla Walla wine region is a must-go for wine lovers. Starting from the location, which is in both Washington and Oregon States, to the beautiful layout, the region offers visitors the best experiences. The wine region has a long history of wine growing in the New World, starting from the first vines planted by missionaries in the early 1800s. Walla Walla has more than 150 wineries known for producing the best wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec grape varieties. The region boasts of hosting several historic sites, including museums as well as excellent eateries with amazing and diverse foods.

The vibe: A person does not just happen onto Walla Walla Valley. To get there, you must exert some effort. This is why it is so distinctive. Driving from Portland or Seattle is worthwhile if you like road trips. If you do, you will witness the dramatic transition of the region’s landscape from the lush, northwest mountains to the parched, rolling hills of Eastern Washington.

Sources:

  • Walla Walla Valley Wine website
  • Wine Guide – Walla Walla Valley Wine

Want to read more on wine tours of Walla Walla? Try these books!

Lonely Planet Wine Trails - Australia & New Zealand 1 (Lonely Planet Food)From Vines to Wines, 5th Edition- The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine

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