It seems every place in America that’s capable of growing a wine grape thinks of itself as the “next Napa Valley.” Well, good luck to them – the real next Napa is Washington’s Walla Walla Valley. Walla Walla has everything you’d want in a premier wine country destination: critically acclaimed wine (75% of the appellation’s bottles regularly score 90 points or above in Wine Spectator), a charming historical and rural town (an early Walla Walla newspaper wrote about the city’s “new” grape culture as early as 1871), beautiful scenic vistas (albeit of a more desert-y, Old West sort than Napa), and over 100 wineries offering wine touring experiences that range in style from intimate to arty to grandiose. If this is beginning to sound like Napa, consider also what Walla Walla thankfully lacks: the crowded highways and backroads, smelly bus tours, inflated prices, and pretentious attitudes often associated with Napa.

Oh, and did I mention the dynamite dining options, lovely inns, inspiring art galleries, and easy likelihood of bumping into some of the country’s most celebrated winemakers in their tasting rooms or on Walla Walla sidewalks (including some who are legitimate celebrities outside of their wine labels, like actor Kyle MacLachlan, or football great Drew Bledsoe)? Or the fact that all this wine country splendor is an easy 4 hour-ish drive from either Portland or Seattle? What’s not to love about Walla Walla?

When the Walla Walla Wine Alliance kicked off their first annual Celebrate Walla Walla Wine event this past summer with a panel discussion and tasting comparing Walla Walla and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, flocks of national press and Napa winery owners attended, some flying into town on their private jets. There’s no doubt about it, Walla Walla is among the hottest (literally and figuratively) wine country destinations in the New World—and it’s right in our backyard!

Located in southeastern Washington and straddling the border between Washington and Oregon, the Walla Walla Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area, or wine appellation) was established in 1984. For a long time, there was only a handful of wineries in this relatively remote region—but they were wineries garnering a lot of critical attention, including Leonetti Cellar, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41, and Seven Hills. As modern pioneers, they proved that the reliably warm and dry climate was especially suited for bold red wines (think Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah), though plenty of other grape varieties are grown here as well. By the late 1990s their success was attracting new winemakers to the region, and the pace has accelerated until today there are nearly 150 wineries in the appellation.

The best way to discover the treasures of Walla Walla is to explore for yourself, but with touring time always limited, it might be helpful to have some suggestions of where to taste, eat and stay. The recommendations that follow will give you a great Walla Walla experience, but keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive guide; throughout the area there are other great wineries and experiences to discover, so start exploring!


A good place to start is along Highway 12 west of town—the road route most commonly taken into Walla Walla by visitors. A clutch of wineries here offer a taste of some of the region’s best.

Among the first wineries you meet will be the second winery established in Walla Walla: Woodward Canyon One of Washington’s true prestige producers, owners Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small welcome drop-in visitors to their tasting room in a restored 1870s farmhouse. Known in particular for their succulent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines, true aficionados should consider making a reservation for an intimate Reserve House tasting of the winery’s limited release wines. Their “Old Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon is a particular favorite.

Nearly next door is another key Washington winery, L’Ecole No. 41 Located in a charming historic school building, your visit will be memorable thanks both to the wine quality and the attentive service. Be sure to taste the estate-grown Apogee and Perigee Bordeaux-style blends for superb examples of Walla Walla style—and the Estate Luminesce is an unusually good Sémillon-based white blend.

A little further down the road you’ll encounter Waterbrook, another of the region’s earliest wineries, but today dramatically modernized and offering a range of wines at all price levels, poured in an architecturally enticing setting. Plan on spending a little time here to enjoy the wine, the view, and the tasting room’s camaraderie!

In the same neighborhood off of Highway 12, Long Shadows is a must-visit for the true connoisseur. This unique, high-end wine venture is the inspiration of Washington wine legend Allen Shoup and brings some of the world’s most famous winemakers to Walla Walla to make their style of wine here. The wines are rare and impressive, the tasting room artful and sophisticated. If that’s your style, contact the winery to make a tasting appointment. You won’t regret it.


Continuing along Highway 12 takes you into downtown Walla Walla where you’ll discover a burgeoning center of tasting rooms that offer a wide range of wine types and styles. While a random exploration can be fun, simply wandering the blocks poking in at any and all tasting rooms that strike your fancy, here are some personal favorites to get you started.

The unique Foundry Vineyards, created by Mark and Patty Anderson, is a compelling combination winery, tasting room, and expressive art gallery. Mark also created the neighboring Walla Walla Foundry, an internationally acclaimed metal art foundry, and since he has farmed estate wine grapes since 1998 it only seemed natural to meld the two businesses. Wine, after all, is often compared to art. When you visit, taste the 2009 Artisan Blend and Artisan Cabernet Sauvignon, both high-scoring, plush and expressive Walla Walla wines.

Gramercy Cellars is a small winery that has quickly achieved a big national reputation, including being named “Best New Winery” by Food & Wine magazine. Founder and winemaker Greg Harrington was the youngest person to achieve Master Sommelier certification, and has an extensive wine background. His skills are on display well in the luscious Syrah wines he makes, but also sample his distinctively delicious Grenache and Tempranillo. But be aware, the tasting room is only open on Saturdays without a reservation.

Bergevin Lane offers a delicious tasting experience.
This woman-run winery (Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane) is garnering plenty of plaudits for their refined and alluring wines. The provocative She-Devil Chardonnay is a delight, while the Intuition red blend is scrumptious.

Two must-visit tasting rooms are Seven Hills Winery and Spring Valley Vineyard Seven Hills is one of Walla Walla’s founding wineries, and owner/winemaker Casey McClellan’s reds are particularly polished, balanced and tasty. In the same category for me is Spring Valley, who—unlike the majority of Washington’s wineries—uses only estate-grown fruit. Winemaker Serge Laville makes stylish and layered Bordeaux-style reds and a lush Syrah that are emblematic of Walla Walla style.

Though you need to make a reservation, Doubleback offers a memorable tasting experience. Football star Drew Bledsoe began his boutique winery in 2007 as he retired from the NFL, teaming with friend and expert winemaker Chris Figgins (of Leonetti Cellar fame). Though not inexpensive, the Cabernet Sauvignon is incredibly dense, fruity, long-lasting—and a rare treat.

Walla Walla abounds in small wineries doing interesting things. Flying Trout is the Walla Walla and Mendoza, Argentina- based winery of Ashley Trout, also winemaker for Tero Estates Their joint wine shop/tasting room (inside the Marcus Whitman Hotel) offers strong versions of the expected regional red grapes from Tero, as well as the unusual opportunity to taste Ashley’s signature Torrontes, a delightful Argentinian aromatic white wine, and Malbec.

Cadaretta is a high-quality producer offering estate-grown wines worth seeking out. Their SBS white blend (Sauvignon Blanc/ Sémillon) is particularly fresh and crisp, and the Windthrow red blend is equally superb. Otis Kenyon is another up-and-coming quality small producer of well-made and tasty Merlot, Cabernets, and the more unusual Carmenère. Kerloo Cellars A new boutique winery that is garnering lots of attention is Kerloo Cellars. Their handcrafted wines, especially their Syrahs, are receiving rave reviews and high scores, making a visit to their tasting room mandatory to see the cutting edge of Walla Walla wine.


A fruitful concentration of tasting rooms lies east of downtown. Especially around the airport, many intriguing producers have set up shop in 1940s- and 1950s-vintage buildings. Do spend time exploring this surprisingly rich population of tasting rooms—there are many others besides the few I suggest. And also be sure to drive out further along Mill Creek Road for a taste of rural Walla Walla wine at its best.

Tamarack Cellars is a great place to start exploring. Founder Ron Coleman and winemaker Danny Gordon produce a popular value-priced blend called Firehouse Red—worth the visit alone—but their mouthwatering (and very limited release) single vineyard Bordeauxstyle blends are among the best in the AVA.

Acclaimed Buty Winery is a top-quality boutique label making finely-honed wines from estate vines in Walla Walla, as well as leading vineyards in other AVA’s (I’m a particular fan of their Rediviva of the Stones blend). Similarly, Eric Dunham’s Dunham Cellars is another premier craft producer you should visit, especially for their top-scoring Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, Mannina Cellars and owner/winemaker Don Redman is a new winery making waves with great wines; especially try the Cali Red Blend for a sumptuous treat.

Further east, along Mill Creek Road, K Vintners is part of the Charles Smith wine “empire”. A marketing-savvy winemaker and former rock band manager, Smith’s various labels have attracted great publicity and top scores (you can also visit his Charles Smith tasting room downtown). Known for his eccentric labels and intense wines, a stop into this more rural tasting room is always a fun experience.

Just down the road, Abeja is an elegantly impressive Inn and Winery with more than a touch of sophistication. Winemaker John Abbott crafts stellar Cabernet Sauvignon here, and the Inn is a stunning base from which to explore Walla Walla. A great reason to stay here is the fact that the winery, which is not open to the public, is open to Inn guests.

A little further east, àMaurice Cellars is a more boutique family estate winery worth the small extra drive. Open on Saturdays and by appointment, winemaker Anna Schafer produces silky red blends, a tremendous Viognier, and other strong wines.


A visit to the wineries south of town will complete your tour. Pepper Bridge and Amavi are sister wineries (the well-known Jean François-Pellet is head winemaker for both) producing top-quality wines. Pepper Bridge is a highly-respected maker of age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux-style red blends, while Amavi focuses on Syrah, Sémillon and more immediately accessible Cabernet.

If Merlot is your métier, then Northstar is a great place to taste just how good Washington Merlot can be. Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld has a Merlot mission and both his estate Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley Merlots are excellent. If you’re very lucky, you may get to sample his Premier Merlot, made in tiny quantities from the region’s best vineyards.

While nearby Dusted Valley Vintners also produces excellent Merlot, this fast-rising Walla Walla Valley star is better known for their intense and ripe Syrahs (with attention-getting names such as Squirrel Tooth Alice, and Stained Tooth Syrah)—though do try their Old Vine Chardonnay for a different treat.

Sleight of Hand Cellars features some of the most whimsical wine labels in the region, yet winemaker Trey Busch is serious about performing his magic to craft a series of well-made and affordable wines (I really like his red blend called The Spellbinder). Nearby Waters Winery focuses on serious, intense, and well-structured small production wines that show plenty of elegance and food affinity. I’m particularly impressed by their 21 Grams bottling, a Cabernet-dominant blend.

One of the tidy little secrets of Walla Walla Valley wines is that many of the best vineyards in the appellation are located on the Oregon side of the border. Ironically, there are only a few Oregon-located wineries, however. One not to be missed is Zerba Cellars, just over the border in Milton-Freewater. Known for wines of power and beauty, they are also now producing a wide range of varieties. Be sure to try their unusual Nebbiolo, Marsanne, and Roussanne wines.

Now, that should be enough winery recommendations to get you started! But remember, we have only scratched the surface of Walla Walla wine touring—there are many other tasting rooms awaiting your discovery... you’ll just have to plan extra trips to get the full flavor of the appellation.


Downtown Walla Walla’s The Marc is a centrally-located bar and restaurant within the Marcus Whitman Hotel, offering a rich variety of local wines and cuisine—it is common to bump into all manner of local winemakers or visiting wine authorities here.

Around the corner, Chef Jamie Guerin’s Whitehouse-Crawford is Walla Walla’s go-to restaurant for fine dining, worldwide wines, and locally sourced ingredients. Located in a refurbished historic building, the ambience and food provide the perfect denouement to a vigorous day of wine tasting.

In the residential area just east of downtown the Fat Duck Inn is as noted for its cuisine as for its lodging. Chef-owner Rich Koby applies his award-winning skills to transforming local, seasonal ingredients into memorable meals. Chef Koby also brings a local expert’s knowledge to pairing Walla Walla wines with his locallysourced dishes.

Popular chef Chris Ainsworth offers an intimate white tablecloth experience at his Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen The menu features precisely-composed and beautifully prepared dishes using locally-sourced farm and ranch ingredients—be sure to make a reservation—well in advance of your trip, if possible. Another perennial favorite of locals and regular visitors, T. Maccarone’s is a modern bistro proudly using local ingredients to create hearty Italian-inspired dishes for lunch and dinner. Well frequented by local winemakers, Brasserie Four offers precisely prepared, classic country French dishes in an unpretentious, friendly atmosphere that doesn’t skimp on service or quality. If you like authentic French onion soup with your Merlot, this is the place for you!

For breakfast and lunch, Bacon & Eggs is great for scratch-made dishes using locally-grown and family-farmed ingredients. The espresso is top-notch and the make-your-own omelet or scramble is perfect for a hearty morning meal. For delightful pastries, cakes, and desserts (not to mention gelato that is virtually required to cool off a hot summer day), Colville Street Patisserie is a sound bet.

Salumiere Cesario is a gourmet grocery that offers a salivary selection of artisan meats, breads, cheeses, spices, oils, beers, and other gustatory delights. Stop in here to get your picnic supplies or to-go sandwiches to complement your wine touring day.

For some of the best impromptu food you’ll find anywhere, in or out of Walla Walla, Andrae’s Kitchen is a nationally famous gourmet food truck. The genius creation of chef Andrae Bopp, you need to check on his Facebook page or visit his website to see his ever-changing menu and where he’ll be cooking when you’re in the area—it is well worth the extra effort!

A short drive west of town takes you to the The Vine restaurant at Cameo Heights Mansion The Vine offers both patio dining with gorgeous views of the Walla Walla River valley and orchards, and indoor seating with an intimate view of the kitchen at work as Chef Nathan Carlson prepares elegant seasonal dishes that help make Walla Walla wine shine.

Heading north of Walla Walla, a side trip to the nearby town of Waitsburg is called for to eat at two unique venues. Local favorite jimgermanbar (that’s not a typo, it is how the name is spelled) is an artisan cocktail-and-small-plates bar with local flair that attracts people from near and far (very far; when I was last there I sat next to a visiting New York wine writer). Across the street Whoopemup Hollow Cafe offers tummy topping Southern-style dishes. And if you want a craft beer to wash everything down, visit the Laht Neppur brewery for a changing selection of beers (or visit their Ale House in Walla Walla).

There are other discoveries awaiting the adventurous foodie willing to dig deeper into Walla Walla, but to find them you need to ask the locals (winemakers, especially). Insiders each have their favorite unheralded taco truck, old-fashioned burger-and-milkshake drive-in, or authentic Mexican cafes—the kind of places that don’t make it into tourist guidebooks, but are good enough that locals line-up to get their food: so ask around!


In addition to the expected convenience of national-brand motel chains, Walla Walla offers a variety of more character-full accommodations. The Marcus Whitman Hotel is an historical landmark (opened in 1928), the tallest building in Walla Walla, and a perfect choice for central lodging. The dramatic brick building and grand lobby harken back to a more genteel era and is an elegantly fitting base for wine touring. Rooms in the original building have a stately grace (and some say, a wandering ghost or two) that matches the generally slower pace of Walla Walla culture.

In the residential area surrounding downtown, Fat Duck Inn offers a small number of well-appointed rooms, as well as a highly-respected farm-to-table dining room. Built in 1909, and owned and operated by a fourth-generation Walla Walla family, Green Gables Inn offers historic charm, modern amenities, and sophisticated comfort in a relaxing B&B that’s within easy walking distance of downtown.

If you want to stay among the vineyards, and be close to downtown, Girasol Vineyard & Inn is a top choice. Modern, luxurious rooms, gourmet breakfast, knowledgeable innkeepers, and a stone’s throw from nearby wineries, this delightful B&B is perfect as a wine touring hub.

Further out, The Inn at Abeja offers unique luxurious accommodations in renovated historic farm buildings on a gorgeous 42-acre farmstead, complete with its own winery. A spectacular place to stay, the Inn is perfect for a get-away-from-it-all vacation. To the west of Walla Walla, Cameo Heights Mansion also offers posh B&B accommodations in a country environment. Each large suite is differently themed, and the property offers a swimming pool and easy access to all manner of activities.

And for a truly unique visit to the Walla Walla area, you can choose a farm stay at the Monteillet Fromagerie in Dayton, northeast of Walla Walla on the fringes of the Blue Mountains. This working dairy and cheese producer offers a luxuriously-appointed farm stay option in any season at The Gite (French for “holiday house”). Owners Pierre-Louis and Joan Monteillet are charming hosts—as are the goats from whence they make their cheese. The Monteillets also offer a guest house in Walla Walla, and even an option to stay in one of their on-farm Airstream campers!