Why should a person vacation in Walla Walla, Washington? There are many reasons, I can assure you. Whenever my fiancé and I mentioned we were taking a trip there, or even while we talked with the locals, we were met with the question of “Why Walla Walla?” The initial reasons were pretty straightforward, we had been working nonstop at our jobs, selling our individual homes, buying our home together, and tending to a number of other of life’s duties. We were tired and needed a break. What we didn’t need was an adventure, which is usually one of my goals when planning a trip. This was different. We enjoy wine and thought that would be a good starting point for planning a trip. After going through the list of US wine destinations we decided to look into Walla Walla.
Research began by checking flights, driving distances from Spokane, Seattle, and if there were other airports a few hours away. You can fly right into Walla Walla?! Yes, and it’s a small airport but it’s got everything you need, and it took all of 10 minutes to pick up the rental car and be on the road once we arrived. The airport is located minutes from hotels and B&Bs. Perhaps even more impressive is that it took about 15 minutes to park the car, return the keys and get through security for our return flight home. One more bonus, there are a group of wineries across the road from the airport. More about this later.
We stayed at Vine & Roses and loved every moment of it. I called and asked if there were any places nearby that we’d be able to grab a glass of wine at once we arrived. Sierra, of Vine & Roses, said not to worry about going out, she’d leave a bottle of wine out for us. A small gesture with a huge impact. When we arrived, we had the entire place to ourselves. It was GORGEOUS. There was a bottle of Sinclair Estate Vineyards Vixen on the counter with two glasses. We opened the wine, poured a couple glasses and set out for the back porch. It was so easy to relax and forget about work and responsibilities back home. Absolute perfection. Breakfast was served at 9am each morning and was the best meal we had each day, no contest. The ladies that run Vine & Roses are delightful to interact with and passionate about their work.
We also had an opportunity to check out another B&B, Green Gables, for dinner. They do an annual shrimp boil and in our research we thought it sounded like a nice way to spend an evening. Five courses with beer, wine, and lemonade for a very good price. Guaranteed seating and no decisions to make except what to drink. Perfect! The B&B was beautiful, the food incredible and the company were quite enjoyable.
Walla Walla’s wine country is divided into four regions: West, Downtown, East and South Sides. We decided that since we had three days we’d start each day as far west, east or south as possible and work our way back to downtown where we’d explore a few more tasting rooms before dinner.
Day One we headed WEST and added a lavender farm to our agenda. The wineries we tasted were Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No 41, Waterbrook and Long Shadows. The high point of the west side was Long Shadows. Normally they offer tastings by appointment but we happened to plan our trip during the annual wine festival so all wineries were open and well-staffed the entire time we were in Walla Walla. All of Long Shadows’ wine was incredible and the tasting staff are incredibly knowledgeable without seeming a bit pretentious. A friendly tip: skip the lavender farm, the wineries have more lavender than the farm did, it’s prettier incorporated in their landscaping and the lavender goods sold in the shop can be purchased anywhere (even our local co-op in Minneapolis had the same essential oils and sachets).
After a day of wine tasting, we had dinner at T. Maccarone’s, an Italian bistro in the downtown area. Upon entering, it is a stylish restaurant that could easily have been in any major city. There was no small town feel to the décor or the menu. The staff were friendly and attentive. The food was expertly prepared and served at a very nice pace. There were adequate service staff that anticipated our every need without hovering.
Day Two we decided to take it a little easier and not start drinking wine as soon as the wineries opened. We drove EAST toward aMaurice Cellars and turned down Five Mile Road just to see where it went. The views going east were gorgeous, which we were told by the locals. Head east or south for great scenery. They weren’t lying. We were mesmerized by the rolling hills of wheat, the Blue Mountains, the seemingly endless fields in varying shades of greens and tans. We continued to drive turning in whichever direction looked the most interesting. No turn disappointed. At one point we were on Buroker Road, which is a relatively short and straight road that’s remarkable because when standing or driving on it one side was tall, majestic wheat, the other was a field of vibrant green chickpeas. A simple gravel road divided them and it was on this road that Paul proposed to me. After the proposal we were ready to celebrate with some wine and went to aMaurice Cellars. From there we tasted wine at Spring Valley Ranch and then we went to Monteillet Fromagerie. The fromagerie offered a tasting of their products, just as the wineries do. There was wine available to purchase and we received a great lesson on cheese-making and the different types of goat and sheep’s milk cheeses offered. After our snack of cheese we went back to downtown to work our way through some more of the tasting rooms in town before going to the shrimp boil.
Day Three’s agenda was the SOUTH side. We were told by multiple people that we should grab a picnic lunch and plan on eating at a vineyard while taking in the incredible views. We picked up some sandwiches at Graze that we later enjoyed on the patio at Pepper Bridge Winery. We started our tasting journey at Flying Trout and Waters Winery and were given some great suggestions for other wineries in the area that weren’t in the wine guide books. We continued south to Castillo de Feliciana, and Saviah Cellars. These were some of the best wines we tasted while in Walla Walla.
After a day of wine tasting and more great scenery we went to Jimgermanbar for a snack and a cocktail and we also sampled local beer at Laht Neppur, both in nearby Waitsburg. Our last dinner in Walla Walla was a cheeseburger with Walla Walla sweet onion straws from Whitehouse-Crawford. The restaurant had charm and an impressive menu. If the cheeseburger hadn’t been recommended by a few people we had met throughout our trip, it would’ve been difficult to decide on an entrée. The food we saw around us looked as good as it smelled. Our cheeseburgers were as good as we were told and there were no regrets in ordering them.
Day Four wasn’t a full day and we initially didn’t have much of a plan beyond breakfast and checking out. While visiting the other wineries the AIRPORT region (included in the East section of the wine guides) was often mentioned for having some really good options. After shipping our current cache of wine home, we drove to the airport. While this area is not initially the photographic gem the other regions were, the beauty was more creative and it took entering the buildings to appreciate it. This region is located on a former Air Force base with the tasting rooms inhabiting former airplane hangars. These tasting rooms often displayed art by local artists, had comfortable and tasteful interiors one wouldn’t expect with such a basic shell exterior. Beyond the impressive tasting room design, the wines were quite good also. We started at Dunham Cellars and worked our way through CAVU Cellars and Buty Winery before heading over to the airport.
What else can you do in Walla Walla besides drink wine? Pioneer Park is a beautiful park in town that has an aviary, rose garden, and is meticulously maintained. As peaceful as it is beautiful, it’s a nice place to take a leisurely walk, feed the ducks, or grab a seat and read the paper or a book. There are a number of guides for walking tours of the town, each pointing out historic topics such as homes or notable buildings or paths. Honestly, the best thing to do is relax, with or without wine. The people are delightful, genuinely nice and helpful without overdoing it and proud to guide you through their town and what it has to offer.
I can’t wrap up this piece without mentioning a few things about Walla Walla. First, it takes 20 minutes or less to get anywhere, even the vineyards furthest out on the maps. Keep this in mind when going wine tasting, there isn’t much time or distance in between the wineries to process what you previously tasted. The other notable mention is that if you’re looking for a place with vibrant nightlife, Walla Walla might not be the place for you. It’s pretty quiet after about 10pm as the locals were pretty open about how they enjoy spending time at home with their groups of friends. There are a few bars open later that had great beer and wine options, some had great cocktails lists too. It’s not that there isn’t anything open after 10pm, it’s just low-key and casual.
Wineries You Can’t Miss:
Long Shadows (West)
Dunham Cellars (Airport/East)
Trust Cellars (Downtown)
Spring Valley (Tasting Room-Downtown, Ranch-East)
Saviah Cellars (South)
Pepper Bridge Winery (South)
How to Get Your Wine Home:
-Alaskan Airlines will check one case per person for FREE
-Depending on how much wine you purchase at any given winery, they may ship it for a fee. You may be able to include a bottle or more from other wineries to fill a case too.
-There are UPS, FedEx, and other shipping businesses in Walla Walla. They are VERY expensive. It’s worth asking in tasting rooms if they’ll ship, you’ll save enough to buy a few more bottles.