Monday, September 13, 2010

Wine Stop!

September 13, 2010
Walla Walla, Washington

On Saturday, we broke camp and headed "downhill" from Northern Idaho to Southeast Washington. Our route took us on US-2 then US-95 down to I-90, then west through Spokane. Once we were on the other side of the city, we turned south again on US-195 to WA-26, WA-127, and finally west again on US-12. We left behind the pine forests and the cloudy/rainy weather and before we knew it we were in hay and wheat country again. Rolling fields of staggered crops stretched out on both side of us. As we crossed the Snake River, we started to pick up the "Lewis and Clark Trail" signs again.

We rolled into Walla Walla in the middle of the afternoon, a pretty short driving day by our past standards, with 253 miles logged. Ah, life in the slow lane. The park we're staying at, Blue Valley RV Park, may have changed hands in the past year, as it used to be "Fairway RV Resort", probably so named because of its location next to a golf course. The Park's layout is a little odd, with two separate sections bisected by the local Humane Society's compound, but we had a nice spot with a good satellite alignment so we were happy campers.

Somewhere along the way, our meal plan (OK, "my" meal plan since Geri hates the concept) fell apart. I had us having pasta, but we had the last of the leftover Angel Hair for lunch. Pasta twice in one day? No way, José. On the other hand, why not be a little spontaneous once in a while? A little bit of quick Googling and Yelping, one fast phone call, and we were booked for a 7:15 dinner before Geri was even out of the shower. Brasserie Four, in downtown Walla Walla, serves a house favorite, Moules Frites, that Geri loves. I had Steak Frites. We were both happy, but even I admitted that she "won". With a glass of Rosé Champagne with our Terrine de Fois de Poulet (chicken livers) starter and a nice bottle of local Syrah with the entrées, we were stuffed and happy by the time we rolled home.

Sunday dawned bright and crisp, not a cloud in the sky. We actually had breakfast on the patio for a change, something we haven't done since AZ (and not much then this past winter since it was so cool). We started our local touring with a stop at the Farmer's Market downtown. It was small as these things go, and probably about 50% farm produce and 50% other "stuff" (from breads and rolls to trinkets to massages). We picked up a few things but were a little disappointed that two of the things on our list weren't available. Apparently, nobody grows salad greens around here, at least not in September. And - go figure - we couldn't get a Walla Walla onion to save our lives. A 5 pound, 10 pound, 20 pound bag? Sure. One or two loose onions? Nope. Who knew?

Next, it was on to wineries. I did a bit of research in advance, so we weren't disappointed. Not only did we need to focus on good quality, we needed to a) know that they had a tasting room, b) know that the tasting room would be open (many of the smaller producers here are by appointment only or closed to the public) and c) that the wines are affordable. I picked five wineries in total, two for Sunday and three for Monday.

Our first winery was K Vintners on the eastern side of Walla Walla. The winemaker, Charles Smith (not to be confused with Charles Shaw, of "Two Buck Chuck" fame), produces two lines. We had a bottle of his "value" label, "Boom Boom Syrah" in Rapid City and liked it, so this was a natural. We tasted five different wines and ended up with a "six pack" to go, including a couple of bottles of Boom Boom (a tremendous value at $15).

Next, we headed to Amavi, south of town. We'd never had their wines before but have read good reviews, and we weren't disappointed. Their facility is modern and only a year or two old, nestled on a rise in one of their vineyards. Another tasting; another half-case in the car. We also signed up for their "wine club", since they offer the flexibility of one shipment a year, which we can schedule in December for our convenience.

Since we still had time in the day (and the pups were safely home in the air-conditioned coach), we headed back downtown, had a sandwich from Safeway (lousy) and walked around Main Street a bit. Since it was Sunday, many of the shops were closed, but we did make one last stop at the Walla Walla Wine Works. More tasting and buying ensued and we were soon ready to call it a day. Geri made salad and I seared a piece of Yellowfin Tuna, so we had a relatively light dinner.

Today (Monday) was another beautiful day. I got some chores out of the way early while Geri slept in. A few calls later (dentist appointment for her for early-November to repair that darned loose tooth; confirm next RV Park reservations; argue with the Xantrex tech support crowd about whey they didn't call me back last week, why they can't tell me why my inverter/charger won't charge, and why they won't even try to fix it - "sorry; we can't get parts for that model anymore"; line up a new inverter/charger in Portland for next week; whew, I felt like my friend Dave, the serial caller) and I was all set. Geri was up, so let the day begin!

I picked out three wineries for today, all on the west side of town. Our first stop was at Cougar Crest Winery, the furthest out, figuring we'd work our way back. It turns out no cougars we harmed during the creation of the winery; the owners are Washington State University alumni (Go Cougars!). We had the tasting room to ourselves and managed to taste everything they were pouring. With many recent vintages getting 90-94 point ratings from the Wine Spectator and several 2005 vintage bottles discounted to make room, it was tough to choose but we managed to get by with a little over a case this time.

Next stop: Reininger Vineyards, another brand we've never tried but have read about. It being Monday, we once again had the tasting room to ourselves. This is quite nice, as you don't feel crowded or rushed, and can actually interact with the tasting room staff. They produce two labels, Reininger from the Walla Walla AVA and Helix from the Columbia Valley, further to the west. Both were good and both ended up in the Rover.

Our last stop was Three Rivers Winery. This winery is part of the Foley Wine Group, one of our favorites from the Santa Barbara County area in Southern California. We're "wine club" members at one of their brands, Lincourt. Good news for us: free tastings at all Foley properties for wine club members. There were actually a few people in the tasting room when we arrived, with several cars in the lot and one of the local "wine tour" 16-passenger shuttle busses idling outside. We were happy to see the tour guide rounding up his passengers, when a "real" bus pulled up and dumped off 40 people on a "bus tour" of the Northwest. Then things got busy! We shifted to one end of the tasting bar and talked to several people (by this time in the day we were, shall we say, "talkative") as we finished our tasting. We made our selections for purchase and headed out; the tour group was still going strong.

Back home, we walked and fed the pups and I made up some Asiago and Sun-dried Tomato Burgers (sorry; pre-made by Safeway and OK but not great) and some homemade Frites (gotta make them when you see New Potatoes in the store). We paired this with a reasonably good but somewhat oddball wine from Three Rivers, a Malbec-Merlot blend. Go figure.

Click here for more pictures from our stay in Walla Walla.

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