Think of Walla Walla as a wine region so nice they named it twice. (Okay, the name technically is a Native American term for “Place of Many Waters” as the original settlement was created where the Snake and Columbia Rivers came together.) Still, this is an area where it’s not surprising to walk into a tasting room staffed by an affable owner, where inventive cuisine fuses the best of the Pacific Northwest with locally-grown ingredients and where warm approachable hospitality is as homegrown and natural as the sun-drenched vineyards filled with indigenous grapes. Many of the wineries in Walla Walla are small production, meaning that if you discover a bottle you absolutely love, buy one (or a case), as you may not come across it again outside of the region. Here, some of the top spots to stay, sip, and savor in Walla Walla wine country.
Located just a short drive from downtown Walla Walla and the regional airport, this contemporarily-designed resort set on 300 acres overlooking human-made Lake Sienna and adjacent to vineyards and golden wheat fields feels a world away. Ten lakeside bungalows join 10 luxury suites in the main building; each comes with a view of the water, the Blue Mountains, or farmland, as well as Garnier-Thiebaut linens, Nespresso coffee makers, L’Occitane toiletries, continental breakfast and (in the bungalows) a separate shower and soaking tub. Spend the afternoon by the saltwater swimming pool or swimming or paddleboarding in the tranquil lake; at sunset, lounge on your private deck or patio or curl up in your sitting room next to the fireplace with a bottle of Eritage Rosé. The menu at the onsite restaurant and bar is created and tweaked by executive chef Brian Price and James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson and focuses on local farm-raised ingredients for elevated dishes like ash-roasted beet salad with Oregon bleu cheese and Columbia River Ranch beef short ribs with Walla Walla sweet onion puree.
If brews are more your thing, neighboring Crossbuck Brewing offers a rotating selection of suds from pilsners to kölsches to juicy IPAs to session ales; plans include a barrel-aging program with collaborations with local wine and spirits producers. The food menu here is thoughtful but casual, with some crossover from the steakhouse next door: think ground brisket burger with bacon, aged white cheddar and aioli, mushroom and truffle flatbread and steak salad with vinegar peppers and charred scallions. Of course, if you have to have that filet from Walla Walla Steak Co. next door, the staff is happy to bring you that or anything else on the steakhouse’s menu.
Armstrong Vineyard Cottage
For a truly immersive wine country stay, book this charming cottage on the grounds of Armstrong Family Winery a few minutes’ drive outside town. It can accommodate up to four guests in two bedrooms, each with a queen-sized bed and a shared bathroom. Hit the farmer’s market and prepare a relaxed dinner in the fully-equipped eat-in kitchen, then relax with a glass of red on a leather sofa in the living room. Swaying on a hammock installed on vineyard posts is the perfect way to spend lazy sunny mornings, and the lack of light pollution makes for romantic late-night stargazing from the back patio or backyard. If owners Tim and Jen Armstrong are around, they will be excited to taste you through their portfolio of Washington wines.
Marcus Whitman Hotel
This storied hotel dates back to 1928, but a major renovation at the start of the 21st century maintained its classic style while adding modern touches. The building is so iconic that when it was constructed, an ordinance was passed—and still holds today—declaring that no taller structure be built. The 133 accommodations range from king deluxe to two-room luxury suites; all come with complimentary internet access, hot breakfast, and free parking. The Marc Restaurant specializes in regional dishes like salmon fish and chips, crab cakes, and elk sliders, while The Vineyard Lounge has 14 local wines by the glass, small plates, and classic cocktails.
In 2007, Portland, Oregon, natives Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe took their passion for learning about and tasting wine and put it in this women-owned venture. (The name is both a term they created to express their partnership and a synonym for Sulis Minerva, a Celtic mother goddess.) Their unassuming tasting room belies the exciting wines they are releasing, including a spritzy Albariño, rosé of pinot grigio, and Roller Girl, an easygoing red based on cabernet sauvignon.
Founded by retired Air Force pilots JJ and Kelly Menozzi, who fell in love with the region after a visit in 2000, their second act focuses on red wines made with grapes including Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with a few whites and rosés for good measure. Their 2017 Sangiovese is done in a Super Tuscan style with a dry, structured finish, while the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon shows notes of dry herbs, fine tannins, and a peppery quality that are all indicative of an emerging Walla Walla style.
Walla Walla Steak Co.
Walla Walla Steak Co. features classic steakhouse dishes with a contemporary twist, with beef sourced from Cattle Company Beef in Spokane. Start with baked oysters topped with spinach, bacon, and local onions before moving onto signature steaks like “The Hatchet,” a 34-ounce bone-in prime ribeye for two carved tableside which can be adorned with toppers like peppercorn demi-glace or a lobster tail. Dishes like fire-roasted salmon with spiced honey prove that seafood fans don’t get the short shrift. The wine list skews local, with a smattering of Old World bottles from Spain, Italy, and France.
You might want to make this your last stop of the day, as the tasting room—with its couch-filled second-floor loft and shaded patio complete with porch swing—is one of the most inviting in town. Overseen by winemaker Cameron Kontos, a sixth-generation native of the area who launched the operation with his brother, the winery releases a yearly flagship red called Alatus, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec that lets each varietal speak for itself. Decidedly less serious (but equally fun) is Fysalides, a chardonnay- and pinot noir-based traditional method sparkling wine whose name translates from Greek as “tiny bubbles.”
Hattaway's on Alder
Melding the flavors of the Pacific Northwest with the traditions of the Southeast is this cozy restaurant downtown. It’s challenging to narrow down what to order, so come hungry—and ideally with a group willing to try all of the things. Thick-cut hand made potato chips dunked in caramelized onion sour cream, and rainbow trout are ridiculously addictive, as is rich pimiento cheese dip served with black pepper lavash. The best of the entrees gives seared duck breast an Asian twist, placing it atop dirty basmati rice and scallion collard kimchi with Bourbon kalbi sauce. Local and global wines and beers are joined by seasonal libations like My Old Friend, with gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth, Averna, lemon, and coriander, which pretty much describes how you’ll be welcomed at this pleasant dining room.
Tesla Winery Tours
If you don’t care to drive during your wine tasting adventures, consider hiring Christopher Wood to do it for you. His outfit offers wine tasting tours in his high tech white Tesla X 90D, complete with falcon wing doors and rapid acceleration that’s oh so fun to test out on those long straightaways. He is happy to work with you to create an itinerary that fits your group’s interests and is quite knowledgeable in all things wine, food, beer, and cider.
Colville Street Patisserie
Fuel up for a day of wine tasting or sightseeing with freshly-baked pastries at this bustling breakfast spot. Selections in the glass display case might include goat cheese and herb croissants; Kouign-Amann, a traditional pastry from Brittany, France, where flaky pastry is layered with caramelized sugar and topped with sea salt; or cannele, the crispy-on-the-outside-custardy-on-the-inside rum cake from Bordeaux. Cappuccino, latte, and drip coffee, come courtesy of The Walla Walla; don’t leave without a few macarons or a slice of chocolate and caramel tart to sample later.