"Move over Napa" Walla Walla by karenincalifornia

Walla Walla Travel Guide: 69 reviews and 132 photos

There's a new kid in town!

When I was a college student traveling in between my college town in the Rockies and my home town of Federal Way, Washington, Walla Walla was just a place along the way, near the Umatilla Bridge, a crossing over the Columbia River in the midst of wheat, hay and onion fields. Back then, no one went there unless they lived there. And hardly anyone lived there to begin with.

Little did I know, while I was making those trips to and from my college town and home town, an entrepreneurial young man by the name of Gary Leonetti planted his first vineyards near Walla Walla and produced his first wine in 1978. The wine was a hit and he expanded his vineyards. Today, Leonetti Cellars wines are next to impossible to come by if you are just a regular person like me, and if you do find them, they cost over $100 per bottle.

Walla Walla Reinvented

Other vintners followed suit, with a few vineyards being established in the 1980s. The new wineries proliferated in the 90s, and the 00s. Yearly, more wineries are releasing their first vintages - for good reason. The terroir is conducive to producing amazing red wines - primarily cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and signature blends.

For the past several years, my husband and I have made it a tradition to celebrate our anniversaries somewhere in the wine country. We live so close to Sonoma and Napa - it is such an easy thing to plan. However, after several years of Sonoma and Napa, we wanted to branch out. Last year we went to wacky Santa Cruz. Emboldened by that trip, this year we selected a wine country even more off the beaten path. Walla Walla definitely fit that bill.

A chance discovery

In California, we rarely come across Walla Walla wines. They simply are not available at restaurants here, and frankly wouldn't sell at this time because Californians don't know where Walla Walla is. Very few wine stores carry them. I would have continued on in this blissful ignorance, but fate nudged me in the other direction.

Earlier this summer we traveled to Tacoma, Washington for a wedding, and I saw Walla Walla wines on a couple of wine lists. I laughed. That is kind of like seeing wine from North Dakota or Utah. But we tried them, and they were out of this world. I stopped laughing. I just HAD to see what had transpired in this land of wheat, hay and onion fields which a few years ago was nothing more than a boring stretch of road on my way home from college.

It's not Napa yet. The area hasn't been transformed into vast vineyards yet. The wineries are small boutique wineries focusing on "hand crafted" wines. (Wine-speak for "Our wines are not mass produced and besides we have a small staff.") I'll be keeping my eye on these Walla Walla wines from now on.

In addition to producing outstanding wines, the Walla Walla area turned to be a fun place all around for a three day weekend.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Few crowds, excellent wines, nice wide streets for cycling, pleasant dry weather, interesting history
  • Cons:Infrastructure doesn't fully support tourism - yet. E.g., great bicycle paths, but difficult to rent bikes; beautiful mountains but little information available on hiking trails, no outdoors stores
  • In a nutshell:A rising star among wine countries
  • Last visit to Walla Walla: Sep 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (25)

Comments (7)

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Apr 19, 2008 at 9:18 AM

    Walla Walla sounds just my sort of place (the name could be Australian) - good wine, a great place to stay, a bit of history, proper shops ... I could happily spend a few days here. Thanks for the tipoff. leyle

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Apr 2, 2008 at 11:26 AM

    Nice look at Walla Walla and some of its wines. Sounds like the Whitmans could have used some of that barbed wire! And smoke does get to be a problem in August!

  • thinking's Profile Photo
    Nov 12, 2007 at 3:50 AM

    Bonjour! Interesting comments about wine. I'll look for it on our travels to Washington state.

  • EllenH's Profile Photo
    Oct 12, 2007 at 10:16 PM

    good walla walla pages, the goods and the bads.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Sep 22, 2007 at 8:38 AM

    Since the folks in Walla Walla sound very enterprising, I'm sure they will soon open an outdoor store and a bicycle shop with rental service. Great that your B&B had free bicycles! I have never heard of Walla Walla wines but will be on the lookout.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Sep 17, 2007 at 5:46 PM

    A great page on a city everyone has heard of, and nice to see it has restored its downtown! That's beautiful scenery in the Blue Mountains and I also liked the sound of your winery visits. Congrats on your anniversary and the delicious meal to go with it!

  • Marianne2's Profile Photo
    Sep 7, 2007 at 4:04 PM

    Great tip on Walla Walla and how its downtown has been rejuvenated -- nice place!


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