Wine & Travel

Snooth User: jtryka

My trip to Walla Walla

Posted by jtryka, Jul 6, 2013.

Had a great trip to Walla Walla last week (just got back on Tuesday) and had a lovely time tasting wines and touring vineyards.  I'll give you the quick recap here and then provide links to my blog with more details. 

I arrived late night on Wednesday the 26th, and then started tasting wine on the 26th.  My first stop on  the tour was the Seven Hills tasting room, where I had the chance to order some wonderful library selections (my oldest current vintage is a 2000 Cabernet) including a number from the 1990s and even a 1992  Walla Walla Cab which is the year I graduated college!  Unfortunately Julie Titus the tasting room manager wasn't there, so I couldn't say hi.  Next I was off for lunch at Brasserie Four, which I quickly fell in love with.  I had the salmon tartar over mixed greens for lunch along with a bowl of rabbit stew (last time I had lepin was in Paris in 1995!).  As I sat on the patio having lunch I saw someone get a huge plate of meat so I asked what it was and my server told me it was the braised lamb shoulder with lentils and grilled garlic scapes, so guess where I had dinner that night!  Here's a link to the first day 1 blog post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

After lunch I went over to the Marcus Whitman Hotel to do some tasting at TERO and Flying Trout.  I tried the Tero Red, and it was nice, but I thought it was overpriced at $25, but then again their better wines I thought were underpriced at $35!  Overall it was a fun time and met some lovely people from the Seattle area and tasted some great wines.  Here's a link to that tasting: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Day 2 I had to go off to Pendleton for a plant tour (you didn't think I could do no work while on vacation did you?) then back to Lowden for the Honor Society 30th Anniversary celebration at L'Ecole No. 41, my favorite winery (and I guess that being in the Honor Society means I spend way too much money with them!)!  It was so hot out (from then on, the coolest it was in Walla Walla was 95 and when I left on Tuesday it was supposed to be 108!) so it was a relief to have our first taste in the barrel room where it was 58 degrees.  We had some lovely hors d'oeuvres made by the cullinary school and some great wines, including library tastings of the 1997 Walla Walla Merlot and the 2002 Walla Walla Syrah (I ordered a couple bottles of each!).  We had a great toast of 2004 Ferguson by Marty Clubb the proprietor and then headed into the school house for barrel tastings of the 2011 Perigee and the 2011 Ferguson (a Bordeaux blend from the new Ferguson vineyard) and a 5-year vertical of the Perigee (my favorite between the Perigee and Apogee).  Here's a link to the day 2 post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Day 3 was a whirlwind, starting in the morning with a tour of the Ferguson and Seven Hills vineyards.  It was a great guided tour from Marty Clubb and Jaime Chalk from L'Ecole, showing us the bottom of the valley (the "Rocks") which is up for debate as becoming its own AVA, then up the hill to the newly planted (2008) Ferguson vineyard, which is up at about 1,450 feet, well above the 1,200 foot cutoff from the flood waters and silt that created much of the Walla Walla Valley.  Up at the top, at Ferguson there is very little soil above the basalt, creating a much different terroir and very different wines.  The vines must work harder, and their roots dig right into the basalt creating a much more pronounced minerality to the wines.  In the barrel sample of Ferguson we tasted much more minerality, including a blood iron taste that comes right from the basalt.  We then went down the hill to the Seven Hills Vineyard and tasted wines at the Gazebo (it was beautiful, with vine covered roof and a view of the Blue Mountains) and we tasted some more of the Luminesce, as well as the barrel samples of the 2011 Perigee and 2011 Ferguson.  A spectacular tour overall, and I deeply thank the folks at L'Ecole for having me along!  Here's a link to the blog post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Next, it was on to more tastings (though I did stop at the farmers market for some Walla Walla sweets and elephant garlic to bring home!).  My next stop was the newly opened tasting room for Maison Bleue which is more known for its white wines, but they had a Grenache there that I just fell in love with!  And to show what a small community Walla Walla is, I was talking to the tasting room folks and found out that Dawn, the manager used to work at Seven Hills and was trained by Julie Titus, and Brandon who was just helping out on this second weekend being open was the former tasting room manager at L'Ecole.  And as I was tasting and having a glass of Grenache, who should come in for a tasting than Jaime Chalk from L'Ecole!  I felt like I was on an episode of Andy Griffith!  Next stop was Rotie Cellars, which makes a great variety of Rhone style blends, I tasted a few of them and ordered a couple bottles (at this point I still wasn't convinced to let American Airlines and the TSA handle a case of wine!).  Overall a great afternoon, and here's a link to the blog post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

My last tasting of the day was at Cardareta Cellars which was a the far east end of Main Street, but they have a lovely tasting room and some great wines!  There were some great photos of the history of the company which stretches back to the lumber days, including some really big trees being cut down (a number of their wines draw their names from this history) as well as the great wood tables in the tasting room.  I'll admit it was the end of a hot day, so I probably didn't put as much effort into this one as I should have, but I would highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.  Here's a link to the post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Sunday, should be a quiet day, but not when you're tasting wine in Walla Walla!  I started the day having breakfast at Bacon & Eggs, which I highly recommend.  As I was sitting at the counter, the server (who I later learned was one of the proprietors) asked me what I wanted and since I couldn't decide I told her to surprise me!  And she did, by ordering the eggs benedict, which was one of the two things on the menu I couldn't decide between!  So as we were talking she learned I was from Michigan and told me that she had graduated from Grand Valley State University where I taught a class as an adjunct last fall.  Then she asked me if I could do her a big favor and deliver a letter to a friend of hers back in Grand Rapids, and how could I refuse?  Well it turns out her friend works a block away from my office, such a small world!

After breakfast it was back to tasting, and I started at Mark Ryan Winery, which is interesting as he is the first Woodinville winery to open a tasting room in Walla Walla (though many Walla Walla wineries have tasting rooms in Woodinville).  The first thing I loved was that the tasting room was cold!  It was almost 100 degrees out and coming into a 68 degree tasting room was awesome!  The second thing I loved as a Gen Xer was that he named his wines after Pearl Jam songs, so what's not to like.  Oh and the wines were just awesome (I spent $160 on 4 bottles and thought it was a bargain!),  Next stop the Forgeron tasting room, which I stopped at in 2012 but never joined their club, since I want to limit that.  Well since I really have come to like their wines, I decided to join and order some current and library wines including a 2007 Klipsun Merlot and a 2002-04 Vertical of their Cabernet.  A fun tasting and some really nice wines.  Next stop was the joint tasting room of Mansion Creek and Plumb Cellars where I ran into another familiar face, Michael Mettler, a marketing pro in the wine industry and who I met at TERO and who is also known as Bradley Cooper's stunt double (see the photos in the blog post if you don't believe me!).  They had some nice wines and I bought a couple bottles.  Then the final stop of the day, Fort Walla Walla Cellars where I met some wonderful fun people from the Tri-Cities and Seattle and tasted (and bought) some nice wines.  Here's a link to that post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Last day of tasting was Monday, and I tried to take it easy since it was going to be well over 100 degrees that day (and surprisingly it was humid too! no dry heat on this trip).  I started at Otis Kenyon which had some nice wines to taste, but after tasting I took a gamble and bought a bottle of the 2008 Merlot from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards that I didn't taste.  Next up Sapolil Cellars where they had some very nice wines and some great artwork on their labels!  They also have a great bar with a copper top that turns into a regular bar in the evenings.  Next stop was Da Ma Wines where I was greeted by a sweet little dog named Gracie!  The wines are entirely made by women, and they were very nice, though my absolute favorite was the 2007 Walla Walla Sangiovese which was spectacular!  When I tasted it I was immediately transported back to Tuscany with spice, leather and structure that a great Sangiovese can exhibit.  And it was only $25!  So I ordered 4 bottles before I left!  Last stop of my last day was Sinclair Estates which had some nice whites (great on a hot day!) and the 2009 Vixen red blend which was surprisingly nice despite the heat.  Here's a link to my last day's blog post: http://allaloneonaplanetfullofpeopl...

Well, that's it!  I hope you enjoyed my vacation at least half as much as I did!


Reply by napagirl68, Jul 7, 2013.

THANK YOU for this!  Great write up, and sounds like a great trip.  I will read further at the links you provided to your blog. 

IMO, Walla walla has such potential... I've tasted a few, but only those available via wine shops here in California.  I've always wanted to do a little trip up to taste.

May I ask, how did you decide to visit these particular wineries? 

Reply by jtryka, Jul 7, 2013.

Napagirl, thanks for the kind words, the best part about the links will be the photos (though some are not so good since I did all the blog posts from my phone!).  As for deciding which wineries to visit it goes back a long way as my first visit to Walla Walla was back in 2001 when I was living in Portland and a friend of mine moved to Spokane.  She convinced me to stop in Walla Walla on the way to see her in Spokane for the weekend, though I'm not sure it was actually on the way!  Back then, US 12 was a simple 2-lane road that went through Walla Walla, and at the west end there was Woodward Canyon and L'Ecole, and then a mile or so up there was Three Rivers and that was about it until you got into town and then you had Seven Hills and a few others.  Back then there might have been a dozen or so wineries all together, while today there are more than 150!  Those initial relationships I developed at those wineries led me to the others that I've visited over the years, as I ask for recommendations on where else I should visit.  As you can see, it's a small and tightly knit community so it's easy for me to visit wineries based on the recommendations of the folks I know.  So on this trip I  visited Maison Bleue, Mark Ryan, Sapolil and Rotie based on the suggestion of the folks at L'Ecole.  Otis Kenyon and Fort Walla Walla came from suggestions by Forgeron, which itself was suggested to me on my visit last year by the folks at Seven Hills who also recommended I visit TERO.  And others were just happenstance, for instance Mansion Creek and Plumb Cellars I visited simply because they put out a sign on the sidewalk on Main Street as their tasting room was about a half block off Main, and then I was surprised to see Michael there who I met a couple days earlier at TERO.

Serendipity and trusted recommendations!

Reply by JonDerry, Jul 7, 2013.

From what I've heard Maison Bleue is more known for its reds, but either way you slice it - one of the top and most consistent WA wineries. Glad you had a great time.

Who would you pick between Maison Bleue and Rotie?

Reply by EMark, Jul 7, 2013.

Wow, that sounds like an amazing trip.  Unfortunate about the muggy heat, but it appears you made the best of it.

That lamb shank over lentils really sounds wonderful.

Reply by jtryka, Jul 7, 2013.

JONDERRY - I was just going by what I heard, and as for Maison Bleue vs. Rotie, they were both good but their wines struck me very differently, the Maison Bleue Le Midi Grenache just knocked my socks off, but their other blends were somewhat more subdued when it came to the balance of fruit and spice that I was expecting.  Rotie had some wonderful Rhone style blends but in some ways they were almost too spicy with less emphasis on the fruit character of the blends.  At least that's what I got out of it, and of course the weather could have played a role too as the 2 block walk in the heat and the warmer temperature of the Rotie tasting room no doubt played a role in my perceptions.  In any case, in a cage match between the two, I would probably take Maison Bleue just because I love that Grenache!

EMARK - no worries on the muggy heat, I've got plenty of that now that I'm back in Michigan! And yes that lamb shank was delicious, Brasserie Four is a new favorite of mine along with Green Spoon, T-Mac's and Graze (had an awesome flank steak sandwich, salad, brownie and glass of L'Ecole red wine for less than $20 for lunch!).  My facebook friends and twitter followers got to see more then their share of my meals in Walla Walla!

Reply by jtryka, Jul 14, 2013.

I forgot to mention, as a gift for attending the 30th anniversary celebration at L'Ecole, we received a copy of "Spectacular Wineries of Washington" a great coffee table book about Washington wineries signed by Marty Clubb, so there may be good information in there for those who are interested.

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