Walla Walla Valley

The Most Exciting, Little-Known Viticulture Area in the U.S.

On the 45-minute flight from Seattle to Walla Walla in far southeastern Washington, the incredible forest-filled mountains off to the left slowly merge into the recently harvested, expansive wheat fields to the Walla Walla area. Almost totally surrounded by small mountain ranges, Walla Walla is a breathtaking, friendly town of around 30,000, and for oenophiles, the most exciting, almost-undiscovered site in the U.S. for either a wine visit or an investment in vineyard land, which currently is 10 to 20 times less expensive than vineyard land in Napa Valley.

Denman and Marijo Moody with Marty Clubb, owner and winemaker at L’Ecole No. 41 Winery.

The burgeoning wine scene in Walla Walla is fascinating. I felt like I was in Sonoma in 1978. Of all the wines my wife and I tasted, here are the best of the best – all highly recommended:

Abeja Winery and Inn

This is not only the premier historic place to stay, it is also a winery.  Tasted with winemaker Daniel Wampfler: Chardonnay Washington State 2016 – $40; Merlot Columbia Valley 2015 – $45; Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2015  – $52.

Cayuse Vineyards

Tasted with vigneron Christophe Baron and president Trevor Dorland:  No Girls Grenache Walla Walla Valley La Paciencia Vineyard 2014 – $75; Camaspelo Walla Walla Valley Red Wine (approximately 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot) 2014 – $80; Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard (with 5% Viognier) 2014 – $80.

L’Ecole No. 41 Winery

Tasted with owner and winemaker Marty Clubb and General Manager Constance Savage:  Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2017 – $16; Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2016 – $20; Merlot Columbia Valley 2015 – $25; Estate Perigree Walla Walla Valley Seven Hills Vineyard 2015 – $55; Ferguson Bordeaux Blend 2015  – $65. The 2011 was named the best Bordeaux Blend in the world at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Doubleback Winery

Owned by former NFL star Drew Bledsoe. Tasted with winemaker Josh McDaniels:  Elizabeth Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2017 – $38; Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2016 – $48; Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2016 – $99; Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve 2016 – $145.

Long Shadows Vintners: Gilles Nicault, Long Shadows Director of Winemaking and Viticulture; Michel Rolland, Pedestal Merlot; Allen Shoup, founder; John Duval, Sequel Syrah; Philippe Melka, Pirouette Red Wine and Randy Dunn, Feather Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dunham Cellars

Tasted with owner Joanne Dunham:  Shirley Mays Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2016 – $25; Three Legged Red (Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot) 2016 – $19; Trutina Columbia Valley Red 2015 – $35; Cabernet Sauvignon XX Columbia Valley  – $45; Syrah Columbia Valley 2014 – $35.

Castillo de Feliciano

Vineyard and Winery

Tasted with owner Deborah Castillo:  Albariño Columbia Valley 2016 – $22; Tempranillo Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2013 – $40

Long Shadows Vintners

A winery making some of the highest-quality wines in the world, with 6 boutiques, each producing a wine from a world-class winemaker: Michel Rolland of France, Pedestal (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Petit Verdot and Malbec) Columbia Valley 2015 – $65; John Duval of Australia, Sequel (Syrah with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) Columbia Valley 2015 – $60; Randy Dunn of Napa Valley, Feather (Cabernet Sauvignon) Columbia Valley 2015 – $65; Inspired by Armin Diel of Germany, Poet’s Leap (Riesling) Columbia Valley 2017 – $20; Philippe Melka of Napa Valley and Agustin Huneeus, Pirouette  (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) Columbia Valley 2015 – $60; Inspired by the Folonari family from Tuscany, Saggi (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) Columbia Valley 2015  – $55; Boutique wine by Long Shadows owner and former President of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Allen Shoup, and director of winemaking and viticulture Gilles Nicault, Chester/Kidder (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) Columbia Valley 2015 – $65.

Allen Shoup, Long Shadows owner and former President of Chateau
Ste. Michelle.

Mark Ryan Winery

Tasted with Carolyn Papineaux, tasting room manager: Viognier Yakima Valley 2017 – $30; Wild Eye Syrah Red Mountain 2016 – $48; Dead Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain – $58.

Sleight of Hand Cellars

Tasted with owners Sandy and Jerry Solomon: The Enchantress Chardonnay 2015 – $28; The Conjurer Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) 2016 – $28; The Sorceress Grenache/Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2015  – $45; Levitation Syrah Columbia Valley (2018 Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World Award) – $45; The Psychedelic Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2015 – $60; Force of Nature Syrah Walla Walla Valley Les Collines Vineyard 2015 – $75.

The Inn at Abeja is excellent in every way, and the Marcus Whitman Hotel is also a great place to stay. And for the lagniappe, there is no traffic, and there are no crowded tasting rooms – yet!