This past weekend my sister, her significant other whom shall remain nameless, Peter, and I hopped in Klaudia and drove to Walla Walla to ride our bikes through vineyards and drink wine.
Peter and I transported our bikes from Seattle to WW and we rented two bikes from Allegro Cyclery for Tessa+1. Renting from Allegro was easy, especially given the holiday weekend and corresponding holiday business hours.
The initial challenge with renting bikes (and the reason why we did not rent bikes last autumn) was returning the bikes to the shop. Here’s why:
- we were unable to return bikes on Sunday because the bike shop would be closed by the time we got back from biking
- we were unable to return the bikes on Monday because the bike shop was closed
- we were departing WW for Seattle on Monday morning
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I called Allegro and started working out a bike rental deal. I should have known better. Walla Walla is “small town USA” and they were more than accommodating.
I paid for a weekend rental for two bikes + $20 bike pick-up fee to cover the cost of the shop collecting the bikes from our hotel on Tuesday. An unexpected surprise came a few days before we departed for WW when I received a call from the bike shop who informed me that they would be closed on Saturday morning (the day we were picking the bikes up from the shop) and that they’d deliver the bikes to our hotel on Friday.
The bike rental was seamless and worked brilliantly.
Food is the biggest issue when visiting wineries on the Southside of WW because it is farmland. We were smart this time around though. We purchased sandwiches the night before and packed those sandwiches next to our water bladders which were filled with ice. This kept the sandwiches cold until the time we devoured them at whatever winery we happened to be sipping wine at. There are four places in WW to get sandwiches:
- Jimmy John’s (Jimmy John’s will deliver catered orders but those orders must be placed and approved by a manager 1-2 days in advance)
- Walla Walla Bread Co.
- Stone Soup Cafe
WW wineries visited
Below is the list of wineries we visited during this trip to Walla Walla. Wineries with an asterisk are ones to avoid entirely.
- WIT Cellars
- Reininger Winery
- Basel Cellars
- Revelry Vintners
- Solemn Cellars
- *Isenhower Cellars
- The Walls Vineyards
- Brook & Bull
- Gifford Hirlinger
- Va Piano Vineyards
- *Northstar Winery
- Tertulia Cellars
Also, below is the list of wineries we visited during our trip last autumn.
- *Sleight of Hand Cellars
- *Amavi Cellars
- Dusted Valley
- Kontos Cellars
- *Pepper Bridge Winery
Friday (day 1)
Friday began very early with a hike to Teneriffe Falls, located about 40 minutes east of Seattle. From there we drove to our first winery, WIT Cellars, located in Prosser, WA (about an hour and 15 minutes west of WW).
Peter and I learned of WIT Cellars at Taste Washington earlier this year. I fell in love with their Rosé and consequently, fell further in love with Rosé wine.
WIT stands for “We’re in it together”. They consider themselves a family business even though they are not related by blood. Everyone their business touches is their family, including their customers. The tasting room is located in a warehouse-looking strip mall and across the road form a Dole plant. Needless to say, the ambiance isn’t the best but they’ve got a huge patio with succulents planted in old wine barrels, service is very friendly and they’ve got a huge wine tasting menu (plan an hour to taste the full spread).
WIT has only been in business for two years and they are already making beautiful wine. I like this winery a lot.
We slid into the car park of our second winery, Reininger Winery, about 30 minutes before they closed for the day but that was enough time to get through their tasting menu. Reininger is located about 10 minutes west of WW. First impressions were great though it must be noted that this winery is surrounded by farmland (no vineyards in sight).
The tasting room was large and airy but we chose to sit outside and listen to the rooster roost, or whatever they do. The sun was warm and the wine was good, especially their bottle of “Mr. Owl’s Red”.
Mr. Owl’s is a tribute to Raul, the assistant winemaker at Reininger. The story goes that the winery owner’s children pronounced Raul as “owl” when they were young and out of this came Mr. Owl’s. A percentage of the proceeds of Mr. Owl’s sales are donated to a charity of Raul’s choosing.
We closed out Friday night with pizza at Sweet Basil Pizzeria and went to bed early.
Saturday (day 2)
Peter and I have been to Basel twice and both times we’ve left feeling that the wine was average at best. We’ve spent a collective two hours tasting wines at Basel over the course of two visits and we’ve learned nothing about the winery, winemaker or anything about Basel Cellars. It’s unlikely I will ever return to Basel Cellars.
When I was putting on my bike helmet and preparing to leave, four guests of the B&B at Basel Cellars walked by and asked, “How was the wine?” and I responded, “Just ok”. They laughed thinking I was being sarcastic but I was being brutally honest.
Basel Cellars is not far from the main cluster of Southside wineries as a crow flies but is 10-15 minutes as a bike rides. We hopped on our bikes and peddled to Revelry Vintner’s brand new tasting room and oh my god was a magnificent piece of art.
Peter and I discovered Revelry at Taste Washington. We were drawn to their black and white wine labels. The building is a metal barn but you can see from the exterior that the tasting room is probably something special.
Upon entering, you will be greeted and handed a glass of wine at the welcome counter immediately to the right of the entrance. The winery name is cut into the black metal panel of the counter. I cannot imagine how much that cost!
As soon as you have a glass of welcome wine in your hand, you will wander around the space marveling at the massive steel plates on the wall behind the tasting counter, the glass cellar, the polished concrete floors, the wood ceiling, and the reclaimed Russian oak furniture from Restoration Hardware. The space is a beautiful mix of Danish and industrial finishes that appeal to everyone. Millions of dollars were spent on this tasting room.
We purchased several bottles of wine at Revelry and they were kind enough to store them for us until Monday morning when we’d come ’round with the car.
After being told that I could not move into the loft above the tasting room, we left Revelry and arrived at Balboa/Beresan a few minutes later and were greeted by a friendly deer with a broken leg. It was as weird as it sounds.
Peter and I visited Balboa/Beresan (Beresan will eventually be phased out) during our last visit to WW and were huge fans of their wine and I’m happy to report that their wine still kicks ass. Peter and I joined their wine club and so did my sister as this is one of the few wineries that is permitted to ship to Texas (Texas has strict laws).
Since our last visit, they’ve added another counter in their tiny tasting room but it is still not enough space. This is a very busy winery with a very tiny tasting room that they will eventually need to remedy.
I boast about the grounds at Basel but the grounds at Balboa are pretty too. The winery is surrounded by vineyards on all but one side and there’s a big picnic table outside where you can enjoy your wine. The problem with tasting outside is that you have to return to the tasting room for each pour and it can be difficult to maneuver up to the tasting counter at peak times.
In addition to joining their wine club, we bought 15 bottles of wine from Balboa and left them at the winery (along with our bottle from Basel Cellars) until Monday morning. When we picked up our wine on Monday, we were greeted by the same ladies working the tasting room on Saturday and they stood outside on the grass and waved us goodbye like parents sending their children off to university.
Balboa is a feel-good winery.
By the time we left Balboa we were starving and ahead of schedule so we popped into another new winery, Solemn Cellars. Solemn Cellars opened a few weeks before our visit last autumn. I’ve been to this winery twice now and I’ve never seen the painting below. My sister took the photograph below; it is not edited nor filtered.
Due to Solemn Cellars being a wine baby, their wine selection is limited but it’s all pretty tasty. The tasting room has several photos of the owner’s yellow Labrador but the Lab was nowhere to be seen last autumn. At the time I asked the owner, “Where’s the dog?” and he replied, “The dog is not yet trained to be around people drinking wine”.
Dogs grow fast and I’m happy to report that Duck Dog (named by the owner’s toddler) was a very well-behaved young Labrador. He did not beg for food as we sat near the fire eating our Jimmy John’s sandwiches we’d purchased the night before and he even trotted after Tessa when she biked up the driveway on our way out.
Solemn Cellars is one of my favorite wineries in WW. The vibe at this winery is extra chill and welcoming. Maybe it’s because the first time we met the owner he was dressed like a surfer. I don’t know. It’s a place I just want to hang out at. I don’t know how else to describe the feeling.
We were pretty buzzed by the time we left Solemn Cellars so the rolling hills were more challenging than they should have been but we eventually made it to Isenhower Cellars.
Peter and I tried to visit Isenhower Cellars during our last trip but failed because they are only open until 4pm. Isenhower Cellars falls under the Pepper Bridge Winery umbrella and was the first of two winery duds during our trip.
We arrived about 20 minutes before the tasting room closed for the day and collided with a tour group arriving at the same time. I have nothing positive to say about Isenhower Cellars. The tasting room was small and standing room only. The two tables located outside near the entrance were in the direct sunlight and boiling hot. The picnic table and chairs in the front garden were covered in bird poop. Most importantly, the wine was not good.
Peter and I departed Isenhower Cellars separately from Tessa+1. We had our sights on The Walls Vineyards and Tessa+1 needed to run a quick errand and would join us if there was time.
Peter and I found The Walls Vineyards at Taste Washington and I complimented the owner on the wine labels and I found an arrogance about him. He did not smile. He did not speak to me. He just stood there staring at me with disgust. Perhaps this was because I chose to compliment him in the middle of him explaining the wine he was pouring into my glass. Should I have refrained from interrupting him? Probably but I’d been drinking wine for hours at that point.
My first impression still stands as we received the same icy reception when we entered The Walls tasting room in WW. This behavior is very unusual in WW wineries.
We arrived at the tasting room as another couple was leaving. The owner was sitting at the large wooden table in the middle of the room and Peter and I sat on the couch pushed up against the back wall. The owner’s “friend” and his wife were talking to the owner about business. I’m not confident the owner wanted to be having that discussion but he did nothing to stop it.
I felt like someone who should be at a corporate meeting but was not important enough to be seated at the table and therefore, was seated at a chair along the perimeter of the room. It was uncomfortable and the tasting room was as uninviting as a tasting room gets, mostly because of how the furniture was arranged.
In addition to being uninviting, it was hot as hell in the room. All of the windows were closed and there was no air conditioning. It was stuffy and I mostly just wanted to get the hell out of there.
Overall, I feel the wine at The Walls is a bit overpriced for what it is but we somehow ended up with 5 or 6 bottles of it thanks to drunk Peter.
We closed out Friday night at a local pub where our server was the same girl who served us wine at Balboa. I love Walla Walla.
Sunday (day 3)
We kicked off Sunday with brekkie at The Maple Counter Cafe where one entrée is enough to feed a family of four and then we biked to Brook & Bull Cellars. I had no expectations of Brook & Bull and found myself pleasantly surprised.
The winemaker at Brook & Bull is Ashley Trout. She once owned Flying Trout Wines. The name Flying Trout was derived from Ashley traveling to the Mendoza region of Argentina for a few months of the year to make wine and then flying back to Walla Walla to make wine for the remainder of the year. I want Ashley’s life.
Ashley sold Flying Trout and started Brook & Bull Cellars – Brook and Bull are two types of trout. I love stories like these.
Brook & Bull Cellars is set back from the road, hidden by a house or two and is a hidden gem once the Spanish style casa comes into view.
My headache had mostly worn off by the time we arrived at B&B but I was unsure as to how the wine would go down; a little hair of the dog, I suppose.
We were three wines in and out of my mouth came, “All of these wines are so good”. And that’s the truth. All of the wines at B&B are very good. I especially love their Vital Wines project. Everything that goes into making a bottle of Vital Wines is donated from the grapes to the winemaker’s time to the design of the label and all proceeds from the sales of Vital Wines go to a local clinic in Walla Walla, SOS Clinic.
SOS Clinic provides free healthcare to those in the community who need it – no questions asked. A clinic like this is key for WW wines, specifically for the small family-owned wineries who cannot afford to provide expensive health insurance to their employees. It’s a community taking care of their community and I think the rest of the United States could learn a lot from this.
Our next stop of the day was to one of our favorite wineries, Gifford Hirlinger. The tasting room at Gifford is tiny and can be crowded when busy but this is the only winery we’ve visited where the one-and-only person behind the tasting counter is the owner and winemaker. This winery is so small that he and his wife do almost all the work themselves aside from hiring seasonal help, for example, to harvest.
Mike, the owner, is also the only winemaker/owner who recognized us from our trip to WW last Autumn. The reason why he remembered us is because he thought we were idiots who “did this to themselves” when we decided to bike around WW in 100˚F heat. We appreciated his honesty and agreed that we were indeed idiots but that we had a ton of fun.
The name Gifford Hirlinger is unique and almost everyone who visits this winery will ask about the name’s origin. In short, Gifford is a surname way down the family tree on his dad’s side and Hirlinger is a surname way down in the family tree on his mom’s side.
Next on the itinerary was Va Piano Vineyards. It is always a madhouse at Va Piano and that’s because they make really, really good wine and everyone wants to visit and taste their really, really good wine.
The tasting room at Va Piano stresses me out. The outdoor area is lovely when the sun is not blazing but the interior area is cluttered with artwork leaning against the wall and boxes of wine everywhere. But… they make really good wine and it is the site of where I fell in love with Rosé so…
We found ourselves in the heat of the day when we pushed our bikes up that goddamn gravel road leaving Va Piano and pointed them toward Northstar Winery. Northstar Winery is a member of the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery family and, if I’m being honest, it’s not great. Everything about this winery sucked. There I said it. The service sucked. The vibe sucked. And most importantly, the wine sucked.
The one and only unique aspect about Northstar Winery is that they host wine blending classes which sounds cool until you realize that perhaps the blending should be left to the experts… experts at another winery. Practically any winery.
We left Northstar Winery angry. Very angry. Even Peter was angry. Peter gave us a pep talk telling us that our next winery, Tertulia Cellars, was going to be great and it was! Tertulia means “a social gathering of friends” in Spanish and also explains their logo of a bunch of people holding hands.
Similar to Brook & Bull, all of the wines were unexpectedly great. Service was friendly and efficient even though there was one lass working the tasting counter serving around 20 people. I thoroughly enjoyed our time at Tertulia, especially after we moved tables to a table far away from a bird’s nest. Had we stayed at our original table, the mama bird protecting her young would certainly have shit on me.
Visit Walla Walla! (Or don’t and leave this secret gem a secret.)