Walla Walla means “many waters” but the region might be more aptly be called, a land of “Many Wines.”
Walla Walla (a.k.a. Walla2) hosted this year's Wine Blogger/Writers Conference. Wine writers, hobbyists, and wine industry professionals gathered from across the States and from around the world, including Australia, Canada, Brazil, and more. My husband and I made it a road trip and drove up from the Bay Area. We drove through hour after hour of stunning and desolate spaces to Washington's south-west wine country.
With a population of just under 33,000 people, and under 13 square miles, Walla Walla boasts 120 wineries! Those are amazing wine to people ratios by anyone's count.
This city is a culinary and wine lover's dream. After three days of the conference, I truly believed you can die from too much of a good thing. The sessions, excursions, local food and wine started at 9:00 am and continued until 9 or 10 pm. The wineries and local chefs shared their best.
You won't find a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe's, or a even a Costco here. But it doesn't matter. The fresh local produce, meats, and wines will win you over. The conference was hosted downtown at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center (Link.) Guests can walk out the door, stand, and count anywhere from 5-10 tasting rooms within sight. If you walk and meander the downtown grid, you could wine taste for days, or weeks! And for the size of the area, the plethora of local restaurants rivals some of the West Coast's finest cities.
You would think that with so many wineries in such a small community, there would be heavy competition. But the opposite is true. Just 10 miles south is Milton-Freewater, Oregon. The two semi-connected border towns form one wine region. And since Walla2 is miles from any major cities, winemakers lean on each other to share ideas, promote the region, and spread the word on their note-worthy wines.
Here's a glance at the local wine scene:
Cadaretta Wines hosted a special evening excursion at their Glasshouse.
The Glasshouse is reserved for special occasions. Perched on the hills,
it offers dynamic views of the Milton-Freewater and Walla2 valley that are truly special!
The Middleton family owns and operates Cadaretta Wines.
With roots in the lumber business, the winery is named after the family's
early 20th century lumber schooner. The tasting room is located on Walla Walla's E Main St.
Visit the site for their current wines: https://www.cadaretta.com/
The Cadaretta's dinner and pairing was a great launch pad for
combining wines, foods, and flavors at home.
2014 Cadaretta Windthrow. This blend of Rhone varietals was served with
wild Canadian Arctic Char, Yukon potato emulsion, chanterelle mushrooms, and plum relish.
2015 Cadaretta Southwind Malbec. Served with maple braised lamb shanks,
risotto, mushrooms, and dates.
And for dessert, the 2014 Cadaretta Springboard, Bordeaux Blend,
accompanied petite fours and chocolate truffles.
G. Cuneo Cellars
Located in the Latin Corner, catty-corner from the hotel,
Gino Cuneo hosted a small winemaker's chat and private tasting.
Conference attendees had the chance to visit the tasting room and sample Gino's wines.
Gino produces classic Italian style wines from eastern Washington fruit.
If you've had Italian wines and been turned off, try Cuneo Cellar's wines.
Gino's wines are smooth, full flavored yet not heavy.
Experience pleasing acidity—no hint of vinegar here.
Full expressions of fruit frame the wines, each with its own personality.
Gino has 30 years of winemaking experience in Oregon and Washington.
He used to focus on making Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
In the process he started making Italian wines: then, exclusively Italian.
Each wine needs to be crafted with special care.“You don't treat your kids the same,” Gino shared.
G. Cuneo Cellars started offering their wines DTC (direct to consumer) 5 years ago.
Tastings and purchasing are available at their tasting room downtown.
Or find their wines via wine club, phone, or online: https://www.ginocuneocellars.com/
For the tastings:
2016 Rosato, dry Rose' Wine, Columbia Valley WA.
2013 Nebarro, red blend (Nebbiolo & Barbera,) Columbia Valley WA.
The grande dame of the wines was Gino's 2013 Seccopassa.
This unique wine is made in the Appassimento method.
At harvest, mature women who are not going for speed, gently pick the grapes.
They lay each whole cluster separately on a flat basket/rack to dry.
After 3 ½ months of drying and resting, the grapes are pressed.
The juice from the dried grapes is combined with juice from fresh grapes, about 50:50.
The result is this Venetian tradition-inspired wine, smooth and utterly layered with flavors.
Walla Walla isn't a town that shouts at you.
Instead, it's a place to explore layer by layer.
From its famous Walla Walla sweet onions, wheat production and apples, to the wine;
the local restaurants can offer flavorful dining.
A contrast and collection of activities is available.
Downtown, Sotheby's is located next to a local 4H display.
Rent a bike for the day, hike, walk, or visit a local farm.
The Walla Walla wine region reminds me of a patchwork quilt or a collage.
The pieces are all unique.
But as each individual feature is combined, Walla2 is
showing the world it deserves a second look in the wine world.
A toast to you as you try new wine regions!
If you're in Washington and heading North, see my post on
Church & State Wines, Brentwood BC.
"Force Majeure,” meaning to give one's very best effort.
Pushing the boundaries. Many people push the envelope to see how much they can get away with or to make a big stir. Others can't help it. They are filled with an inner pull, a demand, to be innovative, pioneering, and take risks for a greater goal.
Taking the leap from tech life in Southern California to wine making, Paul and Susan McBride choose the Walla Walla, Washington, region for their new venture. Together these trailblazers are crafting world class wines.
Hospitable, easy going, and visionary, the McBrides have vineyards in the Rocks District AVA and the Red Mountain AVA. Force Majeure crafts beautiful Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and more.
Their newest acquisition is a of a piece of land the locals call “The North Fork.” Instead of planting more vines on the valley floor, this parcel is located on a steep hill within a canyon. The site was part of a geological survey that showed its suitability for growing wine grapes.
The rise in elevation provides more moderate weather than the valley, with slightly warmer mornings with less frost, and cooler afternoons. Its ideal climate and growing conditions spoke to the McBrides and their winemaking team.
Force Majeure offered a tour to WBC attendees. It began with their forthcoming production site currently being built. Next came the drive up to their the North Fork property. Winemaker Todd Alexander was brought on from Bryant Family Vineyard in the Napa Valley. He shared about the slope and plan for the vineyard. Standing on the place of someone's dream in process is a breathtaking experience. It felt real, raw, and genuine.
The tour continued with a tasting and lunch hosted by the owners and winemaker at a local venue. Seven wines were tasted prior to the food. I like these tasting best! I prefer the real flavors and mouth-feel of the wines without the flavors and textures of food.
Wines that called out to me were:
Chef Andrae Bopp of Andrae's Kitchen catered the buffet lunch which paired perfectly with the wines.
When things change in a region, it gets people's attention. The Northwest's wine production isn't slowing down. And the Walla Walla Valley AVA is getting noticed thanks, in part, to Force Majeure, who is pushing the boundaries with the goal of showing the wines the region can produce.
Force Majeure plants their own vines in a region when wine is typically sourced from large growers. They produce single vineyard-designated wines. And they are intentionally planting on the North Fork hills; something not typically done in the area. Most people think the site is too steep, too remote, and not easy to tend.
With aim, they are striving to put the Rocks District, the Red Mountain, and North Fork wine areas on the minds and palates of wine fans around the globe.
Living next to the Santa Cruz Mountains,
we are used to vineyards clinging the steep slopes of the mountains.
But in Walla Walla, the McBrides are spearheading changes.
It's a risk. It takes more labor, time, and expense, and it's difficult to tend the sloping, new site.
Susan shared, “I can say, 'I staked those posts, I planted those vines.'”
Their kids have helped and camped out at the vineyard.
From soil to glass, the personal investment and love put into Force Majeure shows.
With a potential for Walla Walla to be a world class wine region, the McBrides also are establishing a legacy for their family. Wholeheartedly jumping in with both feet,
they hope to keep the vineyards for their kids for years to come--
and take care of them like their kids.
Thank you, Force Majeure, for the wonderful experience!
Here's to your next wine jaunt and discovering new wine regions.
Visit my Wine Beyond the Tasting Room page for more wine features.
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