Sure, Seattle (for good reason given it’s become a cultural mecca in recent years) often gets the nod when considering a trip to the Pacific Northwest. But if you haven’t been to Washington wine capital Walla Walla, you haven’t really seen all the Evergreen State has to offer.
What’s in a name?
Said to be “so nice they named it twice,” Walla Walla is actually a Native American term that roughly translates to “place of many waters.” This may seem odd given it is four hours from the Pacific Ocean. However, the region boasts an abundance of rivers, streams and lakes – notably Bennington Lake with 20 miles of trails teeming with wildlife ideal for hikers, swimmers and birders. This – combined with vineyards, temperate weather and a killer culinary scene – make it the perfect escape this spring or summer.
Area accommodations range from bed and breakfasts to full-scale resorts – including one with its own lake. Located on 300 acres along Lake Sienna and tucked between vineyards and wheat fields with views of the Blue Mountains, Eritage (pictured at top of page) – opened in mid-2018 – is the brainchild of fourth generation Walla Wallan Justin Wylie, owner of Va Piano Vineyards. His dream, now realized, was to create an upscale resort to showcase the best the area has to offer all in one picture-perfect package.
The suites and lakeside bungalows boast private patios, fireplaces, soaking tubs, L’Occitane products and views for what seems like miles, though downtown is just 10 minutes away. Lake Sienna, just shy of 80 degrees in the spring/summer, offers swimming and paddle boarding, and there is also a private pool for the use of resort guests. Dining is similarly special as the Eritage restaurant menu reflects the history of area and honors the providers of local ingredients including regionally grown produce, meats and game, dairy and other artisanal products.
Another perfection option: Marcus Whitman. Located in the heart of Downtown Walla Walla, the Marcus Whitman Hotel is the perfect marriage of refined luxury, historic grandeur, and classic style. This Grand Dame opened its doors in 1928 and drew a famous clientele including presidents, celebrities, and dignitaries. Today, The Marcus Whitman offers guests a long standing tradition of friendly service and historic style, with 127 luxurious rooms and suites, seven on-site tasting rooms featuring Washington wineries, and award-wining dining at The Marc Restaurant and The Vineyard Lounge. The Marc Restaurant offers one of the largest selections of regional wines in the area paired along-side gourmet cuisine. In the summer months, be sure to book your seat for their Sunset Terrace dinner series or their year-round Chef’s Table signature experience.
Beyond Eritage and The Marc’s inspired offerings, Walla Walla is a playground for the palate. Like Eritage, Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing opened in 2018. And like Eritage’s restaurant, each are focused on transporting guests on a culinary journey through Walla Walla – doing so in an area literally know for transportation. Each space was developed in what was once the local train depot, which served for generations as Walla Walla’s “front door” for visitors. Keeping that tradition alive, each venue is warm and welcoming, but also delicious.
Walla Walla Steak is a traditional steakhouse with all the cuts of meat and a la carte dishes one would expect, but cleverly weaves in farm-to-table freshness with produce and U.S.D.A Prime and Choice Angus beef from Washington farms nearby. Its bar is a hotspot for both locals and guests alike, with on-trend cocktails and more than 40 wines from the area.
Crossbuck Brewing is a taproom that brews all of its beers on-site, and each one telling a unique story of the brewer, the season or the Pacific Northwest in every sip. They use only local hops and barleys, and designed the menu to pair with the beers as well as to satisfy even the most discerning of taste buds at lunch and dinner.
Another culinary highlight: Waterbrook Winery. There, chef de cuisine Karla Wilsey utilizes ingredients from their garden and surrounding farms to create incredible farm-to-table fare in true wine country tradition.
There are more than 950 wineries in Washington Wine Country, which has 14 distinct growing regions, and 120-plus in Walla Walla alone.
A Wine Enthusiast darling, Long Shadows Vintners is a must-taste, not to mention a must-see thanks to its Chihuly Tasting Room. The winery’s owner has been friends with world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly for over 30 years. As a result, Chihuly installed several pieces in the tasting room – including a stunning chandelier – for guests to enjoy as they sample the ultra-premium wines.
As iconic is L’Ecole No 41. This Wine & Spirits Magazine “Top 100 Winery of the Year” 14 times over is located in what used to be a schoolhouse dating back to 1870. The tasting room itself it is located in one of the original classrooms, which has gorgeous modern touches as well as the original chalkboards, several fixtures and moldings.
Speaking of class, Northstar Winery offers a hands-on education in wine via its interactive blending experiences. After sampling varietals, guests use beakers, graduated cylinders and other winemaking equipment to make their very own Northstar blend to take home.
For those who love tasting from the barrel, don’t miss Saviah Cellars, which features a walking tour and behind-the-scenes look at winemaking firsthand, not to mention the chance to barrel sample along the way before sipping on current releases.
And, of course, those seeking a “green” option in the Evergreen State need visit Pepper Bridge Winery, which is Certified Sustainable and was the first state-of-the-art, gravity-flow facility in Washington, complete with subterranean caves.
Beyond the vineyards, there are also a handful of amazing tasting rooms in Walla Walla, notably Result of a Crush, whimsical with wines crafted by women; and Sleight of Hand Cellars, which has 2,000 vinyl albums and turn-tables spinning them open to close.
For more information on Washington wines, visit www.washingtonwine.org.