Wine has been created in Washington and Oregon’s Walla Walla Valley since the 1950s, when Italian immigrants first began planting grapes. Since then it has grown to a wine region (an American Viticultural Area, or AVA) that encompasses more than 1600 acres of vineyards, 52 vineyards and almost 100 wineries. (One winery and 31 of these vineyards are in Oregon, the rest in Washington.) The variety of wines produced from this Washington/Oregon area are numerous, and the quality is exceptional. If you are interested in learning more about the Walla Walla Valley AVA and its wines, see below.
History. The Walla Walla Valley AVA is located at the base of the Blue Mountains. It reaches from the southeast corner of Washington into the northeast corner of Oregon, and is encompassed by the larger Columbia Valley AVA. The first post-prohibition winery was established in 1950, and the appellation was approved in 1984. (When the appellation was originally submitted for approval it had only two wineries and 60 acres of grapes.)
Soil and Climate. Walla Walla Valley has a growing season of 190 to 220 days, with an average rainfall of almost thirteen inches annually. This Washington/Oregon AVA has sunny days and cool evenings that make for very flavorful grapes. The soils are a mix of loam, silt and loess, excellent for growing grapes. Elevations in Walla Walla Valley vary from 650 to 1500 feet.
Wines. Walla Walla Valley produces predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah. It also produces other wines such as Sangiovese, Grenache, Pinot Gris and Riesling. For some recommendations on a few of the outstanding vineyards and wineries of Walla Walla Valley, as well as their wines, see below.
Cougar Crest Estate Winery. Established in 2001, the 50 acres of this Walla Walla Valley vineyard produce many excellent wines. This winery is actually located at the Walla Walla Airport! Be sure to sample their 2008 Estate Grown Viognier, which is fermented without oak. It has aromas of melon and honeysuckle, along with flavors of peach and guava. Also try their 2007 Estate Grown Cabernet Franc, with aromas of caramel and toast, and flavors that include red currant, pepper and spice.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards. A small family owned winery that was founded in 2004, this Walla Walla Valley vineyard produces lovely wines, exclusively from the Walla Walla Valley. They planted their first vineyard in 2005 and their second in 2007. For an excellent example of these vineyards’ wines, try their 2008 In the Rocks Syrah, a Syrah and Viognier blend that has aromas of dark fruit and flowers, along with strong flavors of dark fruits. Also try their 2007 Queen’s Road White Wine, a blend of Marsanne and Viognier that has aromas of pear and spices.
Pepper Bridge Winery. This family owned estate winery focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. They use grapes from both of their vineyards, Pepper Ridge as well as Seven Hills Vineyard, both in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. The first vineyard was planted in 1991, and has grown from ten acres of grapes to almost 200. Be sure to try their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which has aromas of dark chocolate as well as flavors of black cherry and plums. Also try their 2006 Reserve, a rich wine with aromas of caramel and spice, followed by flavors that include cocoa.