Grasslands, desert and giant reds!

Driving along the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon to Walla Walla, Washington is an experience. The diversity of landscape is amazing. It’s a four hour trip with Mt. Hood looming to the south, forested mountains, desolate desert, gorges and rolling grasslands dotted with amazing green oases.

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Walla Walla appears as a big oasis in the southeastern corner of the state of Washington. The wine region borders the Blue Mountains to the east and straddles two states. A third of the region actually lies in Oregon.

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If you are looking for a wine trip that is laid back, like Paso Robles was a few years ago, or Sonoma was ten years ago, this is your destination. Great family wineries, extremely friendly people, charming city, and amazing wine and food!

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There are more than 125 wineries so it’s impossible to cover much in two days.  Armed with an itinerary and some scheduled appointments we visited ten wineries to taste the big reds produced in this region. Fortunately we had time to get acquainted with the picturesque downtown and the surrounding scenery in between our winery visits.

We tasted at these wonderful wineries……….

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Isenhower, with Jeffery and Kona

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Amavi, with Phil Johanson

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Northstar, and we took time to picnic!

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Saviah Cellars with Denise Musick

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Rasa Vineyards

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Sleight of Hand

Mark Ryan

Mark Ryan

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Charles Smith (K Vintners)

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Gramercy Cellars

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Revelry Vintners

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Downtown Walla Walla is vibrant, walkable, and offers plenty of accommodations, restaurants, interesting shops and winery tasting rooms.

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The community has preserved many of the original brick buildings that add terrific character to the city. I was surprised to find a Macy’s Department store creatively housed in a vintage theatre that preserves the old Main Street storefronts, along with a bookstore containing an amazing selection of games and outstanding puzzles, and a candy store called Bright’s that was established in 1938.

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There is a curious, if not unique, water element named Mill Creek running through the downtown.   The meandering creek path has been reconstructed into something like a shallow canal and has become an attractive feature.

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Public sculptures in downtown Walla Walla add to the streetscapes.   My absolute favorite is by the very accomplished artist, Brad Rude.

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Macy’s Department Store, Main Street (former Liberty Theatre)

Walla Walla is definitely art friendly and college friendly. There are at least two colleges, one is home to The Institute for Enology and Viticulture, a popular two-year program to prepare students for various areas in the wine industry.   We were most fortunate to meet two of its graduate during our travels.

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Art on display at Saviah Winery

We stayed downtown at the 1928 Marcus Whitman Hotel. It is great to support the continued use of historic architecture but in this case, aside from a good location, the hotel was not particularly special and the breakfast that was included was worth passing up.

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We dined at Whitehouse-Crawford our first night and selected a bottle of PB GSM, the second label of Rasa Vineyards. Located in a 1904 planing mill it is a truly charming restaurant. In addition to dining in such a great space, we had a terrific waiter who we were delighted to see again working in yet another fantastic place – Colville Street Patisserie.

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We made sure to have our two remaining breakfasts there.  The Patisserie is not to be missed. Oh my, I wish I could have one more of their delicious pastries!

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Graze – Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Graze, across Colville Street and up a block from the Patisserie, was our lunch treat. Thank you Patisserie staff for recommending it! Graze offers fresh, creative salads, sandwiches and soups. It’s VERY popular, small, and a bit loud but the food is pretty darn amazing.

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During our stay we dined at two other worthy restaurants.  Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen is in a downtown storefront with a small outdoor dining area.  The chef has been a James Beard semi-finalist every year since 2009!  The food was unusual and exceptional.   They also have a good, moderately priced wine list.

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We enjoyed a bottle of Gramercy Cellars 2011 L’Idiot Du Village with a Grilled Walla Walla Sweet Onion appetizer and entrees of Moroccan inspired fried chicken and house-made pasta with duck ragu.

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Brasserie 4 – Art on exhibit by Helene Wilder

On our final night we tried Brasserie Four, a storefront restaurant with a lovely feel and especially intriguing paintings. The menu is an array of small plates, interesting appetizers, sides and a few full plates. The wine by the bottle is uniquely set up to pick your own. Bottles are shelved and attractively displayed on one of the restaurant’s walls where customers go, select their choice for the evening, bring it to their table and their server  takes over from there.

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It seemed fitting to end our visit in Walla Walla with a wine from the first winery we visited there. We toasted and enjoyed a bottle of Isenhower 2012 Road Less Traveled Cabernet Franc with our hanger steaks and crispy frites. The frites were so incredible I now understand why they are also served as an appetizer!

In additional posts I will write, hopefully interesting, information about many of the individual wineries we visited and the wines we selected to bring back to Sarasota.

Walla Walla is most definitely a great choice for a wine vacation.  Residents suggest if you do come to book your flight into Pasco’s airport, a mere 50 minutes away.

Thank you Walla Walla!

Salud!  Debbe

3 thoughts on “Grasslands, desert and giant reds!

  1. Thanks for the great posts on your Oregon trip! It sounds like you had a wonderful time – I look forward to hearing more in the near future. I have a meeting 20′ north of Pasco this week – our host has arranged for dinner at Bookwalter Winery, so I am looking forward to a taste of southern Oregon wine amidst all the physics chatter.

  2. Thanks for the great posts on your Oregon trip! It sounds like you had a wonderful time – I look forward to hearing more in the near future. I have a meeting 20′ north of Pasco this week – our host has arranged for dinner at Bookwalter Winery, so I am looking forward to a taste of southern Oregon wine amidst all the physics chatter.

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