The Walla Walla Valley is the perfect getaway for a long weekend trip. A four-hour drive from Portland, Seattle, or Boise, you find a little oasis of wine, food, and nature. Moreover, a piece of history may or may not surprise you along the way. Although I chose this trip based on wine and my enthusiasm for the region, I like to explore a place in its entirety. Hence, my research set us up for an interesting couple of days.
Admittedly, we did not know much about Marcus Whitman prior to visiting Walla Walla. As a matter of fact, we only knew it was the name of our hotel. The Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center towers above the rest of the town like a bodyguard. Undeniably, it is the best place to stay downtown, with complimentary breakfast and tasting rooms on site.
Marcus Whitman is a prominent figure in Washington state. He came to the area in the early 19th century on a religious mission to the Cayuse Nation. A visit to the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, part of the Oregon Trail, is an educational stop with a controversial history. Above all, the museum and property respectfully recognize his life. People are welcome to walk the grounds to view the exhibits and memorials and learn about the mission site. Whitman College is also just a short walk from downtown, near Pioneer Park. Take a walk about the campus of the liberal arts education college that honors his name.
There is no shortage of restaurants in downtown Walla Walla and you can walk to any of them if staying at Marcus Whitman. Since we are grazers, we made a pretty nice dent in the culinary scene. Lunch at TMACS was our favorite food experience of the trip. My crab ravioli and my husband’s ahi tuna BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado) made our eyes roll back in our heads! Dinner at Hattaway’s on Alder was a special treat of Southeast cuisine in an enjoyable little place with the comforts of home. We indulged in a salad of spaetzle and garlic followed by grilled octopus and braised beef cheeks.
Dinner at the highly recommended Brasserie Four on our second night was delightful. Certainly, an evening of French fare including escargot, fresh heirloom tomato salad, and mushroom gratinée was lovely. On our third day, we headed down to The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in Oregon. Although still a part of the Walla Walla Valley and only a 15-minute drive south, the food options are not plentiful. We ate a big lunch at AK’s Mercado on the Washington side before venturing out. In short, the burgers and brisket were pure perfection; we made a solid choice.
The astonishingly beautiful private villa Airbnb at Windrow Vineyard in The Rocks District was where we stayed for the next two incredible evenings. The lack of dining options is irrelevant now since we didn’t want to leave the vineyard view that surrounded us. Stopping at a Safeway supermarket for cheese and crackers worked out nicely, along with a bottle of wine on the lanai.
Downtown Walla Walla is lined with tasting rooms for those who wish to stay on foot and avoid driving. However, we were eager to do some responsible tasting amongst the scenic vineyards. Below is a list of my recommendations.
Canvasback is one of the wineries in Washington owned by the Duckhorn portfolio. The property has plenty of places to sit inside or outside and they offer small bites. We tasted three Cabernet Sauvignons and one Syrah, all from 2019. Each delivered its own expression from the birth vineyard with varying levels of oak. I purchased a bottle of Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley for later.
We tasted a flight of seven wines from various regions throughout Columbia Valley. My favorites include the 2019 Walla Walla Merlot, 2019 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2016 Va Piano Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc. All were well balanced with soft tannins, their own intensity of spices, and subtle fruit. A bottle of Merlot took the journey with us to the villa.
The folks at Caprio Cellars have a way of making you feel like you are a member of their family. Upon arrival, a glass of sparkling was handed to us and the patio awaited our tasting. Owned by an Italian family, they believe food and wine are interchangeable. Hence, they serve a flight of three wines with complimentary food pairings. They served us the 2021 Estate Rose of Cabernet Franc with spiced red potato salad, the 2021 Estate White Blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion with sockeye salmon rillette, and the 2019 Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon with Castoldi Farm beet agrodolce. Graciously, we parted with the bottle of Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ducleaux Cellars impressed us with extremely fine wine in spite of a tiny tasting room under construction in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. The wines are given meaningful names that tell a story, and the flavors in the wine prove the integrity that went into making them. We ordered a case from this one, to be delivered in the cooler temperatures. Our case consists of a mix of the 2016 Anarchy blend of Syrah & Counoise, the 2018 Raucous blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache, and the 2019 Mes Amis blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, as well as the 2019 Love & Chaos Bordeaux-inspired blend. Obviously, I’m a fan of their abilities to make delicious Rhone Valley and Bordeaux styles of blends.
In the Rocks District of Oregon, Rotie’s second-story tasting room makes you feel like you are somewhere where no one could ever find you. A dark hallway leads to the top of the window-filled tasting room where you sit to enjoy wine gazing upon the vineyards. The bottle of 2020 Southern Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre made it safely home in my suitcase.
Hiking and Outdoor Activities
After all the drinking and eating, you may be looking for some exercise. The Mill Creek Recreation Trail and Bennington Lake Loop is a moderately challenging 7-mile hike. Sightings of birds bathing in the dam and goats grazing on the hills are probable. Paved roads, dirt roads, woods, and meadows lead you to the lake and back. Paddleboarding and kayaking are popular on the lake and there are various parking entrances, depending on your sport. Be conscientious; there are some overgrown areas in the meadow with opportunities to get lost. Bring lots of water and snacks in case of a wrong turn. If all else fails, backtrack your steps and enjoy the views.