My trip to Walla Walla for the Wine Bloggers' Conference was not my first rodeo in W2. Last October was actually the beginning of my love affair with this city. We were visiting my father-in-law in Kennewick, and decided to take an afternoon to make the short drive to the little wine heaven in the Southeastern portion of Washington state. My wife and I instantly fell in love with the place, and not just because of the great wineries. The entire city has such a warm and inviting feel to it, and my feelings certainly were not diminished by the experience that I had there during the conference.
This time around, I was fortunate to be able to spend a great deal more time in the idyllic downtown area of Walla Walla that was our blogging home for the weekend. The Marcus Whitman hotel was the perfect choice to host the event, and the time that we spent wandering through the great restaurants, tasting rooms, and shops located on the surrounding streets was as enjoyable as the events of the conference. The city really could not have been more welcoming to us, and it was wonderful to be able to fully experience this area of Washington.
Before the official start of the conference took place at the Marcus Whitman, a small group of the bloggerati ventured out onto the streets of W2 in search of sustenance. We ended up choosing Olive Marketplace & Café for our breakfast. The food was quite good, although some of us had quite the wait for said food to arrive at our table. I can't say I really blame them, as I'm sure all of the additional traffic was probably taxing their resources. At that moment in time, starving and in a hurry to get back to the hotel, I can say that I was probably not at my most patient.
Throughout the day we were treated to some great Washington wines, culminating in a dinner hosted by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and a walk-about put on by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, featuring 10 local winebars and tasting rooms. These businesses stayed open just for us, pouring some of the best wines that I had during the conference. Some of my favorites were the 2007 Syrah from SYZYGY, the 2007 Skylite Reserve Blend, the 2005 Skylite Cellars Syrah, and the 2007 Pepper Bridge Cabernet. All of the wineries on the walkabout were very gracious to open their doors to us after hours, and I am glad that we had the opportunity to try a little more of the local wines.
The following day we had the opportunity to spend some time talking with some of the growers and winemakers for wines from the Walla Walla area. We departed on a "lottery bus", with each group of 13 people jumping into a bus, without knowing where that bus would take them. Our tour started in the vineyards of Woodward Canyon. Rick Small, who owns Woodward Canyon, took us on a great tour of his vineyards, sharing some really interesting information about their viticultural practices. Woodward Canyon is LIVE Certified Sustainable, and has been producing wines in Walla Walla since 1981. They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Barbera, and have been experimenting with some other Italian varieties.
Our next stop on the lottery bus tour was Beresan Winery, where we met with a panel for discussion. Our panel consisted of Tom Waliser from Beresan, Quentin Mylet of Tertulia Cellars, and Thomas A. Glase from Balboa Winery. We started off in the tasting room, as Tom Waliser told us a little about Beresan, which is named after the region of the Ukraine where the Waliser family emigrated from. Next we moved outside, and were introduced to some very interesting wines. The first was the 2009 Tertulia Viognier, which was a truly lovely example of this variety. Viognier is a personal favorite of mine, and this may have been the best that I had while in Washington. The name Tertulia is Spanish for "a social gathering of friends", and this wine would be a great one to share with friends over a nice dinner. We also were poured the Balboa Mith red blend, which was also an enjoyable wine. Winemaker Thomas Glase is also the winemaker for Beresan, who poured their 2008 Semillon and 2007 Malbec for us. The panel was an enjoyable look into winemaking in Walla Walla. We were even sent on our way with a bag of delicious Washington Cherries, which was practically worth the expense of the trip by themselves.
Finally, we stopped at Whitman Cellars for lunch. The lunch was wonderful, and we were poured several wines, including a couple of different Walla Walla Vintners Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc, a Whitman Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and red blend, and a Port. Whitman Cellars winemaker, Stephen Lessard, gave us a tour around the winery and talked about his winemaking philosophy. We had a very interesting conversation regarding the troubles with making lower alcohol wines in this area, but he stressed that his goal is to make balanced wines. From what I tasted, I think that he has succeeded.
Each step of my trip to Walla Walla presented me with interesting opportunities to learn more about the area, and to sample new and interesting wines. It was evident that all of the winemaker and vineyard owners that I met on the trip feel a lot of pride in what they are doing, and with good cause. There are some really wonderful wines being produced in this area, world class wines even. Added to the quality of the wines, is a beautiful community that begs to be explored. I am already looking forward to my next trip to the area to experience
even more of this charming area of the Northwest.