Wall Walla, Washington on a summer weekend

On our ‘honeymoon’ we drove through Walla Walla, had a lovely lunch and visited a local museum.  It was a quick visit with no time to really take in the scenery.  So we determined we had to make some time to go back and do more.  This last weekend we did just that, and we still didn’t have enough time to do what we would have liked to do.

On the down side, this town is not into late nights or long weekend hours, so visitors like us have to devise ways to keep busy before the historical sites and wineries open and then in the evening after all have closed.  Thankfully, we are quite resourceful.

We got a later start on Friday afternoon, so we began with our favorite: Zerba.  Meeting Marion Zerba was fun as she gave us some history about the family business and how they began their winery.  Our familiarity with the wines was good, but there are two newer blends that we had not seen.  Naturally, our focus narrowed to them.  Excellent as usual!  The 2010 Wild White Table contains 34% Chardonnay, 34% Semillon, 16% Viognier, 16% Roussanne to make a smooth, easy drinking white, perfect for visiting on the patio with your favorite people.

The Wild Z Red Table Wine, 2007 vintage, includes 37% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Franc for a berry pie beginning and a peppery finish.  Both of these wines convey the Walla Walla grapes at their best.  Grill up your best barbeque and open this bottle to pair with it.

Newer to us, still in the southern region of the Walla Walla appellation, are Saviah and Sleight of Hand wineries.  These are related wineries; the owner/brewer and assistant brewer of Sleight of Hand both came directly from Saviah.  They all use the same facilities to produce their wine as Sleight of Hand’s production area isn’t  finished being built yet.  Maintaining the connection, Saviah has several ‘Jack’ wines, with the label looking like a playing card with a Jack on it.  Sleight of Hand, adding the magic theme to the deck of cards, has enlisted a Nevada magician that does graphic design to develop their labels.  It is a funky connection, not to be confused with the Funk vineyard that supplies both vintners with grapes.  Are you still with me?  The wines are fun, well developed and typical Walla Walla.  We brought home a few of each, but you will have to try them to see what you like best yourself.

By this time we had closed the wineries down, kept them a bit late and been shoo’d out the door.  Knowing we were done for the day made us decide to find dinner.  It didn’t take much to agree to return to the restaurant we had lunched at two years prior.  The atmosphere at T Macaroni’s is energetic and fun.  As we didn’t make reservations, we sat at the bar.  Walking between the tables confirmed the reason we had come back, the smells were tantalizing, each plate a work of art in both appearance and flavor.  You do not stay in a blue mood in T Macaroni’s as there are too many friendly people and pick-me-up foods and beverages.  Our immediate neighbor’s at the bar were chatty and helpful with selections.  They were happy to talk about their bit to keep the wine industry going, or the history of the farming that their family had participated in for generations, or just what they really liked there at the restaurant.  My husband quipped, “In Hollywood, every server wants to be a TV star, in Walla Walla, every server wants to be a wine maker.”  That observation is not lost on an outsider, but to the regulars, I am sure theses servers are networking just like their Hollywood counterparts in the industry they long to be a big player in.  Walla Walla is presently rated the friendliest city in the United States, they proved it everywhere we went this last weekend.  Might it be the wine?

The most prominent demographic on the after-dark scene were the returning college students and their parents.  It was noticeable which establishments catered to which segment of the population by the volume of music vs. the volume of conversation.  We bought some wonderful chocolate as dessert and sat on a bench on the street to watch the people wandering by.

Saturday at ten in the morning most places are still not open.  The Historical sites are the first, then some of the really adventurous wineries, with the remainder agreeing that eleven in the morning is plenty early to begin the day.  We had to start before that as we are not late-start people.  Walla Walla has a lovely, exciting Farmers Market with many different things available.  I considered a new rosemary plant, decided against it as our truck was too hot to keep it in until we made it home.  We marveled at the variety of fresh produce.  Had a kitchen been handy, I would have been happy to pick up several fresh vegetables and make a fun meal.  Peaches, flavorful, with great texture, were tempting.  We decided on a twenty-five pound bag of Walla Walla sweet onions for me to dehydrate and use through the year, some goat-milk yogurt as I cannot have cows-milk yogurt and some pastries.  It was silently agreed we would return to have lunch at the market.

The Fort Walla Walla Museum is a large, rather new building with the story of the settling of the region told about the Native American culture, early farming equipment, clothing of the times, and the role the military played in the area.  It took a bit to realize the site of the town didn’t correspond to the site of the fort with the same name.

Our early wine tasting that day was in the east region, the airport area of Walla Walla.  Driving through, getting a big-picture-view of the old military base turned wineries was good for us.  Five Star Cellars was our early tasting.  Their Bordeaux blend, and the individual varieties that make it, were scrumptious.  Having spent time in neutral oak barrels and then more time in bottles, these wines are smooth and mellow, providing all of the earthy, berry, peppery goodness one should expect from Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs, Merlots, Syrahs, and Sangioveses.  They certainly know their wines.

Driving again, we chose to discover what lay behind the small vineyard planted at one end of a street.  Buty, a boutique winery that has been around for the last decade plus, is run by a couple with a passion for wine.  We enjoyed visiting with the Tasting room manager as she explained that this winery is not going to expand as they are happy with the quality and quantity of wine they make today.  Included in their line are two wines for the widely respected Herb Farm in Woodinville, Washington and they partner with boutique shops and unique restaurants to create pairing wines for the menus they will be associated with.  For example: “Désignée was created by Buty Winery especially for The Herbfarm. It is designed to seamlessly complement many of the foods of the Pacific Northwest. 99% Cabernet Franc (Conner-Lee and Champoux Vineyards) and 1% Merlot and a 18-month elevage in top French oak make this a real beauty. 552 bottles produced,” excerpted from the current Herb Farm wine list.

With great wines and the right pairings, Buty will be around for many decades to come.  We look forward to carrying Buty at Brix and Stone in the future.

The east region winery we were most interested in tasting belonged to a man that chatted with my husband while we were at the Farmers Market.  He opened latest, at noon, so we debated staying when there were more wineries in the west region, on our way home, which we were interested in.  As fate would have it, the place was open a little early and we took advantage.  Mr. Bynum had made a tremendous impression at the market, so we were primed for the story as well as the wines.  Patrick M. Paul Vineyards and Winery are one of the original five wineries in the Walla Walla area, planted in the mid-seventies; also a boutique winery.  Aside from seasonal help to pick the fruit and then to bottle, there are two people that work for this winery – Mr Bynum and the tasting room manager.  We were fortunate that the manager was on vacation this week, so we could talk to Mr Bynum personally.  He is the driving force behind the vineyards and the wines as his business partner and life-long friend, Patrick ‘Mike’ Paul, died of brain cancer a few years ago.  You will not find a webpage or facebook account for this winery.  The waiting list to become a club member is well over a hundred long, with only a minimal turn over year to year.  It is easy to see why when you note the austerity of the tasting room, its focus on four bottles on the bar and then on the lovely nature photos hung about the walls.  Art at its best, a feast for the eyes at the same time the nose and mouth celebrate the smooth, sensuous flavors – progressing from a Bordeaux blend to a perfectly balanced Cabernet Franc.  We talked about the chemistry of the wines, how to choose the grapes in the field, what yeast to use to enhance the flavors you want, how certain nutrients will enliven certain flavors and then the patience to leave the wine in the barrel and the bottle long enough to allow the fermentation to culminate in a very drinkable wine.  Needless to say, we didn’t make a quick get-away from this little winery.  We also didn’t leave empty handed as we had to bring home a little to share with friends, the ultimate compliment to a winemaker.

We hurried back to the Market just after one in the afternoon, to find the vendors folding their tables and tents, and packing everything not sold back to their vehicles.  The sausage tent was still up, there were a few sausages left, so that became lunch along with ice cold lemonade from the still busy lemonade tent a few feet away.  Missing the lovely bits of fruit and vegetables, but happy with the limited selection we did have, we set off on the last leg of our Walla Walla journey.

The Whitman Mission Site, on a promontory west of the existing town, is gone; on this site is a monument to the Whitman family and several others massacred by Cayuse tribe members as retribution for the measles deaths within their tribe the previous year.  The area had already included Europeans as the fur traders and explorers, primarily of French decent, were married into the Native tribes, living quite peacefully.  During the Whitman’s time at the mission, educating and converting the Cayuse, pioneers made use of the well established artisans nearby to stop for wagon repairs, resupply provisions, and obtain guidance for the last leg of the journey to the Pacific, amongst other things. The mission became a pivotal point along the Oregon Trail.  Reading the local historical markers, piecing together the timeline and events as we passed the sites, realizing the ‘stations’ referred to for vineyards were actually the railroad stops for the Wallula – Walla Walla Railroad; the links to outside civilization.

Time for one last winery as we left the Walla Walla appellation: Cougar Crest.  They have a lovely new building to house their fermentation process, wine library, huge tasting room and storage with a small number of outside tables to relax with a glass of wine.  The bronze statue of the cougar on their label proudly stands within the tasting room, wearing a recently won medal around his neck.  Everywhere you look there are bottles with medals hanging from them.  Winemakers with a flare; whites to roses’ to reds, dry to sweet, tannic to smooth there is no taste left out.  This is not a boutique winery, but it is no less special.  We tasted, we tasted more, and we tasted the reserves and the port.  My taste buds were overwhelmed; I do not know that I kept enough notes to differentiate the wines in my memory now that I am home.  Super saturation of the senses during a thirty-six hour vacation, it was worth every minute!

Long, but what a fun weekend.

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