The last couple years, we’ve done a quick weekend escape for the two of us ahead of all the holiday travel and festivities. It’s been a relaxing getaway, usually to some place new in Washington, and enjoying the holiday lights, decor, music and food during these trips has helped put me in the holiday spirit!
This year we decided to head back to Washington wine country for our weekend away. We visited Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Hills several years ago, enjoyed visiting the Woodinville tasting rooms when we lived in Lynnwood, and spent last year’s getaway at Cave B along the Columbia River, but we’ve never ventured as far as Walla Walla. The 5-hour drive each way has been a bit of a deterrent and meant spending about the same time in the car as we did actually in Walla Walla this trip – nevertheless, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile weekend away!
Speaking of the road trip: we thought the snow storm at Snoqualmie Pass would be the biggest weather phenomenon we’d have to deal with this trip until we hit the wind storm between the Cascade Mountains and Walla Walla. We’ve never experienced as much high-speed wind as we did on this section of our drive – gusting across the fields, batting our car around.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating: on our drive, we passed three semi trucks and two trailers actually blown over on the side of the road with police and others on site to help. Brian was also having to dodge these huge tumbleweeds that were flying across the road and seemed to always barrel right in front of our vehicle. We stopped briefly at Walmart for a few things and couldn’t help but join the people in the parking lot laughing and taking pictures of the giant pile of tumbleweeds accumulating all along the entrance to the building. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!
Once we were in Walla Walla, we only had to contend with a short drive between the first winery we visited and our hotel, at which point we parked and explored the rest on foot.
Due to COVID and limited capacity, all of the wineries requested or required online reservations, which I wasn’t expecting. This ended up making our tastings much more structured than I would have liked – and as it turned out, places were not busy and it didn’t seem like we needed reservations this particular weekend. But I’m a rule follower so c’est la vie!
I loved the different personalities of the different wineries we chose and how that played out in the tasting room experience, atmosphere and wines themselves. I’d recommend all three tasting rooms we visited, as well as the spot we had dinner.
L’Ecole No. 41
We started at L’Ecole No. 41, one of the original Walla Walla wineries. I was intrigued with the building itself – a 1915 school house called the Lowden School that was built on the location of a previous Frenchtown log cabin schoolhouse built in 1870.
Frenchtown derived its name from the many French Canadians who settled in the Walla Walla Valley during the early 1800s. Legend has it these men of French descent raised grapes and produced wine. By the 1860s nurseries, vineyards, and winemaking had become a part of the valley’s growing economy. The winery name, L’Ecole N° 41 – French for “the school” located in school district 41 – was chosen to salute these pioneer viticulture efforts. Our restored Tasting Room occupies one of the two classrooms, preserving the old Schoolhouse character with original chalkboards, light fixtures, fir floors, and moldings. In the cellar, you will find a children’s water fountain as well as a restored mural, originally hand-painted by the school children for their Christmas pageant.https://www.lecole.com/visit-us/our-schoolhouse/
We had a friendly guy managing our tasting and quickly learned his wife is from Celina, Ohio! We traded some Ohio stories, shared a couple whites and reds, I roamed around to see a few more of the rooms, and we bought a bottle of their tasty Syrah before heading downtown.
Seven Hills Winery
Our second stop was another founding winery located in an interesting historical building.
Our winery and tasting room are located in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building in downtown Walla Walla. Built as a wood mill in 1904, our building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent restoration in 2000 to house the winery and preserve its architectural integrity.https://www.sevenhillswinery.com/visit/
We definitely aligned with the Seven Hills Winery vintner and ended up liking all but one of the wines we tasted. The lady managing our tasting was the perfect level of attentiveness and she shared some history about the region, the winery and the building we were in.
I enjoyed the minimalistic holiday decor and music, and we left this tasting with a Grenache, Cab Sauv and very interesting Merlot.
Canoe Ridge Winery
Our final stop was Canoe Ridge Winery, one of the many downtown tasting rooms along the main street. We were the only ones there and grabbed the seats in front of the front window so we could look out on the old buildings, holiday lights, and people passing by. I didn’t get any pictures outside – we were sharing our tastings and talking and enjoying the moment! – but Brian did run outside and take a picture looking back in the window.
The lady running our tasting was friendly and basically set us up, turned on the holiday music, and let us go at our own pace. It was a very cozy and relaxing atmosphere and a lovely way to end our tour. We ended up taking their Malbec and Bourbon-Barrel Aged Red Blend to go – the latter likely will be our New Years treat!
Even if you want nothing to do with wine, you should check out Walla Walla’s Passatempo Taverna. This spot is right downtown, warm and inviting, and has incredible Italian cuisine.
We shared the garlic and sea salt focaccia and pork and procuitto meatballs as our appetizers, and we ordered AMAZING pasta dishes for dinner – cacio e pepe for me and carbonara for Brian. So. Good.
Although our stay was brief, it was fun finally making it to Walla Walla and experiencing another of Washington’s wine regions!