Written by MaryRose Denton
Initially regarded as a rural, agricultural community primarily known for its wheat and onion crops, Walla Walla began its foray into the wine industry around 1984 with three prominent, top-shelf wineries on the map; Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon, and L’Ecole No. 41.
It has come a long way since first becoming an AVA in 1984. Today, Walla Walla is a bustling and active town boasting a rich wine and culinary scene. There is a vintage for every taste and palette, with over 140 wineries calling this high-desert landscape home. And when you are not sipping or noshing on delectable bites, you may wish to soak up some local art, window shop along the main street, or get out and experience the scenic beauty of this region.
Where to stay:
Driving through rolling hillsides with only vineyard after vineyard insight, you might wonder if you are lost. But then, a little off in the distance, it comes into sight. Like a mirage in the vines, you see Eritage.
Nestled amongst 300 acres of vineyard, Eritage resort feels like an oasis yet is only minutes from downtown Walla Walla. There are ten main suites and ten private cabins, each opening onto their patio or deck from which you experience fantastic views of the Blue Mountains and the expanse of the rolling farmland.
Just outside each patio door is access to a pristine and inviting manufactured lake, perfect for a bit of paddleboarding or simply sitting by the edge sipping a local wine variety. At the same time, the sun sets beyond the grove.
With dusk approaching, move indoors for a spectacular dining experience at Eritage’s world-class restaurant, where Chef Sierra Garden creates delectable farm-to-table cuisine.
And after a solid night’s rest, return to the dining area for a full complimentary breakfast of all your favorites; fresh fruit, homemade granola, pancakes, eggs, hash browns, and plenty of fresh coffee—breakfast of champions to fortify a full day of exploring Walla Walla.
L’Ecole No. 41
Our day began at L’Ecole No. 41, the third oldest winery in Walla Walla. Their reputation for producing reliable, superior quality wines is well known in this valley and beyond. They began integrating sustainable practices in the early 2000s earning titles of both a Certified Sustainable vineyard and Certified Salmon-Safe. These well-earned marks can be found on their bottle’s back labels.
Our tasting commenced with a glass of a newer variety, Luminesce, produced exclusively from their Seven Hills Estate Vineyard. This proved my favorite as a white Bordeaux blend. It holds a crisp, lovely citrus note yet still full-bodied with a warm spiciness..It was a very refreshing wine for the morning or, as I pictured it, on a warm summer evening.
Ciera Roop, our guide for the morning and the hospitality manager at L’Ecole, educated us on everything from the history of the schoolhouse now tasting room to L’Ecole’s philosophy on winemaking, “to achieve clean, stylistically expressive, and well-balanced wines”, and she did it with a very fun, easy, and friendly air making us feel right at home.
Founded in 1999 by Brett and Denise Isenhower, Isenhower Cellars was the 18th winery in the Walla Walla valley and one of the first to incorporate what Brett termed “minimalist winemaking” practices.
Both Brett and Denise hail from a background and education in Pharmacology. Just chatting with Brett will prove a fascinating lesson in chemistry only these days it is all about the chemical components, reactions, biodiversity, and subtler notes of winemaking, a passion he followed after years of working as a Pharmacist. A modern-day alchemist.
And for Brett, the magic behind the alchemy begins quite naturally, on the vines. Only light intervention is used with the minimalist winemaking philosophy, producing intense wines and character wines. And Brett is hands-on, overseeing each portion of the process from handpicking the fruit right down to the old-fashioned method of pressing the grapes; the foot-stomping.
His methods are natural and simple, “the way wine was meant to be,” says Isenhower. From hand-harvesting to sustainable fertilizers and pest control, he comments, “what is old is new again and it is better for the earth and us in the long run.”
Isenhower reds are aged in 100% French Oak barrels for a very superior taste with their whites being aged in Acacia barrels. Their unique and extensive varieties can be found via their website and their two tasting rooms, the original located in Walla Walla with a secondary tasting room west of the Cascade Mountains in Woodinville, WA. As Eisenhower says, “our wines are well made and represent the terroir it comes from; each vineyard produces a completely different flavor and varietal.”
I found Isenhower wines exceptional and plan to sample each variety they produce. Currently, I attest to the Rara Avis Grenache pairing nicely with a homemade stew and the A Bloc Malbec rounding out an evening in front of the fire.
With locations in both Walla Walla and the historic Pioneer Square area of Seattle, the Foundry tasting rooms bring together art, wine, and contemporary design.
Back in 1998, the founders, Mark and Patty Anderson, planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines on their property in the Walla Walla Valley. They soon discovered that creating art and making wine are similar creative processes; thus, combining the two, and The Foundry Vineyards was born.
There is a distinct aesthetic to their winery and tasting rooms, from the art-inspired labels and the gallery-like atmosphere of the tasting rooms to the modern feel of the more contemporary sculpture garden.
Using low intervention methods, their wines express the unique flavors to the high desert climate of Walla Walla. Their focus is to “reflect the spirit of artistic expression in each wine and to continue to be creative with each vintage”.
Walla Walla may be known for its viniculture, winning America’s Best Wine Region by US Today for two consecutive years but coming up as a close second is its food culture.
A stroll through downtown Walla Walla carries you past French patisserie’s with that heavenly scent of fresh croissants loaded with buttery goodness. American diners serving all the classics from breakfast to dinner, classic lunch cafes or fine dining, and even gourmet street tacos are all the raves. There is something fresh and fun to be found to pair with any Walla Walla wine.
Looking for a hearty, delicious breakfast at the hottest place in town? Look no further than the Maple Counter Cafe. Owners Kory and Rachel Nagler are the third generation of restauranteurs in their family, incorporating many of their family recipes into the menu, including their famous light and airy pancakes. This favorite batter begins by coming from a sourdough barrel which is an old-fashioned way of nurturing yeast and it makes a delicate pancake.
A local secret is to head to Colville Street Patisserie for an espresso and croissant in the morning, perhaps a gelato with your afternoon stroll, window-shopping in town, or a delectable french pastry any time of day that suits you.
For a sandwich made from artisan loaves of bread baked that morning adjoining a bowl of homemade tomato soup, head to the town’s artisan bakery, Walla Walla Bread Company Meeting friends for lunch? Perhaps one of their homemade pizzas delivered from their oven to your table will do the trick. Using locally sourced ingredients, Chef’s Coral and Michele Pompei combine the flavors of Walla Walla with his international experience as a master baker.
A bustling, casual dining experience on Main Street can be found at Brasserie Four, a quintessential french brasserie that will have you believing you are in Paris, with the menu to match.
At AK’s Mercado, a gourmet street taco is what’s for dinner any time of day. Now located in the heart of downtown Walla Walla, this hugely popular restaurant began briefly as a food truck before branching out to serving its amazing tacos from behind a gas station counter. Chef Andrae Bopp graduated from The French Culinary Institute, working his way up to some prestigious ladders in New York before eventually meandering westward. Some of his wanderings took him to places such as Oaxaca and the American South, both of which influenced the flavors he likes to share in his dishes. Ak’s Mercado serves breakfast, too, including Chef Bopp’s infamous beignets on Sundays only.
Dine-in elegance with the farm-to-table culinary excellence at TMACS, located in the center of downtown Walla Walla. Using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, Chef Jose Meza creates a changing menu highlighting the bounty of this region. His culinary choices are as artistic to the eye as they are delicious to taste. Add in the one-of-a-kind craft bar with crafted extracts and mixers and dinner is complete. Prepare to langour in this upscale dining experience, for the mood is intimate with time just slipping away.
Downtown Walla Walla Shopping
Enjoy a boutique shopping experience strolling the streets of Walla Walla, up one side street then down another. Along with many shops catering to wine and wine accessories, antique shops and art galleries are worth popping into for that rare find.
Combine Art Collective
A locally-focused art gallery, the Combine Art Collective began as the combined project of six art-loving and artists themselves, Walla Walla women. Currently, they feature 15 local artists from around the Walla Walla area, with rotating shows bringing in periodic guest artists. The white walls in this airy gallery frame styles and mediums of all genres, from fabric arts to oil paintings to outdoor clay sculptures. There are whimsical glass garden pieces as well as jewelry for wearable art. Treat yourself to immersion in aesthetic wonder with these women artisans.
Finding more art in Walla Walla is as easy as walking down the street. Enjoy a promenade through Heritage Square Park, right off of Main Street and be sure to check out the Windows on the Past art installation. This mural is composed of historic and contemporary photos representing ethnic and cultural groups and life in Walla Walla, spanning the hundred years from 1850 to 1950. A fascinating time travels back in history.
For a self-guided walking tour and art exhibition head to the Whitman College Outdoor Sculpture Walk. Here you can leisurely experience the beauty of these 21 art pieces while getting outside and a few steps in too! Located inside the Whitman college campus, many of the pieces were designed and commissioned by graduates and alumni of the College.
There are many self-guided walking tours through the town of Walla Walla, depending on your interests. To find specific details on a tour or a day hike in the Blue Mountains, head to Visit Walla Walla. A town so lovely, they named it twice.
But before heading out of town, stop by Frog Hollow Farms and grab some of those farm-fresh local ingredients everyone has been talking about. Frog Hollow connects all the restaurants and resorts in town and source their delicious produce. So make that heirloom tomato marinara, which pairs with the Merlot you bought during your wine tastings. At Frog Hollow, their specialty is heirloom tomatoes, and you will find a variety worth taking home and savoring. They also grow a bounty of squashes, greens, and almost any root vegetable you would want on your table. No Walla Walla dinner is complete without the cornucopia found at Frog Hollow. Pick some up as a tasty souvenir.