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Wine Enthusiast Names Walla Walla a "10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2014"

Names Walla Walla the "epicenter of Washington wine tourism" & lists Forgeron Cellars as "Where to Taste" & a "top local producer"...



10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2014

Walla Walla, USA

The historic, tree-lined farming community of Walla Walla, until recently best known for its sweet onions, has quickly become the epicenter of Washington wine tourism. It’s an easy 50-minute flight from Seattle, or a relaxing 4-hour drive through eastern Washington. 

Wheat fields, row crops, rolling hills & a thriving, tourist-friendly downtown await, but the Walla Walla appellation boasts more than 120 wineries & dozens of well-tended vineyards. The AVA spills over into Oregon, where many of the best vineyards can be found. They cover the north-facing slopes of the Blue Mountain foothills, & open out below onto the ancient riverbed known as the Rocks. —Paul Gregutt

Where to Dine 

Always packed, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen features delicious & creative plates. Whitehouse-Crawford—set in a renovated wood-planing mill—spotlights local meats, poultry & produce, & features regional wines. As good as any French bistro in the state, Brasserie Four serves up frites to die for, croque monsieur & house-made paté, in addition to well-priced regional & European wines. For a hearty breakfast—at any time of day—try Bacon & Eggs. If your comfort-food needs run broader, visit Maple Counter Cafe for farmhouse breakfasts & lunches. 

Where to Stay 

Built in 1928 & located in the heart of downtown, the landmark Marcus Whitman Hotelincludes a cozy bar, an award-winning restaurant & a spacious, welcoming lobby. In the complex & just across the street are more than a dozen tasting rooms. The Inn at Abeja combines a winery & B&B. A bunkhouse, barn & chicken coop have been transformed into luxury lodging. Guests may sample the wines, among Walla Walla’s best. Vine & Roses is a classic Victorian-era B&B, generously appointed with museum-quality antiques. 

Other Activities 

Beside the region’s various wine-tasting events, top dates on the annual calendar include the Hot Air Balloon Stampede (May), Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend (September) & the County Fair & Rodeo (September). An easy walking tour of downtown (1.5 miles) highlights the city’s revitalized center. 

Budget Tip 

Grab lunch at 1 of several local food trucks (Andrae’s for poutine, Tacos La Monarca for Mexican), or visit 1 of the local drive-in burger joints (Fast Eddy’s, Ice-Burg). You’ll eat well for cheap. 

When to Go 

Lovely weather & nonstop events are common in May & June, & then again during the fall. 

Local in the Know 

Catie McIntyre Walker owns the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman wine shop. “The Walla Walla Symphony is the oldest operating symphony west of the Mississippi. Today, it showcases many series & guest artists. In fact, most evenings, there’s music downtown from jazz to rock, & often concerts at our new Power House Theatre. Museums like Fort Walla Walla & Kirkman House feature our rich history, from fur trading to being the largest community in Territorial Washington.” 

Where to Taste

Wine weekends run from early April through the Holiday Barrel Tasting in December. Spring Release (1st weekend in May) & Fall Release (1st weekend in November) are the biggies. The Walla Walla Wine Alliance posts a complete list on its Website. Downtown are dozens of tasting rooms, including top local producers Corliss, Doubleback, Forgeron, K Vintners, Rotie, Seven Hills, Sinclair Estate, Spring Valley & Tero. Pick up a winery map (free at most tasting rooms) & head out of town. At the airport is a mix of founding wineries (Buty, Dunham Cellars, Five Star, Tamarack) & startups. Toward the foothills east of town are K Vintners, Abeja, Walla Walla Vintners & à Maurice. Head south, & you’ll find some of the biggest players—Amavi, Dusted Valley, Northstar, Pepper Bridge—along with exciting boutiques like Beresan, Rasa, Rulo, Saviah, Sleight of Hand & Va Piano. Just west of downtown are Bergevin Lane, Canoe Ridge, Foundry & Gramercy Cellars. A bit farther out on (or near) Highway 12 are L’Ecole No 41, Long Shadows, Reininger, Waterbrook & Woodward Canyon.

Prominent Wines

The region’s first 5 wineries—Leonetti Cellar, L’Ecole No 41, Seven Hills, Waterbrook & Woodward Canyon—are all still thriving. Only Leonetti is closed to visitors, but winemaker Chris Figgins also has his own brand (Figgins) & tasting room, as does his Doubleback project with former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Walla Walla’s reputation was made by these wineries & their renderings of classic Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. Increasingly, Rhône varieties have taken hold, led by Syrah. In Walla Walla, these all produce dark, intense red wines of remarkable power & complexity.