Friday, November 11, 2011

Walla Walla Bing Bang! Part I

School is now in session (wine school, that is!)
Photo by Meg McKenzie
"I told the witch doctor I was in love with you ... And he said oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang ..." 

So goes the old Doctor Demento song, and so it goes in the wine town of Walla Walla, Wash., which I am in love with, because what other place are there 170 wineries vying for your attention? You heard me right, folks: One-seven-oh. They're down for the count in W-W. Which, incidentally, reminded me a lot of D-W in Orlando, Epcot to be exact. Note to the Walla Walla Vally Wine Alliance: Get a monorail to woosh us along Route 12. It would save a lot of time getting from one amazing wine temple to the next.

Belly up to the bar at L'Ecole
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But I digress. Back in October, I took a little sojourn to the Oregon Coast (where I did make a pitstop in Willamette Valley -- I'll save Pinot World for another posting), but planned an extra day to detour to W-W on my back to Boise. Unfortunately, most of the day was eaten up on I-84 getting from Point A (Cannon Beach) to Point B (the wineries of Walla Walla), so I didn't arrive till about 3 p.m. Which gave me exactly two-and-a-half hours to sample all the wine I could and still stay on the right side of the road. So without even pausing to check in to my room at the Holiday Inn Express, I hit the ground running on my way into town -- and luckily, I was armed with a map. Unfortunately, I had to make it home to my Real Job the next day, so the East Side and South Side tasting rooms will have to wait for another time.

Study your wine before recess
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As it happens so often, however, my first stop was my best stop. Not to say that I'd have missed trying the other wines I sampled after L'Ecole No. 41's wide array of unbelievable vintages in their oh-so-charming converted schoolhouse (which was so picture perfect, it really did resemble something from Epcot) but there you have it: L'Ecole est fantastique.

Not only were the 15 wines-- especially the "white label" ones made from Seven Hills Vineyard grapes -- super scrumptious, but the atmosphere in the second-floor tasting room was convivial yet respectful. I met a charming couple from Seattle who helped guide me through the long list of wines, which range in price from the $49 2008 Estate Perigee -- an intricate blend of the usual suspects: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec that will make you swoon -- to the $13 2009 Semillon from Columbia Valley. 

L'Ecole No. 41
41 Lowden School Road
P.O. Box 111
Lowden, WA 99360
Phone (509) 525-0940
Owners: Megan and Martin Clubb
Winemakers: Martin Clubb and Mike Sharon


Easy off, easy on the busy Highway 12 (watch out for those speeding cement trucks - yowch!), A lovely, old-fashioned, impeccably redone tasting room with a long bar and seemingly endless varieties of luscious wines. $5 tasting fee. Knowledgeable pourers. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). Everything a tasting room should be in this most perfect of wine worlds.

The old farmhouse by the side of Route 12 is really a winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
A little way west of The School of Wine is the more modest Woodward Canyon Winery. Located in an old farmhouse that reminded me of the one that landed on the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," this winery reeks of "the real deal" -- a started-from-the-ground-up, 20-year-old business that earns your respect with their small-batch Merlots, Cabernets, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Young pourer Eric was a little taciturn at first, but I warmed him up with my non-stop banter, and he was soon suggesting a restaurant for dinner -- the White House Crawford, which I did go to; more on that later. Their current releases range from the $79 2008 "Old Vines" Cabernet (yummy) to the $20 2008 Nelms Road Merlot (ditto).

Welcome to Woodward Canyon Winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Woodward Canyon Winery
11920 W. Highway 12
Lowden, Wash. 99360
(509) 525.4129

Owners: Rick Small and Darcy Fugman-Small
Winemaker: Kevin Mott

It's the first tasting room you come to after Umatilla, a slightly fusty low-key farmhouse with some seriously good wines sourced from estate and Washington grapes. $5 tasting fee. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). 

Next post: I venture along Old Highway 12 to some ornate, new-fangled wineries. (Thar's money in them-thar hills...)
Ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wine.