Thursday, July 30, 2009

Walla Walla or BUST

You probably know that the name Walla Walla is of Indian origin but what you might not know is its meaning of ‘many waters’.

In the 1800’s, fur traders established settlements, trading posts and a fort in the area. Lewis & Clark wondered the Walla Walla Valley boundaries and on their return trip took them through present day Walla Walla County.

This early history set up the foundation for Walla Walla to experience their own ‘gold rush’ with commercial banking and manufacturing activities, making it the largest city in Washington Territory. What I didn’t know before this trip was Walla Walla was home to the first commercial bank in the Northwest, the first college in the region and has the oldest symphony west of the Mississippi River. Following this boom, farming became the driving force behind this community and continues as one today.

Now that the history lesson is done for the day I thought I would tell you about our wonderful weekend in Eastern Washington. First I should say this was Micah’s and my first trip without our two little ones. While we would have loved sharing this experience with both of them we needed some time by ourselves. We celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary on July 24th and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a weekend get-a-way. So with our bags packed we headed across the mountains.
Our first stop was to visit Portteus Vineyards in Zillah Washington. Our plan is to purchase 1.5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon for the 2009 crush from this vineyard – according to our research this is one of the best vineyards in the state. We truly enjoyed this stop & the people we had an opportunity to meet. We chatted with Paul, the owner and winemaker, his sons who are slowly taking over the business & Matt the Fed-ex driver, tasting room manager and all around knowledgeable guy regarding the winery & surrounding area.

After this visit we got back on the road and headed to Burgess Vineyards in Pasco, Washington. Our plan is to purchase 1.5 tons of Syrah, 0.5 ton of Merlot and for the first time 500 lbs of Viognier. We spent well over an hour visiting his two 50 acre vineyards, chatting about how he manages these locations & what goes into making a good vineyard (in his option: getting your hands dirty, a crew you can trust and time in the field). We truly appreciated the time Paul spent with us (strange that both our grape growers are named Paul) – he is very passionate about his work and loves sharing his knowledge. This meeting alone was worth the trip.

We still had places to go and people to see so we got back into the car and finished the last leg of the trip ending in Walla Walla. Unfortunately our trip over put us into town after all the tasting rooms closed so we simply headed to our bed & breakfast, The Inn at Woodhaven Farm, for some quiet time before dinner that night. If you’re looking for a place to stay during your trip this B&B comes highly recommended. The two ladies who run it, Jill and Laurie, are sisters and have remolded the entire house with great detail. We really had no complaints staying here and would quickly recommend to our friends & family.

To celebrate our 5 year anniversary we headed downtown to have dinner at T. Maccarone's. We brought a 2003 Torciano Chianti which we purchased on our honeymoon in Italy. Throughout dinner this wine really opened up and was amazing. We started with an Antipasto & Caesar Salad which Micah and I shared. For dinner I enjoyed house made spaghetti pasta with Grandma Maccarone’s original meatballs, while Micah enjoyed the Beef Tenderloin with horseradish whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables. We ended the dinner with a lovely Crème Brule – needless to say everything was delicious!!!

We knew the next day was going to be full of tastings so we got an early start. We got to Basel Cellars right as the tasting room opened. They were preparing for the winemakers wedding later that afternoon but we still enjoyed the wine and great views from this winery. Next on our list was Glen Fiona where we chatted with Jack, the tasting room manager, regarding some of their practices. Seeing that their winemaker is fairly young and has some very hip ideas when it comes to winemaking we really wanted to pick his brain. After making our purchase we headed down the road to Trust & Chateau Rollat where we chatted with both Steve and Mike. This concept of two wineries being in one building was new to me but a great model. We had both winemakers onsite to chat with & overall we were very impressed with both products. We didn’t walk away empty handed. We then headed into town for a late lunch at the Creek Town Café where Micah had a Bloody Mary that could have been a meal in itself. After lunch it was on to the next group of wineries – for us that was near the airport. We started with Five Star Cellars and Elegante Cellars, neither of which we had tasted before this trip, and hope to try again seeing that some local wine bars have started carrying their product. Then it was on to our last stop of the day & honestly we couldn’t have picked a better end than Kontos Cellars and Adamant Cellars. These two wineries are located in what is called ‘incubator’ buildings specifically designed for making wine. These buildings are perfect for wineries that are producing 1000 cases or less – we were really interested in this concept and weren’t disappointed. We learned that after a 6 year lease period they are required to pack up and move in hopes that they have built up a name for themselves and can continue being successful. Both Devin with Adamant & Cameron with Kontos were great. Their presentation was amazing and the wine was the best we tasted all weekend. What really inspired both Micah and I were these were two wineries that were just starting up and building a name for themselves. Adamant started in his basement while living in Portland Oregon & just like us took that leap of faith to turn a hobby into a business. All day we had ‘tasted’ in true form by spitting all we tasted – only till we experienced both these wineries product did we start drinking which ended our day perfectly. We are telling all our friends about these two smaller wineries and we can’t wait till we head back to experience their wines first hand once again.

By the time we wrapped up with the incubator wineries it was closing time so we headed back to the B&B to reflect on all the wine we tasted & wonderful people we had met. That night we ended back at T. Maccarone's for a light dinner & some delightful conversation at the bar with Tom, the owner, and Chip, the bartender and winemaker himself. The next morning we had to pack up and head back home. We had planned on stopping at some wineries on the way out of town but the thought of seeing our little girls a couple hours earlier won out. It was a magnificent weekend, one that we will never forget, not just for sentimental reasons but also both Micah’s and my first trip of many to the Walla Walla wine country.

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