You don’t need to break the bank in Tuscany, nor do you need to deal with the crowds of Napa Valley. America has so many wonderful wine regions, many of them with unexpected charms. Recently my partner and I planned a bit of luxurious downtime in one of the nation’s most underrated wine destinations: Walla Walla, Washington.
Located in far eastern Washington, it’s quite a drive – though Alaska Air will get you there via an easy connection in Seattle. (FYI, Wine Flies Free on Alaska). Washington is America’s second largest wine producing state, though quite far behind the leader, California. If the state had a de facto wine capital, it would be Walla Walla, one small town that is nearing 100 wineries.
What I love about Walla Walla is for all the luxury on offer, there is an utter lack of pretension; in fact, quirky is probably the best descriptor of Walla Walla. For example, a cluster of the wineries are located at the airport; winemakers have converted old military barracks buildings into tasting rooms and small production facilities, such as Revelry Vinters, one of my favorite finds in Walla Walla. Downtown reveals block and after block of tasting rooms, each quite unique from the next - from the women-owned DaMa or the sweet treats at The Chocolate Shop.
The official Walla Walla website has a full listing of all wineries; pay attention to opening days and hours, as the winemakers all keep to a different schedule.
Where there’s great wine there is great food, and Walla Walla has gastronomy covered, no matter what you’re craving. On the high end, you have fine French cuisine at Brasserie Four, where reservations are a must to sample their fabulous creations. Whitehouse Crawford is another choice to enjoy letting someone else do the cooking. For something light and simple, Olive Marketplace has it covered.
When looking at the available options for top shelf accommodation in Walla Walla, there are some excellent choices. We opted for the Girasol Vineyard because of its central location to many of the wineries, although the property does not make its own wine currently. The establishment is what I like to call “modern luxury” – clean, upscale, but hands-off. Owners Michele and Ed greet you in the drive with a friendly wave, and after an explanation of the amenities and a handful of dinner recommendations, leave you to enjoy the grounds at your leisure. Before you go exploring, ask Michele for her wonderfully curated printouts of tasting room hours and tips; being a guest of the Girasol gives you free tastings at many of the area wineries and we found her information more up-to-date than some of the wineries’ own websites.
Each room at Girasol is appointed with everything you need to relax after a day at the wineries, from free Wifi to your own small patio with a chiminea , just the spot to enjoy the inn’s view overlooking the rolling hills and perhaps enjoying a glass from the day’s purchases. In the mornings, Girasol puts on a wonderful cooked breakfast, featuring fresh pastries from Walla Walla Bread Company and a freshly cooked dish.
Girasol only has three rooms, so it’s worth booking early. Walla Walla is a year-round destination, but I think the best months to visit are spring and autumn.
Andy Hayes is a creative web producer based in sunny Portland, Oregon. He is also the founder of Plum Deluxe, a community of friends and family that enjoy life’s everyday luxuries. All photos courtesy of author.