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The Cabernet Sauvignon block at Basel Cellars. (Image: Frank Guanco)

24 hours in Walla Walla



Earlier this month, I was invited by Buick to test drive a few of their vehicles and take in Walla Walla for a quick overnight in Washington's wine country. As I've never been to Walla Walla, I naturally said 'yes.' Here is my recount as I lived to tell the tale of a wine nerd's first visit to Walla Walla.

I've written about wine getaways to Napa Valley and Sonoma County, but I've never visited Walla Walla. I've heard great things from other wine people about Walla Walla; how it's an up-and-coming tourist area, how there are great restaurants dotting the town, and that there are tasting rooms pouring wines representative of Washington. But I still never made it to that part of our state. While flights to Walla Walla (or the Tri-Cities) are easy and it's a five-hour drive there, I just never made my way east. So when I had the opportunity to visit, I had to take it. And I loved it. Any wine drinker would love it.

Walla Walla as a wine region is definitely a destination. Hundreds of wineries, tasting rooms, and vineyards are around every corner. As we drove in from Pasco's airport; the plan for the group was to visit Woodward Canyon and have lunch at Woodward Canyon's Reserve House. But as we were partaking in the Woodward Canyon suite of wine, their spry non-vintage Red Wine, and the nuanced 2012 Artist Series, my thoughts started to turn to lunch. The Reserve House at Woodward Canyon is only open for lunch and much of their produce is sourced from their garden. I started with a Horiatiki salad flecked with touches of Greece, but pacing issues slowed our lunch down to a crawl. Alas, the challenges of a party of 14 ordering at once to what is probably a small kitchen amplified our leisurely pace of the afternoon.

Next up on our roving tour of Walla Walla was Garrison Creek Cellars and their tasting room and production facility situated on a vineyard. Garrison Creek features a handful of single varietal wines for their latest release and source much of their fruit from their Les Collines vineyards. If it's hot in Walla Walla when you visit Garrison Creek, be sure to ask for a building tour and take in their cellar room. We were fortunate to taste some barrel samples of their 2012 wines amongst the cool climes below ground. Stylistically, Garrison Creek wines are bold and powerful, foretelling of their use of new French Oak for their wines.

We closed our wine tasting tour at Basel Cellars. This huge facility has resort rooms available to rent, their tasting room, and their production facility on premises. The vibe at Basel Cellars was casual and relaxed. As soon as you pull up to the space you'll see drinking games like Jenga, Cornhole, and a putting green surrounding you. The fun, irreverent atmosphere carries through with the staff like Joshua 'Woody' Wood, Basel Cellars' hospitality manager making sure you have a good time. Just like Basel Cellars vibe, their wines are fun and easygoing too. From their Entre-deux-Mers-esque Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend to their 'Inspired' blend of Cab Franc and Merlot, their wines were crowd-pleasers. According to Woody, their tasting room in Woodinville should be open sometime in June.

When it comes to Walla Walla food, we had dinner reservations at Whitehouse-Crawford; a refined restaurant bathed in gauzy off-white. Be sure to order their asparagus if it's on the menu. I've heard so much about Walla Walla restaurants that it was great to finally try one of these places. Another eatery of note was Bacon & Eggs; be sure to visit for breakfast before you get out of town and partake in their biscuits & gravy or their cornbread. And if you want something other then wine, Bacon & Eggs also has growler fills on tap.

For accommodations, the Marcus Whitman Hotel is a beacon for travelers. It's location in downtown Walla Walla is close to restaurants, tasting rooms (I thought about visiting Charles Smith, but their winery is coming to Georgetown this summer), and the Sunday farmers market. It was next to Whitehouse-Crawford and within walking distance to Public House 124 on Main Street; a bar serving craft cocktails and pub food to sate those desires. As you're in Walla Walla and wine tasting is in the cards, downtown Walla Walla has tasting rooms by the dozens. On this visit, Otis Kenyon and Trust Cellars were on my hitlist. I've been a fan of Otis Kenyon since I first tried their Merlot years ago. Their Malbec was drinking quite well. I've been a fan of Trust Cellars since I learnt of them at a Stephen Tanzer tasting many summers ago and they did not disappoint. Their red wines were delicious with their Stones Throw having complexity of flavor and vision that will surprise any wino.

But for such a short visit, there is much, much more that I'd like to see in Walla Walla. I'd like to visit Gramercy Cellars, àMaurice, Long Shadows, Sleight of Hand, and a lot more wineries. I'd like to eat at Saffron, Brasserie Four, and random hole-in-the-wall spots. I'd like to dive in and feel the town and see how it can grow to further become a destination on par with Napa (if it even wants that). But ultimately, I'll need to just go back and take in Walla Walla. An overnight just scratched the surface and I'm looking forward to my return.

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