Walla Walla has quite an interesting name. You may know it for two things: it’s sweet onions and fabulous wines. I recently made a trip out to Walla Walla, not for the onions, but for the wines. Where is Walla Walla, Washington?
From Vancouver, it is a long 1 day trip. Excluding time to cross the border and time for gasoline and food breaks, it is about 7 hours by car. But it is worth it as there are many tasting rooms in Walla Walla area, plus many wineries open for you to visit, like Woodward Canyon, Long Shadows, and Waterbrook.
I had 2 days to sip and savour food and wine in Walla Walla. I kept to the tasting rooms in town, so that I could walk and not worry about driving. There are many tasting rooms in Walla Walla within a short walk so take advantage of it. Here is a Google Map of the Walla Walla tasting room locations.
Which Walla Walla Winery Tasting Rooms Did I Visit?
I visited 3 tasting rooms each day, so that I had time to savour the wines, talk to the person behind the table pouring their wines, and also have time to visit some restaurants in Walla Walla. The tasting rooms I visited are:
- Browne Family Vineyards
- Maison Bleue
- Su Lei Cellars
- Chateau Rollat
- Mark Ryan Winery
- Henry Earl Estates
I tasted at least 5 wines from each of these wineries. Below are my top selections:
Browne Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 – Pale lemon in colour. Lots of tropical fruit, vanilla and butterscotch on the nose. Medium minus body, soft, with a light mouthfeel. Medium minus intensity with tropical fruit and butterscotch flavour followed up with minerality and spice. Very elegant. Rating:
- Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2012 – This wine has a small percentage (3%) of Merlot in it. Cabernet Franc is not very widely planted in the Walla Walla area. I read recently that there is only about 160 acres planted. A really nice nose, with aromas of dark chocolate, capsicum, cedar and dark fruit. Medium plus body, round and dry, with flavours of ripe cherries and cedar. A streak of minerality in this wine. Firmer tannins on the finish. Rating:
Maison Bleue Bourgeois Grenache 2012 – Medium intensity aromas of red fruit, red apple, kirsch, red cherries, and a whiff of smokiness. Pretty candied and sour cherries, flowers, blueberries, cranberries and plums, together with a mineral streak on the palate. Medium minus body with a light mouth feel. Quite acidic on the finish, but finishes with cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate. Quite an interesting palate. Rating:
- Su Lei Cellars Dena Rae 2012 – This Tuscan style blend of 53% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Merlot, was named after the mother of wine maker Tanya Woodley. I really enjoyed this wine.
It was medium translucent garnet in colour. Nice perfumed nose, with aromas of cedar, red cherries, red fruits, and vanilla. Lighter bodied, but very fruity. Red fruit, cranberries, light vanilla and perfume. Sweet spice and oak hang out in the back. Soft, fine tannins. Medium length. Very Italian. Rating:
- Chateau Rollat Ardenvoir Chardonnay 2009 – This Chardonnay is made with all French oak, of which 10% are new barrels. Deeper pear skin colour with legs evident in the glass. Light tropical fruit and oak on the nose. Soft, silky, butteriness on the palate with tropical fruit and light oak flavours. Very good quality. Rating:
Chateau Rollat Edouard de Rollat 2010 – A Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Deeper garnet in colour. Light intensity nose, with dark fruit, sweet cherries, cassis and light vanilla aromas. Mineral! Fuller bodied, dry with fine tannins. Flavours of ripe, dark cherries, plums and has vanilla supporting behind the fruit. Dry finish, with the cherries coming to the fore again. A quality wine. Rating:
- Mark Ryan Winery The Shift 2013 – A blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Grenache. Medium ruby in colour. Light meaty, vanilla, cassis and blueberry aromas. Full body, round and silky with ripe black fruits, light vanilla and some tarriness. Sour red cherries and blueberries show up on the mid-palate to the finish. Rating:
Mark Ryan Winery Numbskull 2012 – 58% Syrah, 26% Grenache, and 16% Mourvedre make the blend of this wine. I’m not sure why this wine is named numbskull, but I think it may have something to do with motorcycle culture, which is in evidence wherever you look in the tasting room. This particular bottle is graced with drawings of skulls on the label. Deep garnet in the glass. Smoky, coffee, dark fruit and vanilla nose. Salty minerality, fuller bodied with flavours of flowers, purple fruit and vanilla. Dry but with silky tannins. A really cool wine. Rating:
- Henry Earl Estates Merlot 2011 – Lots of cedary, oaky notes on the nose, together with cassis fruits. Dry, medium plus body, with flavours of purple fruit, cherries and vanilla. Very fruity. After the fruit, you get sweet spices. Heavier mouth feel. Some chocolate later on. Medium acidity gives a nice backbone to complement the tannins. Rating:
- Henry Earl Estates Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Medium minus garnet in colour, translucent to the core. An interesting nose; meaty with cocoa and dark fruit. Full body, firm tannins, with juicy black fruit, blueberries and cassis. Long length. Rating:
A Bit of Background on the Wineries
This information was gleaned from each of the winery websites. I put it here to make it easier to find out a little bit about each winery, but I of course invite you to visit their full website for more details.
Browne Family Vineyards
Andrew Browne is the principal of Browne Family Vineyards. Known primarily for Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, Browne Family has expanded to also include Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. William Bitner Browne is the grandfather, and inspiration for Andrew Browne. His grandfather spent a year in college in Bordeaux and had a love of Bordeaux wines that passed along to Andrew. John Freeman is their wine maker. He was born in San Francisco and raised in Napa Valley. He worked in California, which included seven years at Franciscan Vineyards and an additional five spent as the Cellar Master at Miner Family. He moved to the Walla Walla Valley in 2002.
Maison Bleue is a family-owned winery dedicated to the production of terroir-driven wines from the Walla Walla Valley and beyond. They focus primarily on Rhône varieties such as Grenache and Syrah, as well as other blends. Jon Meuret, the winemaker and owner of Maison Bleue, graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry as well as Doctorate of Dental Surgery at the University of Iowa. While practicing in the Kansas City area, he helped establish a vineyard and winery dedicated to the growing and production of vinifera varieties. It was during this time that Jon decided to make the transition from dentist to full-time vigneron. After many trips to the Pacific Northwest, he and his wife Amy, made the move west. Maison Bleue was founded in 2007 and is located in Walla Walla, Washington. The wines that I tasted were all very good quality, but since they produce such small lots, the wines you see and can purchase now, may be gone quickly. If you check the web for their wines you will see quite a list that they have produced. I did not list in my notes above, but I did try their Metis White and Metis Red blends, which were light and enjoyable.
Su Lei Cellars
The name SuLei is a word created to express the partnership of the proprietors. SuLei is also a synonym for Sulis Minerva, a Celtic Mother Goddess: Provider of Healing waters/She who is Viewed/The Bright One. Winemaker/Founding Member, Tanya Woodley, and Operations Manager/Founding Member, Elaine Jomwe, formed Su Lei Cellars in 2005. Tanya graduated from WWCC with an AAAS in Enology & Viticulture and spent over three years working with Stephen Lessard, making wine for Whitman Cellars. You may notice that some of their wine labels have images and references to roller derby as Elaine, I believe, participated and enjoys roller derby. From my visit, they seem very unpretentious and provide wines at different price points for you to enjoy.
I have a lot of respect for Chateau Rollat. Their wines are definitely in the Old World style, surrounded by more New World style wineries. Tasting Room Manager, and wine maker, Mike Golden poured his Sauvignon Blanc 2009 for me, as my first wine to try from them. An aged Sauvignon Blanc? It takes great conviction in your wine and it’s quality to pour a Sauvignon Blanc that has 6 years of bottle aging. Most people drink Sauvignon Blanc soon after it is fermented and bottled so that you get the fresh, zesty citrus, herbal, cat’s pee and all those other green flavours that make Sauvignon Blanc distinct. Chateau Rollat’s Sauvignon Blanc has mellowed and gives you a different perspective on this grape.
Back to the history of this winery. Edouard Rollat came to America in 1903 with his wife, Sophie, and their young daughter, Ida from Central France and Switzerland where their family made wine for many generations. Rollat began plying his trade in New York where their ship had arrived. He became the wine steward/sommelier at the prestigious Café Martin on 27th St. In 1933 with the repeal of Prohibition, Rollat joined the Vendome wine house as its leading wine authority. He continued to consult for restaurants, write articles and teach.
Bowin Lindgren is the owner and winemaker on Chateau Rollat. The winery is named in honor of his Great Grandparents and forefathers from France. Pictures of the family adorn the walls of the tasting room. Their wines are all from Bordeaux variety grapes, both red and white.
Mark Ryan Winery
Mark Ryan McNeilly founded Mark Ryan Winery in 1999. He was largely self-taught, but also welcomed advice of some of the area’s most experienced producers. His first vintages were produced crushed and pressed in garages of friends and family, barrels aged in warehouses in the Seattle Area, and then finally in Woodinville in 2003. Mike MacMorran is their winemaker. He started in June of 2008 as Assistant Winemaker, and became the winery’s head Winemaker one year later in 2009. A New Zealander, he moved to the USA in 1995. He was in med school and took a break from his studies in 2005 to work with Delille Cellars and the rest is history. Their wines cover both Bordeaux and northern Rhone grape varieties.
Henry Earl Estates
Henry Earl Estates Wine is named in honor of the vineyard owners fathers: Henry Shaw and Earl West. Dick Shaw, a son of Henry started the vineyards with about 100 acres near Mattawa, Washington in 1981. He met Wendy and they planted more vineyards and Wendy started her harvesting business when they had about 300 acres planted. Now they have about 2200 acres planted in eastern Washington which include about 420 acres on Red Mountain. Earl West was born in Minnesota in 1927 and is the father of one of our owners, Wendy Shaw (nee West). Earl’s family lost their farm during the Great Depression and moved to Washington. Victor Palencia, is the Director of Wine Making for Henry Earl Estates. He is one of eight children in a family that moved from Michoacán, Mexico. His father worked in vineyards and Victor started with him at age 13, where he grew his love of wine.