Warning: if you are a “wine person,” do not proceed. I am not a wine person. But last weekend I got to pretend.
Walla Walla, WA, is becoming a major hub for wine production, rivaling the famed Napa Valley. If you’re a wine person, you already knew that, but you’re NOT a wine person, because they stopped reading after the first sentence. I’ll assume everything that follows is news to you.
I learned a lot about the people who make the wine in central Washington: they are very smart, friendly, and completely lacking in pretense. They are also well educated. Though many young people were working tasting counters as a summer job, nearly all of them had degrees in Enology and Viticulture. (Yes, that’s a thing. You can even take graduate level courses on the topic at WSU.) And if you are humble enough to admit that you have a thing or two to learn about wine (no problem), they are all eager to share the library of information they keep in their heads.
I learned how to identify a wine by color. I learned how to suck air between my teeth to aerate the wine in my mouth (not attractive, but surprisingly enjoyable). I learned that good wines also have “sexy legs” (lucky them), and that the smell of a wine (“nose”) is actually as enjoyable as tasting it. Take, for example, two different vintages of a Merlot from the same winemaker: one from 2006, the other from 2009. Although my tongue couldn’t distinguish the two, my nose had a lot to say about it. In one the smell of dates and dried cherries was dominant; in the other, tobacco, blackberry, and something herby. My aunt Mimi (who is a wine person) said that your tongue can only pick up about 7 notes, whereas your nose can distinguish over 20. I believe it.
At the advice of one small vineyard, we booked a tasting at Garrison Creek Cellars, who was rumored to offer barrel tastings, available by appointment only. The approach to the winery wound through the grape vineyards, which produced all of the grapes for this particular vintner. The mammoth barn that housed all of the wine production and barrels was roofed in Vermont slate, which tipped us off that we could not afford the bottles of wine therein.
We were met outside by Laura, a smart and friendly young woman who has, of course, a degree from Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture. As we gaped open-mouthed at the vaulted ceilings, Laura politely asked, “So, how did you find us? We don’t advertise…”
I interpreted this as “ya’ll aren’t the kind of people that usually take tours here,” except that she was sweet and non-judgy about it. In fact, I know that’s what she meant, because she later admitted that we’re not the sort of crusty wine snobs that she usually shows around. At nearly every winery we visited, I watched people walk out with hand trucks stacked with cases of wine totaling thousands of dollars. If those are the sorts that usually visit, then no. We’re not the sort.
Their 2008 cab undid me. I cried a little as I shook the last drops from the bottom of the glass, grieving that I couldn’t take that bottle home with me, 750 mL of fermented bliss. Since they only retail through high-end restaurants, I doubt that cab and I will ever meet again.
Although I’m obviously smitten with Garrison Creek Cellars and their unforgettable cab (and I get no compensation for raving about it [though I’d take a bottle if they offered, *hint*]) we visited numerous other places with seriously good wine. Top among them was Basel Cellars, and their surprising 2901 Rosé. Historically, I’ve been known to turn up my nose to white wine, defaulting to heavy reds even with fish in the middle of summer. Perhaps the dry heat of the Walla Walla valley got to me, but I came home with only two bottles of wine: one white, and the 2901 Rosé.
The other white that came home with me was a Semillon from L’Ecole No. 41, an old school house converted to a winery. The building packed charm the way the wine packed summer into a few dry golden ounces.
And although the wine at Sleight of Hand Cellars didn’t do much for me, I nearly bought this bottle for the label:
Wait, is that??? It couldn’t be. It looks like…
Yep. Walla Walla is on the map, yo.