Walla Walla wine has garnered significant attention in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. The vineyards are just north of the Columbia River in Washington State, and they produce some of the best wines in the Pacific Northwest. This high quality has earned the area the nickname “America’s Rhone Valley.”
The terroir in the area is a significant reason for the high quality. Basalt and loess, and fine sediment are the two fundamental soil types. Similar to other wine regions in the United States, the basalt was stored here as an outcome of the volcanic movement, and the loess is a result of repetitive cold floods known as the Missoula Floods. Where most plants go through a challenging process to become pest-resistant, this area offers different circumstances.
History of Walla Walla
Washington’s Walla Walla Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in the United States. It was established by French missionaries and didn’t gain popularity until the late 1960s. Today, approximately 36 wineries produce 100 million gallons of product each year, and wineries produce 4 million cases of wine. The region has three AVAs: Columbia Valley AVA (on the Oregon side), Horse Heaven Hills AVA (in both states), and Wahluke Slope AVA (all in Washington). Although heavily planted with vines, most of the wines here are made from non-grape varieties like apples and pears. Only recently have winemakers started producing sparkling wines.
The perfect climate
If you’re trying to grow grapes and not in California or Washington, it helps to have perfect weather. The Walla Walla region is known for a warm, dry climate that produces sweet grapes with mild tannins. This climate makes it one of few places in America where cabernet sauvignon is a prized crop, and at least one winery has a vineyard at an elevation of 3,000 feet. The vines produce fruit with enough sugar to balance some nice tannins and bold flavors. Wallasan wine doesn’t even involve oak barrels; winemakers let their liquid sit in stainless steel tanks during the aging process.
Diverse, high-value options
It’s well known that most wine regions in Washington produce both red and white wines, but Walla Walla is a region that has only reds. Approximately 90% of all wines produced in Walla Walla are of one variety: Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweetness is not required in a good Walla Walla wine, and given that some wines made in that region are high in alcohol and low in acidity, it makes sense that many winemakers shy away from loading up on sugar. When drinking wine from the area, you should be prepared for dry white wines with higher acidity levels than others which is a quality that results from the grapes themselves.
The region is also getting attention for its economic value. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money but still want to drink wine that tastes good, head to Walla Walla. The region is home to big wineries, including Coldwater Creek, Columbia Winery, and Hogue Cellars. Because these wineries are already established and have more resources than newer companies, they can afford to charge less for their bottles.
Focusing on the quality of wine
The premier wine from Washington state is produced in a relatively small area – just three counties and less than 3,000 acres of vineyards. But if you pay attention to where it’s grown, you can find even better quality. The best grapes are cultivated on southeast-facing slopes with good drainage near rivers that provide plenty of water for irrigation.
Different types of oak used in aging
Oak is responsible for much of a wine’s taste, aroma, and color. Oak barrels can also impart tannins that add body to a wine. It’s important to know what type of oak you’re drinking, so here are some common varieties used by winemakers:
- New American oak – The least expensive option which infuses bolder flavors (cedar, vanilla) and more bitter tannins than any other option. Drink younger wines aged in new oak (1-2 years) sooner rather than later!
- French Oak – This is arguably the most used barrel for aging wine.
Success despite less than perfect conditions
Most people think Washington’s Walla Walla region is an ideal place for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s not. While Cab is one of Washington’s leading varietals regarding plantings and sales, only a tiny percentage make it to market. To enjoy what these wines have to offer, you must buy up-front. Many wineries will use their products for private label bottlings or give their stock away to their friends and family.
On This Day
- May 2nd, 1670: The Hudson’s Bay Company was started.
- January 16th, 1970: The Walla Walla wine industry was re-established.