Downtown Walla Walla, which is tiny, has undergone a revitalization over the past decade, and efforts are still underway. Walla Walla retained its antique sidewalk clock on main street. Even today, the clock continues to be manually rewound every Friday. It is located near the corner of 2nd and Main, directly in front of the Grapefield's wine bar. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Walla Walla, he remarked that Walla Walla was one of the most favorably impressive cities in the northwest. In 2002, Sunset Magazine named Walla Walla as one of the best places to live, largely due to the urban renewal efforts. In between those two points in time, Walla Walla slid into a recession and the downtown was neglected. Today Walla Walla is very much on the upswing, and its downtown has a variety of upscale boutique shops, wine bars, wine tasting rooms, cafes, and one major hotel.
Move over Napa
"There's a new kid in town!"
When I was a college student traveling in between my college town in the Rockies and my home town of Federal Way, Washington, Walla Walla was just a place along the way, near the Umatilla Bridge, a crossing over the Columbia River in the midst of wheat, hay and onion fields. Back then, no one went there unless they lived there. And hardly anyone lived there to begin with.
Little did I know, while I was making those trips to and from my college town and home town, an entrepreneurial young man by the name of Gary Leonetti planted his first vineyards near Walla Walla and produced his first wine in 1978. The wine was a hit and he expanded his vineyards. Today, Leonetti Cellars wines are next to impossible to come by if you are just a regular person like me, and if you do find them, they cost over $100 per bottle.
"Walla Walla Reinvented"
Other vintners followed suit, with a few vineyards being established in the 1980s. The new wineries proliferated in the 90s, and the 00s. Yearly, more wineries are releasing their first vintages - for good reason. The terroir is conducive to producing amazing red wines - primarily cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and signature blends.
For the past several years, my husband and I have made it a tradition to celebrate our anniversaries somewhere in the wine country. We live so close to Sonoma and Napa - it is such an easy thing to plan. However, after several years of Sonoma and Napa, we wanted to branch out. Last year we went to wacky Santa Cruz. Emboldened by that trip, this year we selected a wine country even more off the beaten path. Walla Walla definitely fit that bill.
"A chance discovery"
In California, we rarely come across Walla Walla wines. They simply are not available at restaurants here, and frankly wouldn't sell at this time because Californians don't know where Walla Walla is. Very few wine stores carry them. I would have continued on in this blissful ignorance, but fate nudged me in the other direction.
Earlier this summer we traveled to Tacoma, Washington for a wedding, and I saw Walla Walla wines on a couple of wine lists. I laughed. That is kind of like seeing wine from North Dakota or Utah. But we tried them, and they were out of this world. I stopped laughing. I just HAD to see what had transpired in this land of wheat, hay and onion fields which a few years ago was nothing more than a boring stretch of road on my way home from college.
It's not Napa yet. The area hasn't been transformed into vast vineyards yet. The wineries are small boutique wineries focusing on "hand crafted" wines. (Wine-speak for "Our wines are not mass produced and besides we have a small staff.") I'll be keeping my eye on these Walla Walla wines from now on.
In addition to producing outstanding wines, the Walla Walla area turned to be a fun place all around for a three day weekend.