You've heard of Cheers to Beers now get ready for...... Walla Walla Wine! Ya heard right this chick loves me some good wine. I grew up in Northern Californian wine country so being in a snob is in my blood. Except for the fact that I don't really know much about wine at all. But when you have a best friend who's allergic to gluten you've got to make a weekend trip work for the both of you. And Walla Walla, WA was the place to do it. If you're looking for a romantic couples weekend or a bff get away (in the state of in the WA, OR, ID vicinity) Walla Walla is the place to do it. Lucky for you, I did all the drinking - um I mean "research"-and found the best places to stop through if you need some Columbia Valley wine in your life.
Day 1: Wine Bars
If you are in the downtown area, you can't throw a wine key without hitting at least 15 tasting rooms. This was especially good for two friends with a strong thirst and no guide. While all the vineyards do have tasting rooms, touring the wine bars downtown is an easy way to get all the good wine without having to drive distances between estates. We saved that for day two.
The most millennial punk rock tasting room that ever existed. In a warehouse with exposed brick, stainless steel, and dark wood accents, The Runaways play in the background. I could have stayed there all afternoon if the wine was little better. Granted I did get the cheap flight, I still wasn't impressed. My favorite was the Velvet Devil Merlot and that's really sayin' something. But A+ label design, creative directing, and styling. But if you feel like winos are pretentious old farts, Charles Smith creates an accessible brand that may have you rethinking what being a wine drinker really is.
If accessible classiness exists, the Henry Earl tasting room is it. Dark wood, red velvet, and ornate details decorate the interior. The bold, dark wooded bar with large, elegant stools was the center of attention in the room. But the space was also full of cushy, baroque chairs and a roaring fireplace that I may or may not have fabricated in my wine buzzed mind. A warm room full of Victorian grace and decadent wine is a match made in heaven. The Chardonnay was especially pleasant and not bogged down by buttery texture or oaky flavor.
The most rustic, cozy, and comforting tasting room I've ever been in. The vibe was like an expensive ski lodge run by a hipster mountain man. Deer antlers, red plaid, evergreen, and worn leather decorated the space. Not only was the room reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest dream, but it was hands down the best Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever had. Smoky tobacco, rich vanilla, dark cherry, and a hint of cocoa. Are you freaking kidding me? I still dream of this cab.
Pro Tip: rent or bring bikes to ride around downtown. It eliminates the need for a cab or DD plus you get to enjoy the adorable town a little more.
Day 2: Vineyards
After a perfect brunch at Bacon & Eggs (not complete without mimosas) it was time to tour the estate vineyards. This time we were accompanied by a local couple, one of which is in the industry and hooked it up. We stayed within the Walla Walla AVA during the tour, although many of the wineries have estates in neighboring AVAs like the Columbia Valley and Red Mountain.
The tasting room at Tranche was located right inside the fermentation room which was exciting for someone who doesn't know much about the process of wine. It was an intimate spot to be able to see the winemakers hard at work. This was also the first spot where I realized that Cabernet Franc may be my new favorite varietal. Walla Walla AVA produces a lot of cab francs and holy shit I did not know what I was missing out on. Any time I go to buy a WA wine I'll be looking for a cab franc from now on.
Flying Trout/Watters/21 Grams
These are all labels running under Tero Estates. But we visiting the Flying Trout tasting room. Named after one of the winemakers, Ashley Trout, who specializes in Malbecs by taking regular trips down to Argentina (what a dream, right?). Needless to say the Malbec was fantastic. And this is coming from someone who doesn't particularly take to Malbecs. The small tasting room was located in the packaging/distribution area of the winery, making it feel like we were really a part of the process.
A more traditional look and feel of what I thought a tasting room is like. The classic Mediterranean architecture and styling made me feel like I was back in Napa. Except instead of drinking Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, I was obsessing over the Cab Franc and Syrah. A beautiful garden and patio under the Indian Summer sun was just heaven. Just thinking about this place has me regretting that I didn't buy a bottle there.
Sleight of Hand
A neighbor of Saviah, we just walked to this tasting room. Now if Charles Smith is the millennial punk, then Sleight of Hand is the OG New York punk. Vinyl records adorned the walls while classics were spun on the record player. The merch even adapted the font from legendary punk venue CBGB. The name of the winery is an homage to the Houdini era of magicians as all the labels were in the old school magic show art style. The vibe of the place was awesome but the wine itself was a bit of a let down. However, it was worth the trip in.
The final stop in the trip is off the country highway in an old schoolhouse turned winery. The school was established in 1870 but rebuilt to the current structure in 1915 until it was converted for wine purposes in 1983. This charming estate and tasting room was not complete without a swing set and a chalkboard bar to doodle while you sip. Books lined the walls next to the bottles of wine; the perfect pair if I'd ever seen one. And did I mention the Syrah? I didn't even like Syrah before this trip but I couldn't leave without a bottle to split with my best friend during the holidays.
If you're a lover of craft beer but are getting tired of the scene, try your palate at wine. It's all the same principles of tasting, flavor profiles, and ultimately crafting a complex and delicious drink. Now I know drinking good wine can feel a little pretentious but let's get real, how many hipster-bros have you heard in taprooms that are overly pompous about their home brew? Changing up your scene is refreshing and much needed every once in while.
If drinking craft beer in Seattle is a golden afternoon with your witty best friend, then drinking cab francs in Walla Walla is like an intimate lover who knows your soul. I recommend opening up your palate and your heart to a great wine every now and then. You won't regret it.