It has been nine years since I was last in Walla Walla and, in the world of Washington wines that is an eternity.
When I last visited there were not two dozen active wineries; now there are more than 100.
While pioneers such as Leonetti and Woodward Canyon had proven the region’s mettle, there still remains a great deal of confusion about the area. For most wine lovers, Walla Walla is hardly differentiated from its far bigger sibling AVA, Columbia Valley.
To some degree, the consumer bears no blame in this. Columbia Valley is a vast appellation, ranging across great chunks of the state. Its size confers an ambiguous personality and though it shares certain geological and climatic characteristics, it is too big to represent anything in particular.
It is simply a large vineyard swath of a fairly large state. Walla Walla, on the other hand, is a little pocket in the southeast corner that is something very distinct, even if it too varies from spot to spot.
And Walla Walla carries one other distinction: among a handful of wineries that have made Washington State’s reputation as an area of excellent wines, remarkable reds and crazy good values, the Walla Walla region arguably carries the state’s banner.
Cayuse, Dunham, Gramercy, L’Ecole 41, Leonetti, Long Shadows, Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Woodward Canyon and numerous smaller estates are among the first to appear on anyone’s list of great Washington wineries. Walla Walla has had disproportionate success.
The next blog: we’ll try to understand why. And that entails drilling down … into the earth.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.