For fans of wine, the Walla Walla region offers one of the most stimulating scenes in the country. The Eastern Washington city is best known as the birthplace of Adam West, the original Batman. But if the next 10 years function anything like the previous 10, Walla Walla and wine will be forever intertwined.
One of the town’s many charms is its full embrace of the industry and Washington state wine. Downtown is historic, walkable, and teeming with tasting rooms and production facilities. It’s a perfect home base for a long weekend devoted to getting out into some of the surrounding foothills to taste by day and returning to the city for a memorable dinner or bar drop-in at night.
The Walla Walla Valley spans Washington and Oregon and is comprised of a large and eponymous wine appellation, as well as the subregion of The Rocks District, which sits on the Oregon side of the border in Milton-Freewater. A few hours’ ride away is Oregon’s most famous wine region, the Willamette Valley. Farming has long existed there, but before grapes, it was the land of wheat, onions, and orchard fruit. Now, it’s an established spot turning out incredible Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, among others.
In town, there are some great stops, like Passatempo Taverna for pasta and a strong local wine list or Walla Walla Steak Company for a nice cut (and great beer at the adjacent Crossbuck Brewing). Seven Hills Winery is one of the area’s oldest and occupies a beautifully restored building in the heart of the city. The Browne Family Tasting Room is also a suggested stop, featuring its own lineup and often the work of a lot of talented small-production producers in the area. For lodging, there are few spots better than the architectural gem that is The Marcus Whitman hotel.
There are some impressive winery names in the region, some so in-form that they’re waiting-list-only enterprises. But it’s worth combing bottle shops for releases from Cayuse or the syrah masters at Delmas. The sommelier-owned-and-operated Gramercy Cellars is doing great work and there are new spots worth exploring, like Echolands.
Getting into the thick of surrounding wine country requires little more than a short drive. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Palouse with the distant peaks of the scenic Umatilla National Forest for company, it’s as pretty as it is palate-satisfying. Here are some places to check out if you find yourself in Walla Walla, Washington.
With an incredibly sleek facility in The Rocks and some bang-up wines to match, Force Majeure is a great appointment-only visit. The winery launched in 2004 and has since gained a big following in the region. These days, you’ll find a bit of sparkling wine in the tasting room, shadowed by some incredible French-inspired blends and standalone varietals that showcase a number of great appellations. These wines encapsulate the beauty of big, bursting flavors anchored by balance.
Of particular note is the Walla Walla Estate Syrah, teeming with mushroom and umami notes and a splendid mouthfeel. The cabernets are not to be missed and the label even gets some fruit from the acclaimed SJR Vineyard in The Rocks District. Force Majeure is home to not only some of the best wines in the Walla Walla Valley, but the best hospitality as well.
The Walls Vineyards
At The Walls, you’ll find clean decor, a welcoming staff, and a tasting room that feels more like a well-appointed lounge. If you’re hungry, grab a bite (the ham and cheese baguette is perfect) and enjoy the wine-friendly bites with your tasting. And be sure to wander around, as there’s a great patio section fit with a wood-fired oven along with a production space where all the winemaking action goes down. Currently, you’ll find Grenache, Chardonnay, Cab, and some blends on the impressive tasting menu.
The label artwork is beautiful and recognizable to most, as it’s the work of famed New Yorker cartoonist Joe Dator. Look out for bright white and pink wines, elegant reds, and a new side label called Pášxa (which means balsam root sunflower, a plant that used to thrive in the area), which celebrates the indigenous communities of the valley and currently includes a wonderful Mourvedre as well as an outstanding syrah. The Walls got permission from the local community to use the word on its label and the wines are made in a sustainable fashion to celebrate the land.
Abeja Winery & Inn
Located about 7 miles outside of Walla Walla, Abeja feels a world away. The verdant grounds border Mill Creek and include a pond, gardens, a gorgeous barn-turned-tasting room, a winery, vineyards, and even some lodging options. The landscape is breathtaking, especially as you gaze into the background and take in the hypnotic rolling foothills of the Palouse.
Merlot is the label’s strong suit and is worth exploring. Winemaker Dan Wampfler likes to talk about Abeja’s quest to show the purity of the varietal and one can taste as much. Look for lovely blends, along with smaller batch releases of Viognier, syrah, Chardonnay, and more. There’s a restaurant on-site, known to pull ingredients right off the property. Go for the wine but be sure to stick around and take in the stunning location.
Where to eat
Walla Walla punches well above its weight in terms of great dining options. In addition to what’s mentioned above, be sure to check out Yamas. The Greek restaurant turns out impeccably fresh dishes, from classics like dolmas, gyros, and saganaki to house gems like grilled octopus and a chicken souvlaki wrap. Go for the alifes, a platter of five house-made spreads, and be sure to inquire about the soup. The salads are fresh, the fries are some of the best we’ve tasted, and the whole meal can be washed down properly with some Greek wine (and a spot of Ouzo at the end).
The Marc restaurant at The Marcus Whitman hotel is another worthy mention. We’re excited to see how it transforms over the next several months as it wraps up its renovation. At the moment, the service is great and the house cocktails are worth exploring, not to mention the wine list. Try the heirloom tomato burrata, hangar steak frites, or local salmon, served with green bean succotash. It would not be Walla Walla without some superior onion rings and the breakfast, should you be staying the night, is hearty.
Lastly, look into Tranche Estate. The winery hosts live music often and on weekends is a great place to set up shop with a blanket and an appetite. Tranche tends to host food carts and serves its wines by the glass or bottle. Best, the setting is tranquil, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Where to stay
Hands down, the best place to stay in Walla Walla is The Marcus Whitman. The hotel is the tallest building in the city of some 35,000, sticking out with its red brick facade and beautiful tower. There’s a newer part of the hotel but the historic section serves as its core (and beating heart). The lobby is a trip back in time, the hospitality is unmatched, and the rooms feature all of the classic comforts, from robes and excellent views to room service. The staff is genuinely excited to point you to its favorite spots in town and there are even pet-friendly rooms.
If wine country is your calling, consider a stay at Abeja. The Inn is gorgeous and you’ll get the full Washington wine country experience. The Finch is another solid option, a modern motel of sorts set just outside of downtown near the beautiful campus of Whitman College.
Read the rest of the article and full list of wineries on The Manual.
When you’re ready for a wine tasting tour in the area, Main Street Drivers provides customized tours of the Walla Walla Wineries for wine enthusiasts of all levels.