This week, the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC18) returns to Walla Walla, Washington, having first visited the region in 2010. I was fortunate enough to visit the appellation for the first time just a few weeks ago, ahead of the conference, where I received an incredible overview of the AVA from the fine people at the Walla Walla Wine Alliance.
My intention for the week, upon the suggestion of the aforementioned Alliance, was to spend a few days in Walla Walla, visit the region’s wineries, and ride my bike for an hour or two each day in n area that is purportedly replete with stellar rides and stunning topography. The Wine Alliance has a program called #WWander Walla Walla with ten different itineraries to explore the AVA, each designed by the winemakers themselves.
At least that was my intention.
The kind people at the Walla Walla Wine Alliance suggested that I bring my own bike since, well, the area bike shops, although otherwise really fantastic, were limited in rental possibilities for the “freakishly tall” (that is how my otherwise doting brother refers to my slightly above-average height).
In the first installment of this chronicle, I mentioned that I had rather inconveniently forgotten to pack my saddle and seat post along with my bike. After a few tense moments at Allegro Cyclery, the kind people there emerged from the bowels of the shop with a post and saddle that should have worked famously with my bike. (There is a key word in that sentence.) When I eventually returned to the hotel, I realized that there was another, equally serious problem: I also forgot to pack my skewers.
For those that are two-wheel averse out there, a skewer is, essentially, what connects the wheels to the bike.
Yeah. Pretty important.
The ever-accommodating Liz Knapke of the Walla Walla Wine Alliance did not bat an eye (although she may have suppressed a chuckle), and carted me back to Allegro Cyclery. In rather short order, they provided me with the desired parts.
Before heading back to the hotel to finally assemble my bike and get out and ride, we visited a few more wineries in the Valley, which was perfectly fine with me. In the back of my head, the karma gods were trying to tell me something….
The Walla Walla AVA is divided up into five relatively distinct areas: Eastside, Westside, Southside/Oregon (roughly 2/5 of the planted acres in the AVA are in Oregon), Downtown, and the Airport. Over my four days in Walla Walla, I visited at least a couple of wineries in each region (with the exception of the Airport District, which is apparently a a collection of warehouse wineries).
At the turn of the millennium, there were roughly 30 wineries in the Walla Walla AVA. Today, there are more than four times that many, and here are some of the wines that stood out from the “newer generation.”
The first stop was on the Westside, at Long Shadows Vintners, founded in 2003 by Allen Shoup, who spent 20 years as the CEO of Domaine Ste. Michelle. Long Shadows is, as far as I can ascertain, a unique concept: Shoup enlisted six winemakers from around the world to consult with director of winemaking and viticulture, Giles Nicault, to make wines using Columbia Valley fruit.
2016 Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley: Retail $20. Made by Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel in the Name region of Germany. 4,900 cases. All hand harvested. Great citrus and stone fruit with a touch of petrol. Nice. Great fruit and acidity with just a touch of sugar (1.1%). Very nice. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2015 Long Shadows Saggi, Columbia Valley: Retail $55. 62% Sangiovese, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah. Made by Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari of Tuscany, this “Super Tuscan” style blend has bright red cherry fruit, with a bit of forest floor. Dark cherry fruit on the palate with a bit of mocha. Chalky and slightly tannic on the finish. Needs a couple of years, perhaps, but Outstanding now. 91-93 Points.
2015 Long Shadows Feather Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley: Retail $65. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Randy Dunn, one of my favorite Napa Valley producers is the consulting winemaker. Great Bing Cherry, cinnamon, and a slight herbaceousness. Really nice fruit, fantastic acidity, length. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
The next stop was Southside stalwart, Doubleback Vineyards, founded in 2008 by former NFL great Drew Bledsoe, a native of Walla Walla. (I have to say that it pains me to say “great” when describing Bledsoe. While accurate, I so hate the Patriots it is difficult to show any appreciation at all for anyone ever associated with the franchise.)
I was there to have dinner and a bit of a chat with Josh McDaniels, the head winemaker, General Manger, and now part owner of the winery. So many titles for a guy who honestly looks like he is barely 25 years old—there is no doubt in my mind that the guy still gets carded on a regular basis. I know Josh likely gets that a lot (and it likely irks him to no end), but he has been making wine since he was 15 and has been fighting against perception for well over a decade, so he is also likely used to it.
And yes, I am jealous.
2017 Bledsoe Family Winery Elizabeth Chardonnay, Columbia Valley: Retail $38. Under glass closure. This second label (Bledsoe Family Winery) focuses on more affordable wines. A touch of gold with great viscosity and a bit of oak with pineapple. Great viscosity and weight with tartness and a lengthy finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2016 Bledsoe Family Winery Flying “B” Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla: Retail $48. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah. According to Josh, blending Cabernet and Syrah is very “Walla Walla.” Red berry fruit. Rich, peppery, and deep. Really good under $50 Cab. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2016 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla: Retail $97. 89% Cabernet Sauvignon. Josh tastes all the barrels blind and takes the best barrels for this wine and the reserve. Tight on the nose, but the palate is great fruit , depth and length. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
Find out if I ever get to ride in Walla Walla tomorrow, as I am on my way to the Wine Bloggers Conference….