Walla Walla, Washington was the host for the 2018 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. If you have traveled to Seattle but have not ventured east over the Cascade Mountains, you’ve missed the majority of an amazing state. The state of Washington is just filled with awe inspiring vast landscapes and wonders. Located in the southeastern part of Washington State, Walla Walla boasts a thriving and evolving wine industry that focuses on the history of Washington Territory, the varied terroir of the land and the collaborative spirits that the local winemakers have engaged in to make this a vibrant and successful industry.
Locals are fond of saying that the town of Walla Walla is so nice, they named it twice. The Walla Walla river, tributary to the Columbia River, actually runs through the center of town. Just east of the town, you can see the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains range spans from northeastern Oregon to southeastern Washington state. Downtown Walla Walla boasts several statues and plaques describing and honoring the history of the town and the Native American peoples who traditionally inhabited these lands. Walking down Main street in Walla Walla is a visual display of the importance of winemaking in this region with several of the local winemakers hosting vibrant tasting rooms for locals and visitors to enjoy. The people are friendly, and the wines are rich in complexity.
The Walla Walla appellation (AVA) is a regional agricultural hub with a rich history of growing apples, strawberries and asparagus. It is noteworthy that more than half of the apples consumed in the United States are grown in the region. This AVA is unique in that 2/3rds of it lies in Washington and 1/3 is in Oregon. The terroir includes types from river gravel to deep dark silt. 43% of the 2,933 acres of vineyards are planted in Oregon with the remaining 57% planted in Washington state (1).
The Visit Walla Walla association (wallawalla.org) was extremely accommodating, and the conference was held in the historic Marcus Whitman hotel in downtown. The Marcus Whitman hotel and conference center is a luxury facility featuring western décor with an exceptional culinary experience. The hotel is named for missionary Marcus Whitman who holds a special place in the history of the Washington territory. The hotel features 3 tasting rooms – TERO Estates, The Vineyard Lounge and Locati Cellars.
The conference bookended with education sessions and visits to local wineries. Visit Walla Walla sponsored Saturday’s luncheon with a special treat- visits to the local winery of your choice on Main Street with a full wine tasting menu. There were several wineries to choose from. I chose Truth Teller winery for our luncheon and wine tasting experience. The court jester graphic painted on the picture window at the front of the tasting room drew me in. Those of you who followed my 2016 Wine Bloggers experience may remember that I chose the circus symbol for my mystery dinner. There is clearly a parallel that can be drawn between my love of humor and the wineries that I continue to visit sight unseen.
Truth Teller winery (truthtellerwinery.com) is a small family owned winery in Washington state. Husband and wife team Chris and Dawn Loeliger started their winery in Woodenville and in May of 2018 opened a tasting room in Walla Walla. The couple met in Dallas, TX and through a series of earlier high tech career moves found themselves in the Seattle area. They loved the region and decided to give winemaking a try. The name of the winery comes from the origin of their Swiss family name – Loeliger which loosely translated means “jester”. With this they have adapted an approach that combines humor in the names of their wines and the truth that is told when an individual enjoys a bottle of their craftsmanship.
While the Walla Walla AVA is well known for their exceptional and complex red wines, one of my favorite wines during the tasting is the 2017 Frolic Viognier. This wine is made from 100% Viognier grapes sources from Sugarloaf Vineyard in Yakima Valley. It is a crisp white wine with medium acidity, a light stone fruit taste and a touch of sweetness. The nose is a pleasant white floral with a hint of peach.
The fermentation is primarily stainless steel with 34% of the fermentation taking place in neutral oak. Neutral oak is not used to impart flavor but, to soften a wine to balance out the flavors, acidity and tannins.
Walla Walla is a thriving community where the average age of their residents is in the late 30s. Businesses are thriving, and the wine industry is growing. 2018 saw a 4.3% increase in the number of acres planted in the Walla Walla AVA. The predominant grapes grown are red – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Walla Walla reds are generally lighter in body while exhibiting an earthiness that makes these easier to enjoy young in the vintage. While white varietals are not predominant in this AVA, Walla Walla winemakers will source from their neighbors in Yakima Valley to create excellent white wine offerings. I would encourage wine lovers to visit this region. Wines are value priced with exceptional levels of complexity only seen in the finest wines.
Remember to drink what it is that makes you truly happy and always think positively!
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