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Escaping to Walla Walla

Written By | Sep 6, 2013

WALLA WALLA, Washington, September 4, 2013 — There has been a relatively new wine region on the horizon for wine lovers around the country, and this one comes from Washington State, promoting the name of its central city.

About four and half hours southeast of Seattle by car lies what many in the Northwest regard as the “golden nugget” of the Washington wine industry, Walla Walla. Derived from the ancient Native American name for “place of many waters,” nobody could have possible foreseen how this little town would end-up having such a positive impact on the world of wine.

At this year’s Celebrate Walla Walla Valley festival, the city featured more than 70 Walla Walla wineries, pouring everything from library wines to new releases over a three-day span. The grape in celebration was cabernet sauvignon and in choosing that varietal, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance invited some of its friends from Napa to come up and join in a little head-to-head action.

Napa built its reputation on producing world-class cabernet sauvignon, and Walla Walla has been trying hard to make its own global impact with this much-adored grape. The vintners on-hand for the featured event were Napa’s Chappellet Winery, TOR Winery and Spottswoode Winery. Representing Walla Walla were Woodward Canyon, Pepper Bridge and Leonetti Cellars.

While this event was never meant as a “throw down,” it was a great opportunity to taste the differences in Terroir, vine age and other nuances. The three Napa wines clearly showed a great deal of finesse and ageability. However, they also came with premium Napa prices. On the other hand, all three wines from Walla Walla came across as much more youthful but still very good tasting with appeal that should lay down for at least 10 years.

In all, there were 30 Walla Walla wineries on-hand pouring older vintages of wine, even a 1984 from Waterbrook Winery.

Walla Walla has an amazingly adorable charm to it, especially on Main Street. It offers great eating establishments, live music on many nights of the week and a few tasting rooms as well. You can park most anywhere near the Marcus Whitman Hotel and walk the gist of Main Street. It’s a great way to quickly absorb the city.

As far as wine regions go, the Walla Walla region is essentially split up into just a few areas. Starting out just west of town, there is the little area called Lowden, where you’ll find Woodward Canyon and Le’Cole No41. From there, as you head into town, you’ll find Long Shadows Vintners, Reininger and Glencorrie.  Once you make it into the city, there are two other areas you’ll want to drive out to, the Airport and to the south of the city towards Stateline road.

The airport area hosts such famous names as Dunham Cellars and Tamarack and also features a few worthy newcomers such as Corvus Cellars, Buty Winery and Kontos Cellars.

To the south, there is Pepper Bridge, Amavi, Saviah Cellars, Sleight of Hand, Basel Cellars, and Va Piano. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, then you should consider crossing the border into the area of Milton-Freewater, Oregon and hitting up Tero Estate as well as Watermill Winery.

Driving from Seattle, most people will encounter at least one major mountain pass, which for the majority of the year has inclement weather so having four wheel drive can make or break the trip. Even without snow, the heavy rains are a much easier drive when you’re not just sending power to just two of the wheels.

If you are renting, make the drive in a vehicle that’ll enhance the journey. The 2013 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD model, with its spacious interior, smooth ride, good power response, technology and cargo space, made it a great mid-sized SUV for the task.

A little research showed us that this ride is priced around $35,000, Ford backs up this rig with a 3yr/36,000 mile bumper to bumper and a 5yr/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. Additionally, there’s also a 5yr/60,000 roadside assist available. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 21/28mpg in the city and freeway respectively, not bad for a vehicle of its size and weight.

What makes it a great vehicle for a wine trip like going to Celebrate Walla Walla, however, is its cargo space for packing it full of wine cases, comfort for four, a good-sounding audio system and very nice technology inside.

Of course there’s Bluetooth telephony as well as Bluetooth audio support and the Ford Synch touch screen works very well.  All the available voice commands help keep the driver’s eyes on the road, an extra important feature after extended periods of driving when fatigue can set in.

For your next wine adventure, you should highly consider Walla Walla. It features a warm charm, warm people, world class wines, good hotels and great food. If you fly on Alaska Airlines, you are allowed to check up to one case of wine for free. So check it out. It’s worth the trip and a trip there will give you a new appreciation for New World wine values.

Duane Pemberton

Duane Pemberton is a lifestyle writer and CDNs Auto Editor. Pemberton loves anything that helps bring people together which is why he writes about food, wine, cars, and travel.