The Walla Walla Valley AVA
It boasts nearly 3,000 acres of prime vineyards and more than 120 remarkable wineries
The Walla Walla Valley AVA is located in the southeastern part of Washington State but extends across state lines into the northeastern corner of Oregon. The region is wholly contained within the larger Columbia Valley and is named after a Native American term for “many waters.”
In addition to grapes, the area produces those world famous Walla Walla sweet onions (aka Walla Walla Sweets) along with a number of other agricultural crops such as wheat, apples, asparagus, and strawberries. After the Yakima Valley AVA, the Walla Walla AVA has the second highest concentration of vineyards in Washington State. However, the Walla Walla AVA has the highest concentration of wineries in the state.
Nearly 3,000 acres of prime vineyards and more than 120 wineries are just the most recent expression of a rich farming heritage.
Grape production in the Walla Walla Valley is dominated by red varieties. Syrahs, particularly from the southern section of the Valley, are notable for their distinctive savory profiles. Cabernet Sauvignon, however, is the most planted variety.
The Walla Walla Valley is a climatically diverse growing region. The area is cooler and wetter than a number of Washington’s growing regions. Precipitation varies throughout the valley. The average annual rainfall in the entire valley is 15 inches. However, the west side of the Valley gets an average of only 7 inches of rain each year, while the eastern border of the AVA, which stretches up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains, gets an average of 20 inches of rainfall annually. This allows a limited number of vineyards in the eastern section to dry farm — an extreme rarity in Washington.
Most soils are well-drained, sandy loess over Missoula Flood slackwater deposits and fractured basalt. However, an ancient cobblestone riverbed defines the area to the south. These cobblestones absorb the sun’s heat, radiating it to the roots and grape clusters.
The Valley is home to some of Washington’s oldest wineries. Initially, many wineries sourced grapes from other regions of the Columbia Valley due to the limited number of plantings in the area. While many continue this practice, a large increase in plantings now allows many wineries to create Walla Walla Valley sourced wines.
It’s believed that wine-grape growing in the Walla Walla Valley dates back to the 1850s, although the modern day wine industry began in the 1970s when childhood friends Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellars and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon began conducting enological experiments in Rick’s garage. They soon began growing grapes in the Valley, and subsequently founded their wineries in 1977 (Leonetti Cellar) and 1981 (Woodward Canyon). L’Ecole No.41 was established soon after, in 1983.
The Walla Walla Valley was officially designated as an AVA in 1984, but it took another decade for the growth spurt to begin. At the turn of the millennium more than 50 wineries called the Valley home, and today that number has grown to more than 120. Additionally, the Walla Walla Valley has one sub-AVA, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater.
The Walla Walla Valley is ideal for grape growing, as the dry July and August heat provides a vibrant core of ripeness in the berries, while the chill of September nights assures the acidic backbone necessary for creating top flight wines. Annual rainfall figures triple from a sparse 7 inches at the western end of the Valley to a lush 20 inches along the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the east.
The Walla Walla Valley is hemmed in by the Blue Mountains to the southeast, the Palouse to the north, and the Columbia River westward. Elevations across the valley soar between 400 feet and 2,000 feet above sea level.
The soils of the Walla Walla Valley consist largely of wind-deposited loess, which provides good drainage for vines. The 200-day-long growing season is characterized by hot days and cool nights. The valley is prone to sudden shifts in temperature as cold air comes down from the Blue Mountains and is trapped in the Snake and Columbia river valleys. While generally cooler than the surrounding Columbia Valley AVA, temperatures in the winter time can drop to −20 °F.
- Latitude 46° N, Longitude 118.5° W
- In France, latitude 46°N lies midway between Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Area of AVA
- 2,933 acres of planted vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA
- 43% in Oregon, 57% in Washington
- Maximum elevation: 2000 ft (610 m)
- Minimum elevation: 400 ft (122 m)
- Median elevation: 990 ft (302 m)
- Average Growing Season (April 1 – October 31)
- Cool sites: 60° F (15.5°C)
- Warm sites: 66° F (18.9°C)
- Average for AVA: 63° F (17.2°C)
- Minimum on west (dry) side of AVA: 7 in (17.8 cm)
- Maximum on east (wet) side of AVA: 22 in (55.9 cm)
- Average for AVA: 15 in (38.1 cm)
- Maximum hours of daylight: 15:46 (summer solstice)
- Average hours of daylight during growing season: 13:52
- Average number of frost-free days: 215
- On average, last frost occurs during the last week of March
- On average, first frost occurs during the last week of October
Visiting Walla Walla
When planning a trip to Walla Walla, the best thing you can do is visit Walla Walla Wine’s website at: www.wallawallawine.com. Or call them at (509) 526-3117.
Ask them to send you a complimentary copy of the Valley’s Official Wine Guide called: “Wineries of the Walla Walla Valley.” The Guide contains a complete list of all of the wineries located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA, along with a map showing where they are located and ads for many of the wineries promoting the wines they are famous for.
If you are already in town, you can pick up a copy of the Guide at any Walla Walla Valley Wine member winery, hotel, or at the tourism booth on Main St. in Downtown Walla Walla.
The more than 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley are located in six distinct regions of the Valley – Westside, Downtown, Airport, Eastside, Southside and Oregon.
If you are coming from the west, you’ll drive right through the Westside region, hitting Woodward Canyon and L’Ecole No. 41 first in the town of Lowden on State Route 12. A mile or so down the road you’ll find Waterbrook Winery, which is on Highway 12 as well.
But then, you have to keep your eyes peeled so you don’t miss the other wineries in the Westside Region. In years past, Highway 12 would take you past Reininger Winery, Three Rivers Winery and Smoky Rose Cellars. But circa 2012, Highway 12 was turned into a four-lane highway just up the road from Waterbrook. The new Highway 12 by-passes the aforementioned wineries, which are now officially located on Old Highway 12.
So, when you pass Waterbrook, keep your eye out for Old Highway 12 (which veers off to the right and parallels new Highway 12) if you want to visit Reininger, Three Rivers and Smoky Rose Cellars.
Other wineries in the Westside region include Cougar Crest Estate Winery, Helix Wines, Long Shadows Vintners, Foundry Vineyards, Gramercy Cellars and The Walls Vineyards..
Downtown Walla Walla is a great place to spend a weekend tasting some of the Valley’s finest wines while staying at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel located at the corner of West Rose Street and Second Ave.
Four of the downtown tasting rooms are located right there at the hotel, so you don’t have to go far to get an early start on your Saturday wine tasting. The four tasting rooms are Mansion Creek Cellars, Locati Cellars, Lodmell Cellars and Heritage by L’Ecole Wine Bar.
The rest of the weekend you can spend visiting some 30 other tasting rooms that are located in the downtown core on Main Street, Rose Street and 2nd Avenue. Your best bet is to find a parking space on E. Main between North 2nd and South Colville and begin your journey from there.
In this area you’ll find tasting rooms for such wineries as Armstrong Family Winery, Baron’s Winery, Bledsoe Family Winery, Brown Family Vineyards, Canoe Ridge Vineyards, Cayuse Vineyards, Corliss Wine, Cotes de Ciel, DAMA Wines, Elephant Seven, Gard Vintners, Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard and Winery, Henry Earl Estates, Kontos Cellars, Lagana Cellars, Lawrelin Wine Cellars, Locati Cellars, Maison Bleue Winery, Mansion Creek Cellars, Mark Ryan Winery, Morell Family Wines, Otis Kenyon Wine, Pambrun Wines, Plumb Cellars, Proper & House of Bones Wine Lounge, Pursued By Bear, Result Of A Crush, Seven Hills Winery, Spring Valley Vineyard, Time & Direction Wine and Truth Teller Winery.
If you are flying in to Walla Walla, you can start tasting at the Walla Walla Airport…or come back after you have settled into your hotel. At last count, 14 tasting rooms are located at the Airport.
Wineries represented at the Airport are Adamant Cellars, Buty Winery, CAVU Cellars, Dillon Cellars, Dunham Cellars, Elegante’ Cellars, Eternal Wines/Drink Washington State, Five Star Cellars, Golden Ridge Cellars, ITA Wines, Prospice Wines, SMAK Wines, SYZYGY Winery and Tempus Cellars.
There are only nine wineries on the east side of town, but you’ll find some of the best wines in the Valley there.
To reach these wineries take Highway 12 east toward the Airport and get off at the Airport Exit. Instead of going into the Airport, however, head south on Tausick Way until you come to Isaacs Ave. You can access all of the Eastside wineries from that point.
The nine wineries on Walla Walla’s eastside are Abeja, Aluve, aMaurice Cellars, College Cellars, Figgins, K Vintners, Leonetti Cellar, Tranche, and Walla Walla Vintners.
All but three of Walla Walla’s Southside vineyards are located within an area bounded from west to east by Highway 125 and Braden Road and from north to south by Old Milton Highway and Stateline Road.
Wineries in this area produce some of the state’s finest wines as well. At last count, a total of 23 wineries call the Southside home –
Amavi Cellars, Balboa Winery, Basel Cellars, Brook & Bull Cellars, Canvasback, Caprio Cellars, Dillon Cellars, Doubleback Winery, Dusted Valley, Garrison Creek Cellars, Gifford Hirlinger, Grosgrain Vineyards, Kinhaven Winery, Mackey Vineyards, Northstar Winery, Pepper Bridge Winery, Revelry Vintners, Rulo Winery, Saviah Cellars, Solemn Cellars, Sulei Cellars, Tertulia Cellars, Va Piano, Sleight of Hand, and Valdemar Estates.
It comes as a surprise to many that the Walla Valley AVA extends across the stateline into Oregon. So, when you plan a trip to taste wine in Walla Walla, don’t forget to take a side trip to visit the six wineries in Milton Freewater, OR.
Milton Freewater is located just south of the Washington-Oregon stateline, so it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from the wineries located in Walla Walla’s Southside region.
Those six wineries are Castillo de Feliciana, Delmas Wines, Ducleaux Cellars, Force Majure, Rotie Rocks Estate, Watermill Winery and Zerba Cellars.