Washington Goodbye in Walla Walla

After a good night’s sleep in my apartment at Walla Faces Inn, Erica Waliser of the Washington State Wine Commission picked me up for my final day in Washington.  We went over to L’Ecole No 41 winery to meet with Marty Clubb, a member of the family that has owned one of the region’s oldest wineries for nearly 30 years.

In the 1980s L’Ecole only produced about 1,000 cases and they were all self-distributed.  The wine can now be found in all 50 states and has also become popular in Canada and Japan, producing 35 times what it did at the beginning. The winery itself is housed in an old schoolhouse built in what was a small French town in the early 20th century. They make wine under three labels: L’Ecole No 41, Columbia Valley and Salmon Safe.

L’Ecole is known for its Merlot, but the collection here includes something for everyone and it seemed like Marty was ready to pour it all for me to try! My favorites were the 2010 L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc, crisp and slightly sweet, with lots of pineapple, lemon and grapefruit; 2009 L’Ecole Estate Seven Hills Luminesce, a blend of Semillon (67%) and Sauvignon Blanc with lots of fruit forward, especially the melon and tropical notes from the Sauvignon Blanc; and their 2007 L’Ecole Columbia Valley Merlot, smooth and fruity, like a fruitcake in a glass!
After L’Ecole, we went down the road to Waterbrook Winery, a large, modern facility. It’s only been open for three years and is welcoming with a large outdoor deck for events, with bocce ball and croquet on the sides. We met with winemaker John Freeman and did some barrel tasting of so wines I can’t wait for, like the 2010 Waterbrook Melage Blanc, a perfectly suited blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris, and toured the 53,000 square foot modern facility before heading to their tasting room for lunch.

It’s hard for me to decide which I liked better at lunch, the wonderful selection of wines or the incredible food by Executive Chef Ceil Blaine.  Let’s just say it started with a salad with Red Onion, Avocado and Mint accompanied by the perfectly balanced 2010 Waterbrook Rose, and ended with a Tart with a Seeded Crust, Pumpkin, Walnuts and Cream with Bing Cherries soaked in Syrah and Triple Sec paired with Chocolate Shop Wine!

Our final wine stop of the day was the total opposite of the previous. The recently opened tasting room at Gramercy Cellars by Greg Harrington and Brandon Moss garnered accolades as the Best New Winery of 2010 by Food & Wine Magazine.  When you walk in here, you feel like you’ve entered a bachelor pad (Greg is actually married, his wife Pam is a founder), with leather coaches and a dart board in the tasting room. Tastings here are by appointment only and it won’t take very long – there are only about a dozen wines.

We met with Brandon Moss, who looks like he’s barely old enough to drink, but he’s an experienced winemaker and he proved it by pouring me the 2008 Tempranillo.  It’s a grape I haven’t seen a lot of in the U.S., with lots of earth and spice, finishing with a bit of fruit. The 2008 Walla Walla Syrah is full of more fruit and less spice than most, which Brandon attributes to the whole cluster fermentation. I also enjoyed their 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot.  
I ended my final day in Washington with a fantastic dinner with two of the friendliest people I have met on this trip (and that is saying a lot considering how hospitable the Pacific Northwest has been to me). Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars and wife took me to dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, a very popular Walla Walla eatery. The food was excellent, as was the wine and company.  Eric gave me a quote that I think may be my new motto, “Wine is opinion in a glass.” I certainly agreed with his opinion when I tasted the 2009 Shirley Mays, a chardonnay made in honor of his grandmother which garners donations for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Eric also talked to me a bit about his partnership with actor Kyle McLachlan*, a Yakima native with whom he produces wine under the Dunham MacLachlan label. Thus far that has been one wine, Pursued by Bear, a cabernet sauvignon that is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted. They now have a second, Baby Bear, which looks to reinvent great syrah.  I didn’t get to try that yet, but I have no doubt after the last week of exploring this region, I will be looking to taste a lot more Washington wine.

Celebrity Cruise Line

The Pacific Northwest was really calling me this year!  I’m spending a good part of my spring exploring this beautiful area and tasting its wine so stay tuned. British Columbia, Canada is next, followed by a Pacific Coastal Wine Cruise on the Celebrity Millennium. I will be checking out the wine of each region on and off the ship, as well as doing some interesting and unusual tours.  Stay tuned for my coverage through the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia; Catalina Island; Napa and Sonoma; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Victoria, BC, Canada; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. It’s going to be a blast!

*I had a great conversation with Kyle MacLachlan about wine and television. The story on the latter appears at Yahoo! TV.


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