8 Things I Learned About Wine from Walla Walla

Walla Walla was fan-freaking-tastic! It took us a long time to get there (Google Maps said 7 hours, but with a slight detour to Seattle to eat at our favourite pizza place and being stuck on interstate 90 for at least an hour because apparently everyone on the west coast of Washington heads east on long weekends, it was a 10+ hour journey. It was one with beautiful scenery though and that made the long drive much more bearable.

Seattle to Walla Walla

The changing scenery from Seattle on our way to Walla Walla.

I really liked that there were numerous tasting rooms downtown, where you’d likely stay so you don’t have to go far or drive at least for a good portion of the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to check out the ones downtown, occupying ourselves instead in the east side, south side and a little bit in the west side over the two full days we had there. I loved that you can just pick an area and not have to drive too far, if at all (the east side is the most condensed). To get from one area to the next is not too far either.

Walla Walla wineries are interesting and the wines oh-so-tasty. Here are eight things I learned about the region.

1. Walla Walla was put on the wine world map by Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington state’s oldest winery.

2. Most wineries source their wines from vineyards in the larger surrounding area. Having really only experienced two regions — the Okanagan a few years ago and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) earlier this summer — I was surprised that the majority of wineries we visited don’t have have their own vineyard.

Walla Walla Washington

Vines are here for show at Tamarack Cellars. Actually, they could be used since they’re Merlot grapes, we were told.

I’m going to take a moment to explain the difference between winery and vineyard as they may be used interchangeably by those who don’t know. A winery is where the grapes are fermented into wine (the actual facility) and a vineyard is where the grapes are grown. Mission Hill in the Okanagan, for example, grow their own grapes and make their wine from those grapes. They have complete control over their wine from start (grapes) to finish (wine). And to introduce a new term, Mission Hill therefore is an estate.

I’m used to visiting estates, where we get a tour of the vineyard followed by the winery and finally, sampling some of the wines. It’s a great way to see the difference in how a small winery (about 2000 cases or less if I remember correctly from what I learned in NotL) operates versus a medium (about 9000 cases) versus a large.

3. The Syrahs in Walla Walla are not just good, they’re amazing! We bought a 2005 Syrah from Morrison Lane. Every Syrah we tasted was a kickass one.

4. They also make fantastic Bordeaux style reds which is a blend of some and only the grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Carmenere.

5. People in the trade are passionate! You’re not going to come across a summer student just there to earn a few bucks (like the sort of experience at the Jackson Triggs tasting room in NotL. The girl serving us couldn’t tell us anything about the wines except what was already written on the labels. We quickly left). In Walla Walla, everyone we spoke with knew their shit.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

6. The Walla Walla Valley extends into Oregon. A winery could be located in Washington and grapes grown in Oregon. As long as the vineyard is located in the Walla Walla Valley which is an American Viticulture Area (AVA), then the bottle can be labelled as Walla Walla Valley.

Walla Walla Valley Wine Region

Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

7. College Cellars has a two year wine program where students make the wine they put out in the market. After learning the basics the first year, in the second year, students get to decide how they want to make their wine. So tasty what students produce that one of their wines won Best Carménère at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition. 

College Cellars

The knowledgeable woman showcasing the winning wine students made.

Most students at College Cellars have already had a career, being in their mid to late 30s; they enroll in the program after deciding to pursue their interest or passion. The College’s graduate career placement rate is 80%.

8. The average winery in Walla Walla makes about 2500 cases a year. Of the wineries we visited, the smallest, Kontos, produces about 900 cases a year while the largest, Tamarack, does about 25,000 cases a year. 

Two full days almost wasn’t enough time to explore Walla Walla’s wonderful wine. I definitely would not have minded another day or two.

Have you been to the Walla Walla region? Tell me what you learned if you have. If you haven’t, is this somewhere you would want to go?

5 thoughts on “8 Things I Learned About Wine from Walla Walla

  1. Hello VinoVanny,

    I really enjoyed learning about Walla Walla vine region. It was one I was not familiar with or heard of before. It’s amazing to learn that has Washington has a great wine school. As a person in my 30’s it excites me that I can look into a career in the wine industry.

    I really you clarifying the difference between a vineyard, winery and estates.

    I would like to learn more about Syrah. I’m not familiar with this term. Is it a type of red wine? What can I expect from the taste?

    Really enjoying learning so much about wine.

    Looking forward to the next post.


    • Hi reetgerman! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! Syrah is a grape varietal originating in France and you probably tried it coming from Australia, otherwise known as Shiraz there. They are the same grape, but in the wine world, one is usually used over the other outside Europe (with the exception of Australia) depending on whether the wine was made with more of an old world style (France) or new world (Australia).

      Generally speaking, a Shiraz is more fruity and jammy than a Syrah, where a Syrah is more earthy than a Shiraz. However, both tend to be full bodied (feels more like a Cabernet Sauvignon in the mouth instead of Pinot Noir) with scents and flavors like dark ripe fruit, black pepper, chocolate and I often taste spicyness too.

      • Thanks Vanny for the great explanation.

        Looking forward to trying a Syrah. I really enjoy A good bottle of Shiraz.


  2. A truly fascinating and thorough travel experience, VinoVanny! Your passion for both adventure as well for wine (+ your knowledge) really shines through.

    I was also not at all familiar with this wine region, though I did know in the most basic of geographical terms that Washington State had some good wine (somewhere). Having done Napa as well as BC Okanagan, your observation about the small areas and ease going between wineries in Walla Walla is extremely enticing.

    Is this area of Washington especially good for their reds, or are whites featured or notable also?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Matthew! Walla Walla is renowned for reds, however, the whites there are great too — we tried some Viognier and Chardonnay. We even bought a bottle of Riesling.

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