It’s hard to stay away from wine country when the weather is as perfect as it is right now. So off I go! Follow me starting July 11 as I travel between Yakima and Walla Walla, with stops all along the way!
How often is it you look at your calendar and find two consecutive days without any meetings, lunch appointments, dinner dates… Nothing? If you are like me or my friends, it does not happen often. So without a second thought, I took advantage of this rare opportunity and hopped in the car for an overnight to Yakima.
I’m so glad I did! First, I got sun. A lot of sun. But there was more…
I have been meaning to jot down the exit number for the viewpoint I encourage people to take advantage of traveling from Seattle to wine country. It is just after mile marker 7 on I-82 East, atop Manastash Ridge. Unfortunately, I did not have the appropriate lens for a better picture, but here you get the idea.
I also had the opportunity to sample more than a few restaurants and take-out spots in the area. One that I had been meaning to make it to for quite some time is Los Hernandez, just outside of Yakima in Union Gap. It is world famous (or at least nationally famous, if Sunset magazine makes you famous) for its hand made tamales. Conveniently, it is located just off the highway so whether you are staying in Yakima or passing through, it is easy to reach. And it’s worth it for a quick and delicious snack. This family-owned operation is the real deal and I was lucky enough to arrive in the midst of asparagus season – they make, but hardly fast enough, a unique asparagus and pepperjack cheese tamale. It flies out of the kitchen and now I know why. Short enough asparagus to go, I bought delicious chicken tamales for family and friends to try back and home and they did not disappoint either.
I also enjoyed dinner at one of Yakima’s newest restaurants, 5 North. While the restaurant is new, the chef-owner, Brad Masset and his family are not new to town. They own the Birchfield Manor and have become well-known for the gourmet dinners prepared on weekend evenings there. My dinner at 5 North did not disappoint: butter lettuce wedge with bleu cheese dressing and dried cranberries, followed by sirloin beef bolognese (it was hard work, but I had to do it!); the cheesecake that followed was divine.
This is all to say, don’t overlook Yakima when you plan your journey to Washington wine country! WAW9 would be happy to help you fit it in!
With Days 8 and 9 behind me, I will wrap them both up in this post – the last of my 9 day Washington wine country adventure (until my next visit, next month!).
One of the highlights of my weekend was the 3-ish mile walk around Bennington Lake I took with Deegan on Saturday morning. The lake is roughly 10 minutes from downtown Walla Walla, bringing you that much closer to the Blue Mountains. The trail is elevated above the lake and the views of the valley are stupendous in all directions. There were many opportunities to enjoy the rolling green wheat fields that are, for me, the highlight of spring in the valley. (I am sorry that I only brought my point-and-shoot camera, it did not do the scenery justice.)
This is a walk I take frequently when visiting Walla Walla. With all the eating, drinking and merriment that goes along with Washington wine country, I enjoy inserting an occasional bit of exercise into my trips. Whether you seek outdoor activity out of guilt, like me, or it is a necessary part of your daily routine, wherever you are in Washington wine country I am willing to bet there is something for you. Beginning in Yakima, the Yakima River is known nationally for fly fishing, and locally for tubing; there is also golf and hiking in easy reach. In the mid-valley, bicycle riding is common through the country roads (and vineyards). In the Tri-Cities, golf, kayaking, fishing, bird watching (is that an activity?), and more. And finally, the Walla Walla Valley has excellent roads for cycling, a top NW golf course, and hiking as well.
I met one visitor over the weekend who said none of this exercise talk is of interest to him, he came to town for one thing: wine. And to him I said: you came to the right place, my friend!
Admittedly, when I was not burning calories, I too was swallowing them. I had wineries to visit for the first time (I have been to a good portion of the Walla Walla Valley’s 130, or so, but there are always more), and I stopped at a number of familiar wineries to check in on old friends. As I said in my last post, it was a busy event weekend in the tasting rooms, but not overwhelmingly so; most were lively but far from unmanageable. (As a client up from San Francisco said: “Walla Walla is a wonderful change to the overcrowded Napa scene.” As a side note, he went on to say: “It is beautiful and offers good value wines.”)
What struck me about the conversations I had with the winemakers was how much fun THEY were having! Many told me how nice it was to have the season in full swing, and Cayuse weekend in particular, because they were seeing regulars again for the first time in many months. Some they remember for their purchasing power; but others simply for their support and enthusiasm about Washington wine. Make a visit, or two, and not only are you likely to remember your favorite Washington winemakers, but they are likely to remember you. This, to me, is what sets Washington apart. The relatively small size of the industry, and its youth, contribute to creating this unique and intimate experience; but there’s also something plain old different about Washington winemakers. Washingtonians are just a little bit more down to earth and approachable than most, I am willing to go out on a limb and say. It’s an extension of the relaxed quality people in the Pacific Northwest are known for. I think.
Add to that, superb wine of countless varieties (I owe you a post on this topic); plentiful farm-to-table dining experiences (Washington wine country is in the heart of Washington State’s agricultural belt, after all); and an abundance of sun and natural beauty…
What more are you waiting for? Come see for yourself. I bet you will go home a fan of Washington wine country.
Thanks for reading!
Day 7, one full week on the road today. I’ve paced myself quite well so I stand at the ready to take advantage of all that’s going on in Walla Walla this weekend.
And this weekend there is a lot going on and a lot of visitors will be joining me here. All of my lodging picks sold out weeks ago. Why? you ask. It is the first Cayuse Weekend in over a year. After canceling their 2010 private release party, the lucky members of the Cayuse wine club have been invited to pick up their orders at the winery this weekend. And not many people pass up an invitation from Cayuse.
But have no worries, Walla Walla is ready for the influx of Cayuse devotees. Many of the other wineries that are typically not open to the public are opening their doors: Long Shadows, Rasa, and Reynvaan Family Vineyards, to name a few. (I, along with many others, enjoyed a stop at Reynvaan first thing this morning – the entire family was pouring!)
And to add to the excitement, there are a few new tasting rooms opening this weekend: Charles Smith (“World Headquarters”), Gramercy Cellars (“Cave”) and Sleight of Hand, to name the 3 I am aware of. Each is located in a different part of town and clearly reflects its brand. Charles Smith is downtown, in a big, open, loft-like space with fantastic exposed wood beams. The interior is done in varying shades of gray and might just have a stage hiding behind a sliding steel wall (everything is on wheels or tracks and can be moved on a moment’s notice). The town is abuzz with talk about the dance party scheduled at the tasting room Saturday night. DJ Howie Pyro is up from LA and a blow out party is anticipated. Charles told me that he is prepared to have to turn people away, certain that the party will grow too large even for his sizable space. (I forgot my dance shoes! If I can find them, I’ll tell you all about the party tomorrow.) This is where it all happens:
The Gramercy Cave is just west of downtown in an industrial neighborhood; coming from New York City, Greg and his wife Pam went after an urban feel. Inside the attractive brick facade it is cozy, as if you were in their living room at home, I imagine – a long wooden tasting bar, great big leather sofas, a flat screen TV, and a dog (their assistant winemaker’s). From the street:
Finally, Sleight of Hand’s tasting room is on the south side of town on Walla Walla’s version of Rodeo Drive (JB George Road, home to Waters, Va Piano and Saviah, among others). No stage, but Sleight of Hand features a turn-table and a large record collection (fixtures from their old downtown tasting room), housed in a simple and comfortable space:
At each of the new facilities I was glad to see big crowds enjoying the wine, and just as much it seemed, the opportunity to interact directly with the winemakers – Charles, Greg and Trey were all pouring for their guests when I stopped in. (I should point out, winemakers were pouring at all the other tasting rooms I visited, too – one of the reasons I love Washington wine country! Where else do you find that?)
Last but not least, Feast Walla Walla is another weekend attraction. Feast is a massive food and wine festival happening on Saturday afternoon under a tent right in the middle of downtown. I have been guaranteed that there will be more food and wine than most people can manage in 3 days, let alone 3 hours. We’ll see…
I know all this information is arriving a little too late to act on if you’re not already on the road. As soon as I have the 2012 dates, I’ll let you know; I’d say it’s a great weekend to build travel plans around. And I am typically not an “event weekend” traveler. But the energy level of the town has ticked up, and the crowds are not unmanageable. In short, Walla Walla is a very happy place to be. And isn’t that what wine country travel is all about?
More from this happy place soon…
Another busy day, in fact so busy that there was no time for blogging. Sorry!
After a winter break, there are big happenings in the little town of Walla Walla. I will get to the wine front in my next post (nothing like a cliff hanger). But first, I want to tell you about some of the neat developments in the cultural department.
First, Foundry Vineyards will be unveiling a new sculpture garden at the beginning of May. Foundry Vineyards, as you might guess, has a close relationship with the Walla Walla Foundry. Since 1980 the Foundry has been a destination for artists from all over the US and points further to cast and fabricate contemporary art. The works of resident artists are on display in major museums worldwide. Foundry Vineyards – committed both to fine art and fine wine – reaps the benefits, and will now have a garden to show off some of the artwork. This, however, is what it looks like now:
Another new development is Shakespeare Walla Walla, formerly Shakespeare Uncork’d. The Seattle Shakespeare Company has come to Walla Walla to stage performances in the past. But this year a new space is being created to house their performances. The Power House, a fantastic old brick building originally built in the 1880′s, is being refashioned after the old Blackfriars Theatre that Shakespeare once knew. It’s going to be amazing! Though the first performance is planned for mid-May, this is what it looks like now:
Lastly, an oldie but goody (comparatively), the Chamber Music Festival will open its season on June 2. The festival will include 29 events over the course of 2 weeks. The “Tasting Music” series offers concerts at wineries throughout the valley but is already a hard ticket to come by. (I’ve been telling you all along it’s not too early to start planning!)
I know for myself sometimes having a date, an event, helps spur me into action. Why not base your trip to wine country around a cultural experience? And while you’re here, take advantage of some of the other opportunities that are available throughout the season: The Art Walk, Whitman Sculpture Walk, Walla Walla Symphony, Amo Art… Maybe it’s because Whitman College is here? I don’t know, but for a town this size, the opportunities are unusually rich.
Call me once you have your dates! More from Walla Walla tomorrow…
Beautiful, right? Snow on the Blue Mountains in the background, young buds in the foreground. Indeed, the season is in transition. The week has been beautiful, but today was chilly and mostly overcast. My fingers are crossed for a warm-up for friends and clients coming to town this weekend!
Today I’ve been thinking alot about sleeping in Walla Walla; not only that I could use a little more sleep myself, but how much I enjoy sleeping here. On my first trip to Walla Walla I took a chance and booked a petite vacation rental house not far from downtown. I chose this route because I had Deegan with me and liked the idea, for both of us, of having a little outdoor space to ourselves (always seeking to maximize time in the sun). I also thought a home would afford me a little more space to work. Remember, Walla Walla is work for me so that it’s fun for you.
As it happens, I stumbled upon the perfect home away from home. I have stayed here countless times since (every night that I am not researching a new B&B or inn); when I walk in, my shoulders relax and Deegan sniffs out the backyard. Like I said, home.
That’s the thing about Walla Walla – this home is the perfect fit for me. But there are countless options for your overnight. Vacation rentals (both homes and condos) are one segment of the opportunity set. Homes come in all shapes and sizes, and are located everywhere from in the center of town to miles outside amidst the rolling wheat fields. One of my favorite jobs has been touring these homes to see if their online presence matches reality (a little like the challenge of online dating, I hear).
In addition to rentals, of course, there are more traditional B&Bs and inns. Walla Walla has some great options already: one B&B ships in cinnamon rolls from out-of-state to offer guests for breakfast; another offers a farm-to-table gourmet dinner; one inn offers the privilege of a private wine tasting; rooms are named for ducks, French wine regions, artists, grape varietals; some are city center, others are creek-side, and still others have pools! And there are new accommodations on the horizon…
Last but not least, Walla Walla does offer traditional hotels, from the upscale, recently renovated Marcus Whitman, to the other likely suspects (Best Western, etc.). Can’t deny the allure of a historic high-rise in the center of downtown with all the amenities, including breakfast, that the Marcus Whitman offers.
So there you have it. The Walla Walla lodging landscape. Overwhelming? I am here to help.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Walla Walla’s cultural offerings, there is a lot of news on that front to report!
I arrived in Walla Walla this evening after nearly 4 days in the extended Yakima Valley (that’s what I will call everything from Yakima to the Tri-Cities). Can you believe it? 4 whole days! Most calls that I receive for travel planning assistance are from people who are Walla Walla-bound. Some are returning for a 2nd or 3rd time, but have yet to stop in the Yakima Valley. Why?
Even locals admit the extended Yakima Valley lacks some of the tourism infrastructure that beckons people to Walla Walla – particularly destination restaurants and noteworthy accommodations. This is one of the reasons I started WAW9 – to help visitors overcome the current set of obstacles. The Yakima Valley is waiting for you, it just helps to know the area to be able to piece it together.
Driving east from Yakima, you pass through Zillah, Prosser, Red Mountain, and Richland, all with significant clusters of wineries and/or
tasting rooms. There are “extracurricular activities” (if the curriculum is wine tasting) going on all the time in these parts because the winery owners, restaurateurs and innkeepers want you to visit! Here are just a few that occur regularly throughout the high season…
Horseback Winery Tours: have you ever? Cherrywood Bed Breakfast and Barn hosts these rides through the vineyards in Zillah with stops at various wineries and a picnic lunch along the way. What better way to soak up the sun?
Sunday Supper at Wine o’Clock: Located in Prosser, Wine o’Clock serves seasonal, local fare for lunch all week long, but once a month they host family-style dinners on Sunday night. More food for all! (and at Wine o’Clock, the more the better!)
Vineyard Tour at Terra Blanca: each weekend Terra Blanca Winery hosts three 90 minute walking tours through their estate vineyard, offering participants a brief education in viticulture, Red Mountain geology, winemaking and more. (Yes, wine tasting is included.) In addition to all that you’ll learn, you’ll see their unique wine cave, too.
Live Music at J Bookwalter: 4 nights a week, J Bookwalter in Richland hosts local musicians – on their outdoor patio, weather permitting -
and serves a selection of charcuterie, cheese and wine, of course. It is a place where locals and visitors come together and, as I’ve seen before, share a dance!
Maybe you spend the weekend in the Yakima Valley, maybe it’s just a stop. But don’t forget about it. It’s the real deal – an authentic experience full of people who are passionate about what they’re doing. It’s pretty inspirational.
Stay tuned for my first day in Walla Walla tomorrow…