Sipping and Roasting in Walla Walla’s Hot Wine Country
The weather has treated us VERY well on the trip across this fine country and we’ve had very moderate temperatures for the most part. However, on this leg, it felt a whole lot like August. Or what I think of when I think of August. The drive out of Boise, through the west side of Oregon, and popping into the southeastern side of Washington into Walla Walla, was a pretty toasty one. The fields of potatoes, and hay, were golden and shimmering in the blasting summer sun. Arriving in Walla Walla, the temperature hovered around 99 degrees and the dryl intense heat radiated off of every surface. We timed our trip so we could hit at least one of the many local wineries before they closed for the day. That took us just outside the downtown, to the west of Walla Walla to L’Ecole and Waterbrook, two wineries about whom I’ve read good things about. Both tasting facilities were large and impressive, with L’Ecole’s in a impeccably-converted schoolhouse and Waterbrook in a large and airy modern-lined building with seating areas tucked all around its exterior. This area is known primarily for grapes that love the hot dryness of the region, like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and they tend to be big, beefy wines with lots of POW. Neither one of us was feeling drawn towards the pow on that 98 degree day after a 4 hour drive, however I did especially enjoy the L’Ecole #41 2007 Cabernet. As space in the car was very limited we chose what we would drink over the next week and were very pleased with the crisp, green apple and pear aromas in the Pinot Gris from both places. With a chilled bottle of the L’Ecole tucked under arm, we drove through the Walla Walla neighborhood just outside the “town” and met our host who owned the loft we were renting. (God bless VRBO. We were really needing a change of pace from hotels.) We opened that delightful chilled bottle, made ourselves some very simple pasta with tuna, tomatoes, and zucchini (what we had on hand) and settled in to relish some good wine and a home-cooked meal.
The next day, we vowed to beat the heat and go for a bike ride to the Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake before it got too hot. I was struck by how many sunflowers were beaming out from all of the yards. They clearly love it here and it made the whole town feel very friendly somehow. There was a good bike path that took us most of the way out to Dam where we picked up the dedicated bike path. The lake area has over 20 miles of hiking, biking and riding paths to choose from. The one we rode on took us past golden, gleaming fields and out to an reservoir of sorts where we took off our socks and waded in. Feeling a little cooked and shriveled from the heat, we headed back into town for lunch and a little tasting. Locals sent us to a great little spot called Graze where we had two of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. After that, we rode our bikes to the modern-chic tasting room of Charles Smith. There we tasted some very tasty, budget-friendly wines, many of which I really enjoyed. From there we went to Spring Valley Winery, where they made some impressive Cabernet and Syrah, as well as Flying Trout Winery and Locati, wineries that featured some Italian varietals. Feeling very happy and a little buzzed, we stopped into Salumeria Cesario for a peek. It was an AMAZING store, filled with a small and disserning European wine collection, hand-picked spices, oils, herbs, and other culinary goodies, and, of course quite a selection of cheeses and meats. We chatted for awhile with the owner, Damon Burke, who was gracious and chatty. He gave us samples of some of his favorite charcuterie, as well as his homemade pickles, and also gave us tips on his favorite places to eat in Portland, where we were headed next. Laden with a baguette and goodies from his store, we slowly biked home, blissed out, hot, and a little buzzed.