The country’s most exciting wine region isn’t in California or Oregon; it’s in eastern Washington—Walla Walla, to be exact. Here, along the banks of the Walla Walla River, more than 100 vineyards have sprouted since 1977, each characterized by an intimacy and informality that larger wine regions lack. In recent years, restaurants, hotels, and artisan food shops have moved in downtown, making Walla Walla a place to come and stay a while. Here’s our itinerary for a weekend to remember.
Juice of a Pro
Head straight from the airport to the region’s best winery: Gramercy Cellars. Winemaker Greg Harrington holds the title of youngest American to pass the Master Sommelier exam (he was 26), and he plies his craft with supple limited-production (red) wines.
Insider Tip: While tasting in the mancave-themed tasting room, ask Harrington for some brisket. He smokes it himself.
Mediterranean Meets the High Desert
Tables at Saffron are old champagne riddling racks, a detail that immediately connects this quaint Mediterranean bistro with its surroundings. Dinner here is hearty; breads, pastas, and cured meats are all made in-house.
Insider Tip: If possible, grab a table overlooking the open kitchen so you can watch Chef Chris Ainsworth prepare your meal.
Old is New Again
Spend the night at the luxurious Inn at Abeja, a turn-of-the-century farmstead where original outbuildings have been restored to lovely, spacious, individual and private guest accommodations.
Insider Tip: At dusk, scan the horizon for some of the unofficial residents of the property—wild turkeys, deer, and hawks in mid-flight.
Wine Without the Extras
Sustainability is the name of the game at Amavi Cellars, one of five estate vineyards with the same farming philosophy. An early-morning tasting at Amavi is a great opportunity to sip and watch the morning fog disappear.
Insider Tip: Be sure to ask to sample the winery’s dessert wines; the ice wine in particular is sweet and addicting.
Though served with wine, lunch at Monteillet Fromagerie is all about cheese; a variety of soft and hard cheeses made with goat and sheep milk. The on-site tasting room offers free samples of the artisanal goodness, as well as produce from the farm’s garden and other healthy items.
Insider Tip: Save room for Le Roi Noir, a hard cheese dusted with ash.
‘Four’ for Dinner
End the day with dinner at Brasserie Four, a new-ish French bistro in the heart of town. Most of the fare here is what one might expect from a French place; cassoulets and pates. There also are traditional dishes with a twist, such as crème fraiche pizza.
Insider Tip: Bring a bottle from local wineries and you’ll avoid the corkage fee.
Golf Week magazine recently ranked Wine Valley Golf Club the No. 2 course in all of Washington. That means there’s no better way to spend a morning than teeing off here. The course offers sweeping vistas of surrounding hills.
Insider Tip: If you go early, bundle up, as morning temperatures are downright chilly.
Toasting a Good Time
Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and a host of microbrews are on tap at Public House 124 fun and hip new hotspot in the heart of downtown. Bar food is upscale and affordable; think truffle fries, burgers on ciabatta, and pork belly, never more than $15 a pop.
Insider Tip: Grab a seat on the narrow patio for great people (and sunset) watching.
Photo credits: Gramercy Cellars courtesy of Gramercy Cellars; all other photos courtesy of Walla Walla Visitors Bureau