The trip to Walla Walla comprised 2.5 days and 6 people: blog notables Me and Rick, friends Alyssa, Kathryn, and Gordon, and special guest from Minnesota Dominique. Four years ago I never would have imagined Walla Walla would be the locale of choice to celebrate my 30th birthday, but that's exactly what happened. You see, I grew up just 40 miles from this magical town, but my only memories were of a small town that was the destination for field trips and basketball tournaments. Red wine came into the picture, and the rest, they say, is history. Since then, I've made a point of hitting the "WW" every year or two and have a blast every time.
The first day of our trip was winery free due to travel, however, that didn't keep us from enjoying the local bounty. Sweet Basil Pizzeria was the perfect setting for a low-key dinner, a few pitchers of beer, and a bottle of wine as we all caught up with each other and noshed on some mad grub. Pizza, that is. Awesome pizza. And breadsticks. We followed dinner with a bottle or two at The Vineyard Lounge at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and retired to the house for the evening for a rousing game of Uno with some more wine. We dove into winery land the next day, an awesome day that Rick is going to chronicle in a coming attraction on the blog. If you bat your eyelashes seductively, you might even convince him to talk about our awesome dinner at Brasserie Four. What I'm going to focus on is what I lovingly refer to as "day 3", also known as Sunday or Woodward Canyon day.
I'll be honest, Sunday started a little slow for me. Well, not really. I woke up with a spring in my step and a gleam in my eye, made coffee, cooked pancakes for everyone, ate said pancakes, and promptly started to feel like crap. You see, as legend holds, Rick and I were matching everyone else on the wine 2 to 1 the night before. Given that Rick has a solid 10 pounds on me, I took the brunt of the damage. It was the dreaded delayed hangover. Ugh. Well, virtually nothing was going to make me miss the day so while the ladies were buying us pie and Gatorade, I took care of business and was ready to rally and hit the wine trail. We started the tasting at Cougar Crest Winery, ALWAYS a winner (pssst, I hear they're looking at a Woodinville tasting room), and progressed to L'Ecole 41. Both were awesome, but the highlight of the day was a tasting we had scheduled at a local favorite, Woodward Canyon Winery.
Located in an 1870's farmhouse in Lowden, Washington, Woodward Canyon Winery was founded in 1981 by pillars of the Walla Walla wine industry Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small. When I say pillars, I mean that Rick is currently the Chairman of the Washington Wine Commission and Darcey was one of the authors of the original petition for the Walla Walla AVA. That kind of pillar. Our group was quickly greeted by Tasting Room Associate Taylor Oswald, who led us into the reserve house for what was to be a transformative tasting for our group. As we entered the reserve house, we were greeted with a table set with customized tasting menus for us. That's right, our own pour list.
An aside on the reserve house...talk about a gorgeous facility! A literal conference room of wine, this building in the backyard of the winery also holds the owners offices, a full catering production kitchen, and the Woodward private wine cellar. Taylor had pre-poured a selection of four reds for us and poured 2 whites on demand. This particular day we tasted through a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, NV Red Wine, Barbera, Red Reserve. and Artist Series Cabernet. Throughout the tasting, we playfully bantered with Taylor and basked in both his knowledge of wine and the winery, and the quality of the juice in our glasses. At the end of the day, there were two unanimous favorites that emerged:
- 2009 Washington State Chardonnay: I'm pretty sure this is the best darn Chardonnay on the market right now in the state of Washington. Based on what I heard at Taste Washington, I'm not alone in this opinion. I'm not a white guy and I'm still salivating thinking about this one. Crisp and clean with a nice balance of acidity, this wine integrates the oak in a very refreshing way. Simply put, it's a must have even at the $44 price point.
- 2008 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon: The clear winner for the big red fans of the group, the Artist Series Cab is balanced with 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Syrah. Primarily sourced from Champoux Vineyard, this cab has some nice earthy notes and has a fine portfolio of tannins. Fruit forward with a finish of cocoa and chocolate, it's worth every penny of the $49 and I'm still trying to figure out how to convince Rick to open the bottle he purchased next time I visit.
So...great wine, great company, great staff...what more could we ask for? Well, a trip the cellar hit the spot. Described as the owner's private collection, the Woodward cellar reminded us of the Airfield "batcave" experience we had last February. I was speechless in awe as we were lead down into the room with a small, intimate table, large chandelier, and thousands of bottles of wine dating back to the early '80's. In fact, it appeared there was representation from every vintage Woodward has produced in this room. I tried to talk them out of a 1981, the year of my birth, but none of that was to be had. We were incredibly lucky to see this special place.
Next time you're headed to Walla Walla, stop in Lowden and say hi to the nice folks at Woodward Canyon. Taylor and Marlene will take great care of you...and the wine speaks for itself. If you run across the Chardonnay, you'd be silly to not pick it up.