Windy Wine Country

Downtown Walla Walla
Downtown Walla Walla
It’s been many miles of riding. I’m sure you’re all sick of reading about cycling and ready for me to talk about some wine. Well, you’re in luck, as I spent the last two days in the town of Walla Walla and its surrounding wine country.

Wednesday was spent in downtown Walla Walla. It’s a cool little downtown, pleasant if a bit touristy, but that’s ok. The downtown area is filled mostly with restaurants and, of course, wine tasting rooms for many of the 130 wineries in the Walla Walla area. I hit many places, but I’m just going to tell you about a few of my favorites, to keep things somewhat brief.

My first stop ended up being one of my favorites — Sapolil Cellars. Only a few of the wines were still in stock: a couple of syrahs and a chardonnay. But while the selection was limited, at least it was quite tasty. The chard was my kind of chard. It was crisp, minerally, with a nice hint of peach. Most importantly, there was no oak and no buttery flavors to it. The two syrahs were a 2006 and a 2007 from the same vineyard (Patina Vineyard). The ’06 was big, bold and rich, while the ’07 was a little softer. Both were quite tasty and had a nice balance of earth and fruit.

Hanging out in the Sapolil tasting room, I had a chance to chat for a while with Bill, the owner and winemaker. First off, he was really awesome in helping me to find a place to crash in Walla Walla that evening. But the conversation covered many different subjects including his philosophy on winemaking, and the joys he’s had bringing live music into his tasting room (a jazz trio goes really well with wine). He’s got a good laidback philosophy on winemaking — definitely of the “just let the grapes do their own thing” bent. We also spent some time discussing the massive amount of change a wine can go through while bottle-aging, even moreso than in barrel-aging in his view.

Another excellent stop in downtown Walla Walla was Sleight of Hand Cellars, just around the corner from Sapolil (the intersection of 2nd and Main is a wonderful area of winetasting, so much is located right there). Trey, the winemaker is a big music fan, so we spent as much time talking about music as we did about wine, but he certainly is making some tasty wines. The Magician, his gewurztraminer is nicely dry with a good crisp acidity and excellent fruit and floral notes. I was really impressed by the dry cab franc rose (The Magician’s Assistant). Bone dry. Very nice. Hard to find that in a rose. A hint of spiciness and some nice fruit really round out this wine.

My last stop in the downtown area was Walla Walla Village Winery. It was another very laid back tasting room with a selection of four wines. Both the riesling and the merlot were nice examples of their varietals, but my favorites were definitely the last two. The cabernet franc had an excellent balance of spicy pepper and rich fruit. The Bordello Red Bordeaux-style blend (guess what the building they’re in used to be) was very hearty and full and also nicely balanced. Definitely a great food wine.

The vineyards by Three Rivers Winery
The vineyards by Three Rivers Winery
The next day, I rolled my way out of Walla Walla headed west along US 12 for some more wine tasting action. I visited five more wineries on my way out of town: Reininger, Three Rivers, Glencorrie, L’Ecole No. 41, and Woodward Canyon. It’s been a windy ride along US 12, hence my nickname for the region. I’m sure things will keep being windy as I keep rolling out along the river to the coast. This is what I get for going west, though.

I know that’s a lot to throw at you all at once, but I’m once again running out of time at the library here in Umatilla (that’s the way it always goes).

Of the five, I have to say that Reininger and L’Ecole No. 41 were my favorites. You may be wondering about the name of that latter one. The winery is set up in an old school house, and since it’s school district number 41, they added that on to the name. The guys in the tasting room were very generous. I even got to try a sneak sample of the 2008 Estate cabernet franc, which is still in the barrel. Already, it’s fantastic. I can’t wait for it to be released and to see how it develops. I just might have to join the wine club here.

Glencorrie is one of the newest wineries of the Walla Walla region, and I have to say, they’re off to a great start. Their first releases in June — three cab sauv-dominated reds — were all very well balanced with nice subtleties, which is kind of surprising in cabs so young (all three were vintage 2006).

So that’s the quick roundup of my trip through Walla Walla. I’m riding along the Columbia River now, and I’m going to keep heading west. There’s more wine country awaiting me, to be sure, and I’m almost out to the coast. Good times, good times…

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2 thoughts on “Windy Wine Country

  1. I hope you are going to write a book after this awesome adventure. I will be among the first to purchase it!

  2. Jim:

    I knew both of your Great Grandfathers. That’s why you have the 45-70. It belonged to your Great Grandfather Eastman. I think he carried it in the Spanish American war. He gave it to my father and it was passed to me with instructions that it should be returned to an Eastman.

    I do not know whether you are aware of the fact, but your Great Grandfather Laing made some of the best Sherry that I ever drank. In fact I drank the last gallon that he made, rationing it out to myself and friends over several years. The point is that you come by this affectation to wine naturally.

    If you get some time and would like to do so you are most welcome to come and visit for a while. I have a couple of bottles of good wine just waiting to be drank by some who would appreciate them.

    In the words of Rod Steiger as he was playing Chief Gellespie in the Heat of The Night;

    Y’all take care now, ya hear?


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