An Undiscovered Land
Mention "Wine Country" to most folks and the response "Walla Walla" doesn't spring to mind. In fact, I'm willing to bet that throught is not even in the Top 10.
But, the Columbia River Valley, which lies in both Washington and Oregon, and the quaint town of Walla Walla are going to be on your radar very soon. First of all, it's red wine country. Oh sure, there are white wines made here, but reds rule.
Then there is the fact that the wines from this area are very good – full of fruit, very juicy, luscious, not shy and ready to meet whatever is on your plate on its own terms. The wines are complementing, not contrary. They're within the red wine parameters subscribed to by most Americans.
And lastly, there's a good supply of these wines from this area. Most folks in the prime wine growing areas of California have not even come to terms with this aspect of availability. The 2015 harvest in California was not as big as previous sessions. Up and down the long California coast, harvest shortages by as much as 20, 30, even 50 percent from the 2013 and 2014 seasons are the normal story. That's quite a bit down. Yet, Americans are drinking more, not less, red wine. Where might that shortfall be made whole? Washington State is waiting in the wings.
Par of this story has to be told from a series of geological events that happened before I was even born. When the Earth was you and unsettled, pockets of volcanic activity occurred all over the violent plant, and today's Pacific Northwest in North America was a hotbed. The movement of the Continental Plates caused fissures and upheavals. The Rocky Mountains were born in this manner and in the area of Walla Walla, Washington crazy things were going on all the time. Besides volcanic activity, the rivers and streams were being dammed by ice. At several points, great sheets of ice accumulated to the north, and then they broke loose sending 1000 foot walls of water through modern-day Idaho, Washington and Oregon. These incredible flows carved valleys and left behind deposits of animal carcasses, granite boulders and a 2 mile layer of basalt (volcano)-laden soils. Rich soils from within the Earth just waiting for modern farming to be invented tens of thousands of years later.
Besides all manner of crops, like wheat and fruit, South Central Washington State is ideal for grapevines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera and Grenache all thrive in dry, windy, sun-drenched conditions – not usually associated with our image of a damp and cloudy region that more typifies Seattle than the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewich will to the south in that vast state.
Such "well-known" viticultural areas as Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope, Walla Walla and Yakima Valley are turning out excellent wines. The wineries to seek out are Barnard Griffin, Col Solare, Cougar Crest, Hedges Family, Hogue Cellars, Waterbrook, Woodward Canyon and Pepper Bridge.
Accommodations are comfortable, not plush. The dining scene is expanding, but still has a lot of room to grow. The people are friendly and the whole place has the feel of Sonoma County about 20 years ago.
For you, getting in on the ground floor should prove interesting. All of your friends are likely sticking to the tried and true creators of find wine. Why not check out a work in progress that has nothing but a bright future?
Besides, all of us love a good story. Here's one that hardly anyone has heard before. And telling amazing stories while drinking wine does not suck.