Road Trip: Walla Walla
by Erin Peterson
Featured in Spokane Cd'A Living Magazine
From grapes to glass, every step is one to celebrate in wine country. As a first-time visitor to this jewel in the crown of Washington’s vine district, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the myriad of tasting rooms that are present in this restful city, or the quiet opulence that is its hallmark so that you have the energy to tackle a few of the more than 140 tasting rooms in town. Crush season this year has been cut short by the sudden onset of cold temperatures, which means the crews in Walla Walla are working overtime to bring in the grapes for their world-class wines. Don’t miss your chance to cheer them on in person with a glass of cabernet sauvignon in your hand. They have even more unique experiences in winter to give you the perfect getaway from the stress of the holidays. Learn more here.
Eritage Resort stood out to us as one of the most luxurious options for staying in Walla Walla, and we were right. Everything that a guest sees and touches at this expertly-designed getaway in the heart of a vineyard is designed to elevate your experience to more than just a place to sleep. We were utterly spoiled by the staff and the environment here. The brand new bungalows on Lake Sienna have a deck that overlooks the water and the vineyard, and it is the best place to put your feet up after a long, arduous day wine tasting. Their nightly turndown service is a sweet touch includes a special treat from the on-site restaurant (we especially loved the chocolates). Our bungalow suite had a fireplace that provided a relaxing ambiance as the sun went down. Tuck into your premium linens and enjoy a glorious night of sleep as you hear the frogs in the lake lull you into a solid evening of rest.
Walla Walla is anything but short of culinary delights. There are charming cafes throughout downtown, and destination dining throughout the valley. We wanted to experience as much dining luxury as we could muster, so we chose to attend the Guest Chef Series dinner at Eritage. This multi-course wine dinner was in partnership with Long Shadows Winery, and their resident winemaker, Gilles Nicault, expertly paired the perfect glass of wine with each dish. The collaborative work of the chefs that shared their skill was particularly exciting, and guests from every different walk of life interacted as naturally as old friends by the end of the meal.
Equally indulgent was a steak dinner at Walla Walla Steak Company which is set in the old train station for the town. The best part is that no matter how you want to dine, they have you covered. Upon entering, to the left is the casual brewery, Cross Buck Brewing, and to the right is the upscale steakhouse for a more refined experience. Taking on the cooking for both sides, the kitchen staff is of the highest caliber, and you know that every plate coming out of it will be perfection. Every steak is carefully selected and locally sourced to be of the highest quality, and the refinement in our meal was unparalleled. Everyone has a favorite cut and means of cooking it to perfection, which this steakhouse consistently delivers, and exceeds, expectations. Where else can you get a 36-ounce prime tomahawk ribeye steak carved table side for two?! The classic side dishes need to hold their own, too. Don’t forget to order the tomato salad with “rosé” onions - a mind-blowing product that took 10 years to cultivate (which are a cross between Walla Walla sweet onions and red onion) - the result is something totally unique and I can’t stop thinking about how good they were. The dining room was crowded with happy guests, so be sure to make a reservation early or you might miss out.
With so many tasting rooms to choose from, you may have difficulty planning just where you want to end up. Never fear, we tasted our way through plenty of them, and have a list that is filled with guaranteed hits regardless of your expertise. Be sure to ask for a tour if they have one available because there is no better way to learn about wines than seeing its production in real-time. Our favorites were Long Shadows, which has an elegant tasting room featuring art by Chihuly and a state-of-the-art facility, Three Rivers Winery with a warm, welcoming tasting room, and Waterbrook Winery, which had a menu that paralleled its wine offerings in its elegance and accessible price points. Honestly, you can throw a dart at a map and end up in a fantastic winery. Don’t hesitate to go off the beaten path - you just might find a new treasure.
I am introspective by nature and loved the activities that we could access at Eritage Resort itself. There are paddle boards, kayaks, a bike, and a pool as well as a gorgeous vineyard that provided a great opportunity for a morning stroll through the vines. Pioneer Park has some of the oldest trees in the state of Washington and a variety of attractions including a large duck pond, an aviary, the Gazebo, a sledding hill, and a rose garden. Whitman Mission and Fort Walla Walla museum are great for the history buffs, too.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to experience Walla Walla, you’ll be as delighted as I was when you arrive and wonder why you haven’t gone sooner. If it’s been awhile - the vines are calling, and you should probably answer.
Erin is a professional educator, award-winning blogger and a passionate local restaurant advocate with the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild. When she isn't teaching, she is cooking for friends and family, eating at the best ingredient-driven restaurants she can find, she is researching and writing about it. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at @spokane.guild.