Warm, Welcoming Walla Walla Valley
© 2005 by Randy Buckner

Walla Walla's Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains provide stunning background sceneryto the Walla Walla Valley

With the Blue Mountains providing stunning background scenery, Walla Walla Valley is now home to more than 70 wineries (in operation or in the planning stages) and nearly 60 vineyards.

Walla Walla Valley vineyards are blessed with near perfect conditions for growing premium wine grapes. Be it terroir, climate, grape clones or a combination of all three, the magic is obvious in the bottle.

Exceptional red and white wines from the valley have garnered worldwide acclaim. Demand for Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah exceeds current supply. Sales of Viognier, Chardonnay and Semillon are red hot as well, and you have to act fast to secure your favorite bottling.

Before we move on to the feature players in the story, the wineries, let's take a look at a few facts about the area and the subsequent growth that the wine industry has spurred.

Restaurants

Where you find wineries, you find wine lovers. Where you find wine lovers, you find people who enjoy fine cuisine. It is only natural that wine country attracts upscale restaurants.

A trip to Walla Walla would not seem complete without dining at the Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. This award-winning restaurant is located in a restored 1904 wood planing mill.

Chef Jamie Guerin combines locally grown, seasonal ingredients with the finest Pacific Northwest meats and seafood. Complement your meal with a bottle of wine from their extensive wine list, which emphasizes Walla Walla Valley wines.

Whitehouse-Crawford
55 W. Cherry St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-2222
Serving Wednesday to Sunday
Dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Just a few years ago, Whitehouse-Crawford was the only upscale restaurant in the area. While the restaurant is still very much a pleasure to visit (the Alaskan halibut roasted in a woodstone oven with beets, sweet carrots and sesame-cilantro pesto was stunning), it now has some serious competitors.

26 brix Restaurant
26 brix Restaurant
26brix opened in June 2004 and is already a favorite destination of locals and visitors alike. Located in the heart of downtown Walla Walla, you'll enjoy elegant dining and flawless service in a casual atmosphere.

Helmed by Chef Mike Davis, the innovative meals provide a nice blend of local agricultural products and international ingredients. The restaurant's extensive wine cellar allows the diner to find the perfect wine(s) to match Davis' creative food dishes.

26brix
207 W. Main
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-4075
Serving Thursday to Saturday, Monday
Dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday Brunch 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras "French Toast" and the Breast of Muscovy Duck with Pulled Leg Confit was truly a delight.

Other restaurants strongly recommended to me by local vintners are Creektown Café, Grapefields Wine Bar & Café, The Marc and Patit Creek. Time did not allow visits to these restaurants on this trip.

Creektown Café
1129 S. 2nd, Suite D
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 522-4777
Serving Tuesday to Saturday
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Creektown Café is a small neighborhood bistro enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. They serve creative, seasonal cuisine of pastas, steaks, and seafood, as well as gourmet burgers, specialty sandwiches and homemade daily soups. Their wine list has won "best in class" for two years in a row as voted by the Washington State Wine Commission.

Grapefields Wine Bar & Café
4 E. Main St.
Walla Walla, WA
509-522-3993
Serving lunch and dinner - call for times

Grapefields has an upscale bistro feel. The café menu offers a traditional charcuterie plate, hand-tossed pizzas and specialty foods from around the world. Their selection of premium wines features both local and international wines, with an emphasis on Walla Walla Valley wines.

The Marc Restaurant
6 W. Rose St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-524-1799
Serving dinner from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday
Serving dinner 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Attire: business dress for dinner

The restaurant is located within the beautifully restored Marcus Whitman Hotel. The Marc offers fresh local organically grown produce, fresh seafood, vegetarian entrees and choice cuts of Angus beef.

Patit Creek
725 E. Dayton
Dayton, Washington
509-382-2625
Serving lunch from 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to Friday
Serving dinner from 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

Listed in Northwest Best Places as the only 4-Star French restaurant east of the Cascades, Bruce and Heather Heibert have built a regional reputation for fine dining. They feature seasonal specialties, wild game and classic French dishes.

Whoopemup Hollow Café
120 Main St
Waitsburg, WA 99361 - 9703
509-337-9000
Just opened - call for hours

As one person described the restaurant to me, "It's FABULOUS and so fun. It just opened this past June. It's pan-Southern cuisine and great."

After all of the fancy dining, take a break and go get one of the best hamburgers that you will ever eat.

IceBurg Drive In
616 W. Birch
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-1793
Open for lunch and dinner

The IceBurg Drive In was voted #4 nationwide for the best burgers by USA Today. Owned by winemaker Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars, this is really a throw back to the heyday of hamburgers. Don't miss it.

Lodging

After a hard day in the vineyards and your belt loosened a notch from all of the fine dining, you are ready for a quiet room and a soft bed. Walla Walla has a host of Bed & Breakfast/Inns, motels and the renovated Marc Hotel. Please visit the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce at www.wwchamber.com/index.html for lodging information.

With the growing popularity of the valley, rooms fill up quickly, particularly on special event weekends. Please reserve your room early. I missed reserving a room at the Marc Hotel because I waited too late. Fortunately the lovely folks at Abeja were able to accommodate me, although their charming rooms are usually booked up weeks in advance - lesson learned.

Downtown

Make sure you take the time to stroll the award-winning downtown area of Walla Walla. The town was the recipient of the 2001 National Main Street Award, which honors exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing America's historic and traditional downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.

From the Marcus Whitman Hotel's $35 million renovation, to restored 19th-century buildings that house wine tasting rooms, art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops and antique shops, the town is alive and vibrant.

"The upscale merchandising in a down-home atmosphere is quite remarkable," said a first-time visitor to Walla Walla. "The variety of street art, facades and merchants makes me smile with each new discovery. I love the art galleries and craft shops - there is even a store that will monogram items for you."

The Wineries

At the risk of sounding like a Walla Walla shill, I can honestly say that I did not taste a bad wine while touring the area. Sure, I found many wines to be a level above the others, but the overall quality of the wines from Walla Walla is truly commendable.

I managed to visit more than half of the operating wineries during my short visit, tasting my way through 148 wines. Tasting notes follow.

The easiest and best way to visit wineries in Walla Walla is by their compass location. There are several wineries clustered west of town, east of town, south of town, downtown and at the airport. Wineries are constantly building new facilities, so please confirm the addresses are still valid ahead of time before your visit.

Wineries listed below without comments either did not respond to my email, did not show for their scheduled appointments, or were wineries I unfortunately did not have time to visit. This in no way reflects on the quality of their wines.

The Airport

Buty Winery
535 E. Cessna Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-527-0901
Open most days 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.butywinery.com

Well known for their lush and polished Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the Chardonnay is a delight as well.

The winery's first vintage was welcomed in 2000 by founders Caleb Foster and Nina Buty Foster. This is the realization of sixteen years of dreaming and planning.

Winemaker Caleb Foster was the assistant winemaker at Woodward Canyon Winery for eight years, as well as winemaking stints in New Zealand, South Africa and four other Washington wineries. These varied and extensive experiences are reflected in their terroir-driven wines which show great balance and ripeness.

Grapes are purchased by the acreage, not by the ton. This allows them to work closely with their grape growers in the Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valley. From the vineyard to the bottle, attention to detail is paramount, since they do not "enhance" their wines by dehydrators, concentrators, spinning cones and other techniques.

2003 Buty, Chardonnay, Conner Lee Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 292 cases. Using only 10 percent new wood, the wine presents with pure fruit instead of a wood burden. Pears, apples and delicate oak are presented in a crisp, clean package; 92/92.

2003 Buty, 52% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35, 361 cases. Ruby red in color, the wine is highlighted by raspberries, red cherries, blueberries and subtle wood notes. Very crisp and lush, the wine finishes with firm tannins that need bottle time; 88/88.

2001 Buty, Columbia Rediviva, Columbia Valley, Washington, $40, 324 cases. This is a blend of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 35 percent Syrah. Intense aromas and flavors of black raspberry jam and cherries assail the senses. Full bodied, crisp and sporting soft tannins, the lengthy finish is lush and jammy; 90/90.

2003 Buty, 52% Semillon 48% Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $21, 353 cases. Figs and peaches highlight the nose and palate. The wine is crisp, buttery and lush, with a lingering aftertaste. It is right up there with the best in the state; 88/88.

Cougar Crest Winery
202 A St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-5980
Open Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.cougarcrestwinery.com

Cougar Crest Winery is family owned and operated, specializing in Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Viognier. Malbec and Petit Verdot are also in ground and will be used for blending.

The winery was established in 2001 by David and Deborah Hansen. Both are graduates of Washington State University in Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy respectively. Their careers led them to San Francisco for 18 years, where they developed their deep appreciation of wine.

In 1996 they returned to the 125 acres of apple orchards they established in the Walla Walla Valley. They also planted 50 acres of wine grapes which were sold to other wineries prior to establishing Cougar Crest Winery in 2001.

With a strong science background, the Hansens took to UC Davis winemaking classes like fish to water. The proof is in the bottle.

The Hansens showed us plans for their new winery which will be built west of town on Highway 12 near Reininger Winery. They were beaming like proud parents, and rightfully so.

2002 Cougar Crest, Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $29, 220 cases. Lovely layers of black fruit, tart acids and rounded tannins are presented in a lean, tasty package; 88/88.

2002 Cougar Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32, 1,040 cases. This Bordeaux blend is not your fruit bomb so popular with some critics. Blackberries, currants, herbs and toasty oak combine to make a wine begging for a grilled steak. This will score higher if the oak integrates; 89+/89+.

2002 Cougar Crest, Merlot, Hangartown Select, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $29, 915 cases. This wine presents with a host of black fruit, chocolate, integrated oak, crisp acids and easy-going tannins. Tasty; 90/90.

2002 Cougar Crest, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $26, 1,360 cases. The wine has lovely notes of plum preserves, smoked meat, integrated oak, bright acids and well-rounded tannins. This drinks well now and should age for several years; 91/92.

2002 Cougar Crest, Syrah, Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $45. Oftentimes 'Reserve" means throw more wood at it or extract the devil out of it - not here. While the wine is full and lush, it is well rounded and not heavy handed with the oak. Smoked meat notes add character. This has a long future; 92/92.

2003 Cougar Crest, Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $18, 460 cases. Dismissed by a major wine rag, I obviously disagree with their assessment. Light gold in color, the wine shows a lot of peach fruit, with great acidity and balance. The wine is ready to drink now. A sneak preview of their 2004 version shows more wood than I personally care for; 89/89.

Dunham Cellars
150 E. Boeing Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-4685
Open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.dunhamcellars.com

Family-owned Dunham Cellars makes its home in a rustic, remodeled World War II era airplane hangar at the Walla Walla airport.

There is nothing rustic about their wines. Eric Dunham learned his trade by working in all phases of winemaking at Hogue Cellars and L'Ecole No. 41. While working as assistant winemaker at L'Ecole, Eric released 200 cases of 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon under the Dunham label, which received wide acclaim. The rest is history.

Dunham Cellars is committed to raising quality fruit through environmentally sound farming practices. They work closely with their growers in the Yakima, Columbia and Walla Walla Valley to ensure fruit is of the highest quality possible. They strive to maintain a minimalist approach in the winery.

Dunham releases a limited production Chardonnay and limited production Semillon called Shirley Mays, which is dedicated to Eric's grandmother, who died from breast cancer in 1983. A portion of the proceeds of the wine are dedicated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in honor of his grandmother.

2004 Dunham, Chardonnay, Shirley Mays, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35, 185 cases. Loads of pear and apple scents assail the nose, with a hint of oak. On the palate, the wine is all about fruit - there is no oak burden here. The wine is full and lush, with food-friendly acids; 91/91.

2001 Dunham, Cabernet Sauvignon VII, Columbia Valley, Washington, $45, 1,800 cases. This is a nice all-around wine, with good balance and rounded tannins. The acidity gives good lift to the lovely fruit; 88/88.

2002 Dunham, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $45, 1,800 cases. This wine sneaks up on you. It is medium to full bodied, smooth, meaty and gamey ... and it keeps going and going like the Eveready Bunny; 90/90.

2003 Dunham, Three Legged Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 8,000 cases. Here's a fun cookout wine that won't break the bank. You'll find plenty of jammy black fruit in a nicely-balanced package; 86/87.

2001 Dunham, Trutina, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24, 5,400 cases. This is not your shy wine - there are loads of black fruit, tobacco and sweet oak awaiting the taster. It is very well balanced, with a long, fruity, oaky finish; 89/89.

Russell Creek Winery
301 Aeronca Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-386-4401
Open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.russellcreekwinery.com

Larry Krivoshein is a retired funeral home director, affectionately known to his friends as "Digger." He has been a home winemaker since 1988, going commercial ten years later. He likes to makes his wines the old-fashioned way, including hand punching of the grape cap. His original "Diggers" label shows the state of Washington with a shovel stuck in the ground near Walla Walla, with Soviet Union, Canadian, and United States flags flying across the top, which speaks of his cultural and professional background.

Russell Creek Winery specializes in red wines and currently produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah.

2002 Russell Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Winemakers Select, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $38. Medium bodied and tannic, this one needs time to settle down. You'll find good oak management here that does not obscure the dark berry/cherry fruit; 87/87.

2002 Russell Creek, Merlot, Winemakers Select, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $26. Here's a very integrated and rounded Merlot, with loads of blue and black fruit that stays away from the jammy presentation. Easy to drink; 87/87.

2003 Russell Creek, Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28. This is my favorite wine of their entire line. Sporting food-friendly acidity, the wine shows excellent tannin management and plenty of black cherry fruit with cocoa nuances; 90/90.

2002 Russell Creek, Syrah, Winemakers Select, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35, 250 cases. This is a big wine - lots of jammy fruit, lots of tannins and lots of sweet oak. Made for the big boy fans; 87/87.

Stephenson Cellars
755 B St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-8200
Open Monday to Saturday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
No web site currently

David Stephenson learned his craft by on-the-job training at Waterbrook and by short courses at UC Davis. He currently purchases all of his fruit from the Yakima and Walla Walla Valley.

Currently Stephenson self-distributes his wine. His small 500 case production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah sells out quickly.

2003 Stephenson, Cabernet Sauvignon, WAState, $32. Very deeply hued, the wine is very aromatic with a touch of dried bananas. Full bodied, tannic, with youthful, jammy fruit, plums and berries prevail. Pretty nice for a third leaf; 88/88.

2003 Stephenson, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28. Lots of black fruit, cedar and dill spice radiate from this inky wine. Built on a full-bodied frame with firm but rounded tannins, black fruit predominates on the palate, finishing long and lovely; 89/89.

2003 Stephenson, Syrah, WAState, $28. This Syrah was co-fermented with five percent Viognier. Smoked meats, blackberries and a touch of terpenes from the Viognier unfold on the nose. Full bodied, lush and tannic, the bright acids breathe life into the wine. Definitely a food-friendly wine - bring on the beef; 90/90.

SYZYGY
290 A St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-0484
Open Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.syzygywines.com

What's with the name? When the earth, moon and sun align, it's syzygy. When the earth, vines and wines align, it's SYZYGY (szz-eh-jee). The name reflects owner and winemaker Zach Brettler's lifelong interest in space & astronomy, and his approach to winemaking - melding different grape varieties from diverse vineyards into perfectly aligned wines.

Leaving a Wall Street career for a less hectic pace in Seattle, Brettler found his way to several Seattle area wineries. After assisting in all phases of winemaking, he finally caught a terminal case of the winemaking bug and headed for Walla Walla. After a short stint at L'Ecole No. 41, he ventured out on his own.

Brettler currently produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a Red Wine blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah). He purchases all of his grapes by the acre, rather than by the ton, thus maintaining control and flexibility in how the fruit is grown. Brettler also likes to work with vineyards from varying appellations, which gives diversity to the wine and protects the winery from adverse weather conditions that may impact a particular vineyard site during harvest.

SYZYGY believes in long-term relationships with growers committed to environmentally-friendly vineyard practices through sustainable farming.

2002 SYZYGY, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 238 cases. This deep ruby Cab gives off lovely aromas of black fruit and aged leather. The fruit explodes in the mouth, with delightful minerality entering into the mix. The finish seems endless; 90/91.

2003 SYZYGY, Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 336 cases. Dark ruby, with silky tannins, this wine is all about red and black fruit. This value wine shows terrific oak management and is quite lovely; 89/91.

2003 SYZYGY, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 271 cases. The lovely aromas of this purple beast are enhanced by rocky, mineral notes. Big, ripe, rich blue and red fruit highlights the wine, with excellent tannin and oak levels. The wine is very tight right now; 88+/88+.

Tamarack Cellars
700 C St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-3533
Open Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.tamarackcellars.com

Ron Coleman, like many others, had a long career in the industry before becoming a winemaker. He served in wholesale and retail sales, as a sommelier and did cellar work for Waterbrook and Canoe Ridge wineries.

Tamarack Cellars was founded in 1998 and is located in a former WWII fire station and barracks. Coleman named the winery after the Tamarack tree, one of only three native North American larch species, which grows freely in the nearby Blue Mountains.

Since my last visit, Coleman has taken on an assistant winemaker to help with the growing winery duties. Dan Gordon was kind enough to pour sample wines for me while Coleman was probably sitting at his favorite fishing hole.

2003 Tamarack, Cabernet Franc, DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $25, 112 cases. This wine shows beautiful fruit, exhibiting lush strawberry jam and plum flavors, crisp acids and smooth tannins. This is the first 100 percent varietal red wine Tamarack Cellars has bottled; 90/91.

2002 Tamarack, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $32, 1,162 cases. Blackberries, raspberries, chocolate and oak combine on the nose then repeat on the palate. Full bodied and well balanced, the lush fruit lingers endlessly on the palate; 90/90.

2003 Tamarack, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18, 286 cases. Apples are right upfront, with pear, apricot and oak nuances coming on. Crisp, clean and fruity, you'll find that the oak is well integrated here; 89/90.

2002 Tamarack, DuBrul Vineyard Reserve, Yakima Valley, Washington, $40, 140 cases. A Bordeaux blend with lovely aromas and flavors of cassis, cherry jam and herbs. Full, rich and lush in the mouth, the wine has all components singing in harmony; 88/87.

2003 Tamarack, Firehouse Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 5,626 cases. Here's a fun blend of five grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah predominant. This rounded, lush wine unfolds in layers of red and black fruit. Pair with anything from pasta to a porterhouse; 88/89.

2003 Tamarack, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 1,456 cases. Purple/red in color, this is a full-throttled Merlot with jammy overtones and firm, rounded tannins. Black cherries, berries and white pepper spice come together to make a tasty package; 90/90.

2002 Tamarack, Seven Hills Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40, 40 cases. This Bordeaux blend is very inviting on the nose and palate. You'll find a lot of complexity here - black cherries, strawberries, sweet oak and leathery/earthy notes. Silky tannins and crisp acids round out the package; 91/91.

2003 Tamarack, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28, 594 cases. You'll find a lot of jammy mixed fruit here, with bright acids and easy-going tannins. You'll also pick up some heat from the alcohol; 87/87.

Bradenview Cellars
305 E. Boeing Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-7264
Open Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.bradenview.com

Colvin Vineyards
720 C St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-527-9463
Open Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.colvinvineyards.com

El Mirador Winery
425 B St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-0233
Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
No web site currently

Ensemble Cellars
145 E. Curtis Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-0231
Not open to the public
No web site currently

Five Star Cellars
840 C St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-527-8400
Open Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.fivestarcellars.com

Sapolil Cellars
425 B St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-520-5258
Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.sapolilcellars.com

East Side

Abeja
2014 Mill Creek Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-7400
Open by appointment
www.abeja.net

Abeja is Spanish for bee. Located on what was once part of the Kibler farm, you would hardly believe this was once a working farm. Greg and Vanessa Finch purchased the property in 1986, and they slowly restored the derelict farm buildings over a 14-year period, eventually starting Mill Creek Inn.

Ken and Ginger Harrison fell in love with the farm after staying as guests at the inn. They purchased the property from the Finches in 2000 with the dream of starting up a new winery. John Abbott and Molly Galt joined the Harrisons in 2002, forming a partnership that solidified the Harrison's dream. A common vision bonded the foursome.

Original outbuildings have been restored into lovely guest cottages, surrounded by 22 acres of gardens, vineyards, lawns and creeks. Guests are immediately lulled into a sense of serenity. Book early - the rooms fill fast.

The winery is located in a beautifully restored mule and horse barn. With John Abbott at the winemaking helm, you know you are in for a treat. His long experience with the soil and the grapes shows in the bottle. Abbott sources some of the best vineyards in the state to produce food-friendly wines with a lot of character.

All wines were sold out at the time of my visit, so I barrel sampled the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with Abbott. All show excellent potential.

 Chardonnay, Conner Lee component - Creamy from the malolactic fermentation, with tropical fruit and mineral notes.
 Chardonnay, Kestrel View component - Green apple, pear, very bright acidity.
 Chardonnay, Celilo component - Green apple, pear, sweet oak, lovely acids.
 Combined components in approximate final proportions - Green apple predominant, pear, great structure, showing excellent potential.
 Cabernet Sauvignon, Conner Lee - Black cherry, strawberry preserves, smoke, silky tannins, lush.
 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain - Cherry liqueur, black fruit, toasty vanilla from the new barrel.
 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kathryn Leon (next to Indian Wells) - Predominantly bright red cherry fruit.
 Combined components are more than the sum of the parts. The wine shows excellent potential.
 Estate Syrah - Lots of blue and red fruit on the nose, with a host of blueberries and bacony nuances in the mouth. Very good to excellent potential.

Nicholas Cole Cellars
705 Berney Drive
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-0608
Open by appointment
www.nicholascolecellars.com

Driven by a passion for wine, Mike Neuffer founded Nicholas Cole Cellars. He attended courses at UC Davis and works alongside his mentor and friend, Chris Camarda (Andrew Will Winery) to learn his craft. Neuffer planted estate grapes, and with Camarda's help, he sources grapes from top vineyard sites in the state (Champoux, Klipsun, Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge) while waiting for his estate vines to mature.

Neuffer planted 40 acres of estate vineyards in 2001. Located on a steep, south-facing slope adjacent to his Walla Walla Valley winery, the grape varieties in ground include Syrah and all five red Bordeaux varieties.

While I did not have an opportunity to visit the winery, they were kind enough to send me the following sample:

2002 Nicholas Cole Cellars, Camille, Columbia Valley, Washington, $48, 1,105 cases. Camille is named after Neuffer's maternal grandmother. The wine is inky in color, with intense aromas of black fruit, cedar and floral nuances. Bold on the entry and showing some heat from the 14.9 percent alcohol, the tannins need taming as well. Blackberries, cassis, Japanese plums and licorice linger on the palate. Cellar and forget this one for five years; 90/90.

Myles Anderson
Myles Anderson, Walla Walla Vintners
Walla Walla Vintners
225 Vineyard Lane (just off of Mill Creek Road)
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-4724
Open Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Mar to Dec)
Open Saturday 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Jan to Feb)
www.wallawallavintners.com

Myles Anderson and Gordon Venneri steer the good ship WWV. Bonded in 1995, they specialize in premium red wines that are full, bright, balanced and generously oaked. Often referred to as the poor man's Leonetti, it might be more appropriate to say Leonetti is the rich man's Walla Walla Vintners.

The duo home crafted wines for more than ten years before considering commercial winemaking. This allowed them to hone their winemaking skills, while carting off their failures to the dump. They confess "Our wine improved. We made around 200 gallons of finished wine a year for home consumption and for friends. During the early days, our friends politely took the wines we gave them. Some tasted bad and some blew up in wine racks. However, they stuck with us, and as our wines got better they began to look forward to the holidays when we gave wine as gifts. They also encouraged us to consider making commercial wines." We can all thank their friends for the encouragement.

Anderson and Venneri are admittedly good for each other. Their point, counterpoint approach to winemaking is definitely a successful formula. Anderson admits that he likes more oak in wines than Venneri prefers, so this and other friendly disagreements benefit the finished product. They both maintain duel careers - Venneri is a CPA and Anderson is Director of the Walla Walla Institute for Enology and Viticulture.

A small plug for the teaching program: The Institute is dedicated to premium wine education and training and includes a teaching winery and vineyard. The Institute was started in January 2000. The teaching program includes a hospitality training center, a certified wine laboratory, classrooms, and a full-production winery, College Cellars.

2003 Walla Walla Vintners, Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $25. You either like the WWV style or you don't - nevertheless they are well-made wines. The Cab Franc exemplifies this. Loads of jammy red and black fruit cascade across the senses, with generous oak, crisp acids and rounded tannins wrapping up the package; 90/90.

2002 Walla Walla Vintners, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35. This wine is all about big fruit and great tannin management - silky, fruity and layered, with blackberries, cassis and chocolate abounding; 91/91.

2003 Walla Walla Vintners, Cordon Grove Vineyard Cuvée, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28. Fragrant notes of red and black fruit and sweet oak highlight the nose. Full, rich and jammy, the extremely long finish displays jammy black fruit and sweet oak; 90/90.

2003 Walla Walla Vintners, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28. Big, full, lush and jammy, you'll find juicy black fruit with just a kiss of mint; 90/90.

2003 Walla Walla Vintners, Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22. Think big pasta dishes here. Sporting firm tannins, the wine is lush and bold, with big black fruit flavors, leather nuances and generous oak; 89/89.

College Cellars
500 Tausick Way
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-524-5170
Open by appointment
No web site currently

K Vintners
820 Mill Creek Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-5230
Open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Apr to Oct)
www.kvintners.com

Leonetti Cellar
1875 Foothills Lane
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-1428
Not open to the public
www.leonetticellar.com

South Side

Basel Cellars
Basel Cellars
Basel Cellars Estate Winery
2901 Old Milton Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-0200
Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This 85-acre estate has spared no expenses. The estate features luxury overnight accommodations, gated security, meeting rooms, a gourmet kitchen, fireplaces, a sauna, an outdoor pool, commercial outdoor grills and much more. You are surrounded by acres of landscaped gardens, patios and vineyards overlooking the Walla Walla River.

Basel Cellar's impressive main building is an eclectic mix of handcrafted woodwork, natural stone masonry and an abundance of windows that gives a sense of openness. It is a splendid setting to taste wine.

The winemaking facility is housed in a 9600 sq. ft. subterranean structure modeled after Chateau Mouton Rothschild. This is where Basel's winemaker, Trey Busch, works his magic. A native Georgian, he first found his way to Washington in 1988 through a two-year tour in the Navy. He fell in love with the Pacific Northwest.

Years later while visiting friends in Walla Walla, Busch and his wife, Jennifer, decided this was the place they wanted to raise their family. Eric Dunham provided them that opportunity by hiring Busch as the assistant winemaker for Dunham Cellars. He expanded his knowledge base by taking classes at UC Davis, as well as completing extension courses from Washington State University at the Walla Walla Community College.

Trey Busch
Trey Busch of Basel Cellars
Busch was hired as winemaker for Basel Cellars in 2002. Later that year Wine Enthusiast Magazine recognized him as one of the nation's "Winemakers to Watch" for the future. It appears their crystal ball was working well.

2002 Basel Cellars, Claret, Walla Walla, Washington, $24. This wine is very supple in the mouth, with easy-going tannins on a medium-bodied structure. Very forward and fun, this is ready to drink now for the blackberry, black cherry and cola nut flavors; 87/87.

2002 Basel Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $32. Packed with bright fruit, anise and spice, the wine has great oak integration as well. Crazy as it sounds, I even pick up a bit of citrus. Silky tannins allow early enjoyment; 90/90.

2002 Basel Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pheasant Run Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $36. Oak adds a lovely background to the black cherry and plum fruit here. Tannins are well rounded but this is a big wine that needs cellar time to develop; 90+/90+.

2002 Basel Cellars, Merriment, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $48. Imagine a mix of framboise, violets, earth, milk chocolate and sweet oak in a bottle. That's what you have here with this Bordeaux blend. Impeccably balanced, this one will be hard to leave alone while waiting for optimal maturity; 91/91.

2002 Basel Cellars, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $48. Elegant in its presentation, the wine has nice meaty, smoky notes, with generous oak spice and mixed fruit; 88/87.

Beresan Winery
4169 Pepper Bridge Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-2395
Open by appointment
www.beresanwines.com

Owned and operated by the Waliser family, Beresan has 18 acres of estate vineyards. They carefully manage the vines to produce the best fruit possible from their geologically distinctive vineyard.

Beresan is named for the region in the Ukraine where the Waliser family established themselves in the early 1800's. The winery occupies a 1926 two-story barn that once housed horses and dairy cows. The barn was remodeled in 2003 to accommodate the winery but maintains its original historic character.

Beresan's winemaker, Thomas Glase, was assistant winemaker at L'Ecole Nº 41 where he refined his skills for three years. From the vineyard to the barrel room, Glase works closely with Tom Waliser to create wines that express their distinctive terroir.

Glase will release his own brand, Balboa, this fall. His first release will be a Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in screw cap format, the first ever screw cap wine from Walla Walla.

The winery was sold out of all 2002 wines, so Glase barrel tasted me on their 2003 line of wines.

 Cabernet Sauvignon - Black and red fruit abounds, with violet overtones. Very vibrant in the mouth, with easy tannins. Excellent potential.
 Merlot - The barrel sample is showing deep black fruit and very generous but rounded tannins. Very good potential.
 Stone River - A 35/30/20/15 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The vineyard is located on an ancient riverbed, which shows in the wine's minerality. Complex aromas and flavors show very good potential.
 Syrah - Aromas cover the entire fruit spectrum, from red to black. Excellent tannin management and lovely fruit give this wine excellent potential.

Dusted Valley Vintners
1248 Old Milton Hwy.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-1337
Open Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
www.dustedvalley.com

Dusted Valley Vintners was founded by the Johnson's and Braunel's. They don't remember when the idea of DVV came about, but it was probably on one of their many trips to the California, Oregon and Washington wine country.

Brothers-in-law Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson married sisters from Wisconsin's dairy country. They share a love of wine as well as professional backgrounds in the medical field.

During their quest to start up a winery, they received many helpful hints and tips from the trade. They established a relationship with their mentor and consultant, Stephen Lessard, winemaker and partner at Whitman Cellars. They hired Lessard to make their first vintage. In 2004, Lessard became a consultant; with Corey and Chad assuming winemaking duties.

Dusted Valley was my last scheduled stop on the trip to Walla Walla. Unfortunately I had to cancel the visit. They were kind enough to send me sample bottles of their wine. This is a winery to watch.

2003 Dusted Valley Vintners, Barrel Thief Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22, 400 cases. A mélange of fruit and oak aromas greet the nose and then unfolds on the palate. Easy tannins and bright acids allow early consumption with a variety of foods; 87/87.

2004 Dusted Valley Vintners, Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20, 400 cases. Hey! There's fruit on the nose instead of timber. Peaches and pears shine throughout, supported by crisp acidity. Light French oak notes become apparent on the finish. Good foil for seafood; 87/87.

2003 Dusted Valley Vintners, Stained Tooth Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24. The nose displays juicy plums and a wisp of smoke. This is a big, bold, jammy wine with loads of plums and berries that linger tirelessly on the lengthy finish; 90/91.

2003 Dusted Valley Vintners, Stained Tooth Syrah, Walla Walla, Washington, $28. Very crisp with ripe tannins, this Syrah leans more to the black fruit spectrum than their Columbia Valley offering. Blackberries and plum jam linger on the aftertaste; 89/89.

2004 Dusted Valley Vintners, Viognier, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20, 300 cases. A notch down from their terrific 2003 version, this is still a noble effort. The wine is very floral and peachy, with a tangy mouth feel. Fermentation in neutral oak allows for a fresh, fruity wine; 87/87.

Glen Fiona
1249 Lyday Lane
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-2566
Open Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.glenfiona.com

Glen Fiona lost some of its luster after the exodus of founding winemaker Rusty Figgins. The winery has since been purchased by Washington Wine & Beverage Co. (WW&B), who also owns Silver Lake Winery and the Spire Mountain cider brand.

WW&B named Michael Haddox winemaker for Glen Fiona, a position that has been in disarray since the departure of Figgins. Haddox previously worked for Chateau Ste. Michelle and most recently has been the assistant winemaker for Silver Lake Winery.

WW&B will maintain the Glen Fiona tasting room in Walla Walla. Glen Fiona wines will also be available for tasting at the Silver Lake Woodinville facility.

This is another winery that I did not have time to visit but who graciously supplied me with samples.

2001 Glen Fiona, Red Table Wine, Cuvée Lot 57, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40, 333 cases. Intense aromas of black fruit, toasty oak and a splash of anise encourage a sip or three. A blend of five Rhone grapes, Syrah predominant, the wine is medium bodied with very crisp acidity. The dark fruit is enhanced by a white pepper streak; 87/87.

2000 Glen Fiona, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $20. Co-fermented with Viognier in the spirit of Côte-Rôtie, this Syrah displays aromas of juicy blue and black fruit, sweet oak and a hint of licorice. Crisp acids give lift to the fruit, with a peppery streak giving the wine added appeal; 88/90.

I was just notified by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance that Glen Fiona has once again changed winemakers. I was unable to get the name of the new winemaker before going to press.

Isenhower Cellars
3471 Pranger Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-7896
Open Saturday to Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.isenhowercellars.com

Brett and Denise Isenhower, both pharmacists, founded Isenhower Cellars in 1999. Brett Isenhower learned winemaking from the bottom up. He volunteered as a cellar rat for several wineries, where he learned basic day-to-day cellar operations. Both Brett and Denise took winemaking courses at UC Davis as well as reading winemaking texts vociferously. Their hard work paid off.

When I first visited Isenhower Cellars, they were located in shared winery facilities on Mill Creek Road. Now they are happily located in their own 5,100 square foot winery south of town next to Rulo Winery.

Isenhower contracts grapes by the acre from a host of top vineyards in the state, to include Sundance, Ciel du Cheval, Tapteil and Elerding Vineyard. The wines show the quality of the blending.

When I arrived at the winery, things were abuzz - people were flitting about like hummingbirds. When I asked Isenhower what was up, he said the crew from CBS Sunday Morning was on their way to interview him for a segment. Much to his credit (and showing the character of the man), he politely tasted me through several wines; although I know he was itching to get ready for the camera. Keep an eye on this winery.

2004 Isenhower, Snapdragon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18. A 70/30 blend of Roussanne and Viognier. This is a clean, refreshing wine that is very forward, crisp and loaded with peaches, pears and nutty nuances. They quickly sell out of this wine; 90/90.

2003 Isenhower, Merlot, Red Paintbrush, Columbia Valley, Washington, $26. Here's another classic example of Washington Merlot. The wine is loaded with lush fruit spanning the blue/black spectrum. The finish is long and lush, showing well-integrated oak; 90/90.

2003 Isenhower, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20. Approachable now, this Syrah is very ripe, showing blueberries, black plums and silky tannins; 87/87.

2003 Isenhower, Syrah, Looking Glass, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22. Medium bodied with fine grained tannins, the wine gives up blueberry fruit and smoked meat nuances; 88/88.

2003 Isenhower, Syrah, Wild Alfalfa, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28. A host of adjectives fit this wine - black cherries, blueberries, black raspberries, light smoky notes and integrated oak. Tasty; 89/89.

2002 Isenhower, Syrah, River Beauty, Columbia Valley, Washington, $32. Leaning more to the black fruit spectrum, the wine shows nice minerality. Big grip, rounded tannins, full fruit and a touch of chocolate makes a hearty package; 90/90.

Not yet bottled when I visited was a late harvest Roussanne/Viognier blend. This stunner was packed with flavors of peaches, honey, crème caramel and baklava. Watch their web site and snag one of these beauties. It will make a terrific aperitif.

Pepperbridge Winery
Mural in the cellar of Pepperbridge Winery
Pepper Bridge Winery
1704 JB George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-6502
Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.pepperbridge.com

Groundbreaking for Pepper Bridge Winery began in 1999, with the grand opening in 2000. The 15,000-square-foot winery features a gravity flow system and subterranean caves for barrel aging.

Pepper Bridge's managing partner, Norm McKibben, is also the winegrower and managing partner/consultant of the three estate vineyards - Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills and Les Collines. These vineyards make up almost 700 of the 1,200 acres of grapes planted in the appellation. Fruit from these vineyards is also sold to 50 other state wineries.

Pepper Bridge is proud to claim Jean-Francois Pellet as their winemaker. Pellet is a third generation Swiss winegrower. He obtained degrees in viticulture and winemaking in Switzerland. Pellet worked as a viticulturist/winemaker in Europe prior to hiring on as assistant winemaker at Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley, California. He helped to design Pepper Bridge Winery, bringing with him many timesaving and quality control ideas.

Pepper Bridge is dedicated to the production of ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that showcases their vineyards.

2001 Pepper Bridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $50, 3,027 cases. This is obviously a controversial wine, with one publication giving it an 82/100 score, while another noted reviewer scored the wine an 87/100. Personally, I don't see the low reviews. The wine displays black fruit liqueur, delicate oak influence and Kahlua notes in a seamless package. Tannins are firm but ripe, with cedary notes evident on the finish. You can't ask for much more out of a Cab; 90/90.

2002 Pepper Bridge, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $45, 1,113 cases. The nose is filled with aromas of fresh-crushed black cherries, coffee and oak nuances. The wine is full bodied, with generous but rounded tannins. Complex fruit unfolds in layers of black cherries, cassis and cocoa; 91/91.

Richard Funk
Richard Funk, Saviah Cellars
Saviah Cellars
1979 JB George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-520-5166
Open Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (May to October)
www.saviahcellars.com

This family-owned winery was founded in 2000. The winery's first vintage totaled only 300 cases. Today, the winery produces 2,000 cases of wine per year.

Winemaker Richard Funk and his wife moved to Walla Walla in 1991 from Montana. The name Saviah is a family name from his wife's great-grandmother, who settled in western Montana in the early 1900s. The family's heritage is also honored in its Star Meadows white wine, the location of the original family homestead. Une Vallée red wine is named after the current family homestead called "One Valley."

As an environmental health specialist for the county, Funk became well acquainted with the local wineries as he helped them work through water quality and wastewater management issues. He developed a rapport with several local winemakers who helped him get his start in the wine industry.

Funk has an extensive background in chemistry and microbiology which complements his winemaking approach. Through self-study and working alongside several top winemakers in the area, Funk developed the knowledge necessary to make top quality wine. Funk also has an interest in soil science. He has analyzed the soils of the Walla Walla Valley extensively over the years, allowing him to correlate the importance between fruit quality and terroir.

2004 Saviah Cellars, Star Meadows White Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24, 155 cases. A 44/56 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is defined by figs, apricots and grassy notes. It is fermented dry, but you'd swear there is residual sugar. It is all about pure, sweet fruit; 91/91.

2003 Saviah Cellars, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28, 250 cases. This is a big, juicy, jammy wine, with a ripe, meaty nose and deep fruit flavors augmented by generous oak. Food-friendly acidity is an added plus; 88/88.

2002 Saviah Cellars, Une Vallée, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30, 325 cases. Their flagship wine is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Fruit comes from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard and Seven Hills Vineyard. You can spend all day with the nose of this wine. Layers of red and black fruit unfold, with a splash of herbs from the Franc. Violets add to the mix, with nice balance of oak and tannins; 89/89.

2003 Saviah Cellars, Une Vallée, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30, 250 cases. This wine is pretty consistent with their 2002 version, but with less of the Cabernet Franc herbaceousness. Multi-dimensional and fruity, with a touch of jam; 90/90.

Yellow Hawk Cellar
395 Yellowhawk St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-1714
Open by appointment
www.yellowhawkcellar.com

Yellow Hawk Cellar was founded in 1998 by owners Tim Sampson and Dr. Barbara Hetrick. The winery is named for a nearby creek that flows from the Blue Mountains. Located in an old converted horse barn situated on their property, Sampson is in the process of expanding the winery space for their growing needs.

You'll never find a less pretentious winemaker than Tim Sampson. He has a background in theatre technical design and was also a general contractor and carpenter for 20 years. Sampson and Hetrick moved to the Walla Walla area in 1995. Their mutual love of wine led to a career in wine for Sampson and extra work for Hetrick.

A man of many talents, Sampson worked his first harvest at Canoe Ridge Vineyard in 1995 under the tutelage of John Abbott, eventually becoming a cellarman and production supervisor. In 2000 he left to join Seven Hills Winery as their cellarmaster. In 2002 he struck out on his own.

Besides her endeavors as an Optometrist, Hetrick serves as general manager, chemist and "right hand gal." She cooks a pretty mean chicken as well - more on that later.

While Sampson and Hetrick appreciate the big reds that Walla Walla is known for, they wanted to create their own niche, concentrating on lesser-known varieties that grow well in the state. We can all be glad they took this path.

Knowing that Yellow Hawk was our last stop of the day, Hetrick was kind enough to invite us to stay for dinner. What better way to sample wines than over a tasty meal at the end of a long day?

2004 Yellow Hawk, Muscat Canelli Dry-Style, Champoux Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 209 cases. Intense Muscat aromas greet the nose. Seeing only stainless steel, the wine is all about fruit. Citrus, mango and apple flavors cascade across the senses, supported by tangy acidity and threshold sweetness. Pair this one Thai or Mandarin dishes; 90/90.

2004 Yellow Hawk, Rosato, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 222 cases. A blend of Lemberger, Sangiovese and Barbera, this is not your sweet, wimpy Rosato. Totally dry, the sweet cherries and strawberries are all fruit. Crisp, clean and refreshing, this versatile wine is a no-brainer for a host of food. It went well with the roasted chicken that Hetrick served us; 90/90.

2002 Yellow Hawk, Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $18.50, 925 cases. This is one of the best Sanjos that I've tasted from Washington. Loads of dried cherries, leather and cedar abound on the nose and palate. The notorious tannins of this grape have been tamed here. The lengthy finish is all about cherries and berries; 91/92.

2003 Yellow Hawk, Sangiovese, Chandler Reach Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22, 162 cases. Bright cherry fruit, mocha and cedar define the nose. The wine shows more tannins and oak than its counterpart, with more earthy black fruit notes; 88/88.

2002 Mescolanza di Rosso Riserva, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24, 308 cases. This is a blend of Sangiovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their own version of a super Tuscan, this wine shows berries, cherries, leather, sweet oak, vanilla and brisk acidity. This one needs to pair up with a big pasta dish and red sauce; 88/88.

Zerba Cellars
85530 Hwy. 11
Milton-Freewater, Oregon 97862
541-938-9463
Open soon (the tasting room is being built as I type)
www.zerbacellars.com

After 25 years of farming and nursery success in the Walla Walla Valley, Cecil and Marilyn Zerba founded Winesap Vineyards in 2001 to grow quality wine grapes through sustainable viticulture. They planted Cockburn Hills Vineyard in 2004. Both vineyards have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in ground.

In 2002, Cecil and Marilyn teamed up with Mark Retz, a family friend whose expertise in national and international wine marketing made him a natural fit. Together, Cecil, Marilyn and Mark founded Zerba Cellars.

Located literally a stone's throw from the Washington/Oregon border, the winery is designed as an independent, 5,000 case facility with underground barrel storage. Foundation Block Vineyard surrounds the winery and tasting room. It is planted as a test block and contains 10 Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian grape varieties.

They are currently the only Walla Walla Valley winery located on the Oregon side of the border, but others are in the planning stages.

2002 Zerba, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30, 172 cases. The aromas and flavors speak of red and black fruit and integrated cedary oak. They used a lot of Pepper Bridge fruit - it shows the dense fruit and underlying violet nuances. Age for three years or so before pulling the cork; 90/90.

2002 Zerba, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24, 296 cases. Medium bodied in structure, the tannins are well rounded and also shows good oak integration. Black and red fruit defines the flavor profile, with a long, satisfying finish; 89+/89+.

2003 Zerba, Red Wine, Wild Thing, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $20. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. An easy, approachable wine, with lots of jammy fruit, spice and generous oak that is structured for near-term drinking; 87/87.

Mannina Cellars
1979 JB George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-5760
Not open to the public currently (first release spring 2006)
No web site currently

Northstar Winery
1736 JB George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-6100
Open Thursday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
www.northstarmerlot.com

Rulo Winery
3525 Pranger Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-7856
Open by appointment
www.rulowinery.co

Va Piano Vineyards
1793 JB George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-7649
Not open to the public currently
www.vapianovineyards.com (link not working at last check)

 Downtown

Amavi Cellars
635 N. 13th Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-3541
Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.amavicellars.com

Their name comes from the Latin root words meaning love and life. A sister winery to Pepper Bridge Winery, they use the same winemaker and vineyards, but they use different blocks of grapes and use a different winemaking style.

Amavi Cellars was founded because the Pepper Bridge Winery partners wanted to produce Syrah and other varietals from estate-vineyard grapes. They did not want to use the Pepper Bridge name, reserving that name for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot only.

The tasting room is located in a reconstruction of an 1890's log cabin that was rescued from the Montana ranch of partners Ray and Diana Goff. You'll enjoy the homey feel as well as the wines.

2002 Amavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla, Washington, $22. Deep ruby in color and giving off aromas of black fruit, earth and minerals. Silky on the entry, the tannins quickly firm up. All components are singing in harmony here, finishing long and lush; 90/91.

2003 Amavi, Semillon, Walla Walla, Washington, $20. Fruit forward and not oaked to death, this wine is crisp, full, and exhibits melon, pear and citrus flavors and a very long aftertaste. Delicious; 91/91.

2003 Amavi, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $25. Showing very good potential, the wine needs time to integrate. Loads of blackberries, blueberries, plums and smoked meat ride on a moderately tannic backbone; 90/90.

Marie-Eve Gilla
Marie-Eve Gilla, Forgeron Cellars
Forgeron Cellars
33 W. Birch St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-9463
Open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Forgeron is the French word for blacksmith. Forgeron Cellars is located on the site of a historic blacksmith shop, from which the winery derives its name.

Founded in 2001, Forgeron Cellars contracts with twelve top vineyards in the Yakima, Columbia and Walla Walla Valley, to include Pepper Bridge, Alder Ridge, Klipsun, Artz and Boushey Vineyards.

The founding winemaker at Forgeron Cellars has quite a background. After earning her masters degree in enology and viticulture at the University of Dijon, Paris born Marie-Eve Gilla received hands-on training at local Burgundian wineries and vineyards. She came to the United States in 1991 to spend a few months furthering her training. Fourteen years later she is still here.

With her extensive training, and Argyle, Covey Run, Hogue and Gordon Brothers in her work portfolio, Gilla was recruited to become founding winemaker and general manager of Forgeron Cellars. She directed building of the new winery from top to bottom.

Gilla is a hands-on winemaker from the vineyard to the vat. You are just as likely to find her tromping through the vineyards as you are to find her sampling the barrels. The hard work shows in the bottle.

The real boss at Forgeron Cellars is Anne Hull, the office, tasting room and Anvil Club manager. She will make you feel like a member of the family. Drop by and say hello.

2004 Forgeron, Unoaked Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $Sold Out. This wine sold out in a heartbeat. Let's hope Gilla does a repeat in 2005. Full, crisp and refreshing, the wine is all about apples, tropical fruit and minerals; 90/90.

2004 Forgeron Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16. Available only from the tasting room. Off-dry, lush, extremely fruity and fun, the wine is loaded with peaches and citrus blossoms. Pair with Thai food; 88/88.

2002 Forgeron, Cabernet Sauvignon. Columbia Valley, Washington, $30. Defined by its lush black fruit, oak and leathery nuances, the wine is quite supple in the mouth, with full, ripe tannins and lovely fruit; 90/90.

2001 Forgeron, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $27, 920 cases. Still pretty tight and lean, the wine offers up black fruit, integrated oak and earthy notes; 86/86.

NV Forgeron, Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16, 465 cases. Here's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel that is a nice, light, fruity, fun wine perfect for those grilled burgers. Berries, cherries and soft tannins are the main players; 87/88.

2002 Forgeron, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30, 700 cases. This is a lush, fruity wine with soft tannins. Nice meaty aromas and flavors are augmented by blackberries and blueberries, finishing seamlessly; 90/90.

2001 Forgeron, Vinfinity, Columbia Valley, Washington, $46, 380 cases. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. Deeply colored, full, and lush, with violet and licorice nuances. The wine is very elegant on the entry, with berries abounding. Delicious; 91/91.

Fort Walla Walla Cellars
127 E. Main St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-520-1095
Open Friday to Saturday noon to 4:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
www.fortwallawallacellars.com

A relative newcomer, Fort Walla Walla Cellars was founded by Jim Moyer and Cliff Kontos. Like so many of their peers, they are self-taught winemakers who were home winemakers turned commercial winemakers.

Moyer and Kontos began making wine together at Fort Walla Walla Cellars in 1998. They have benefited from the information and acumen of fellow winemakers in the area.

They work closely with Greg Basel on irrigation, grape cropping and optimum harvest time for grapes at Pheasant Run Vineyard. The vineyard is elevated above the valley floor on a slack water terrace island. This allows cold air to naturally drain away from the grapevines, thus avoiding undue problems with frost during the growing season.

Fort Walla Walla Cellars has also contracted four acres of wine grapes from Minnick Hills Vineyard, which is owned and operated by the Minnick family. The vineyard is located on a fairly steep southwest-facing slope in the northeastern part of the Walla Walla Valley appellation at an elevation ranging from 1,120 feet to 1,200 feet.

Fort Walla Walla Cellars specializes in hearty red wines, using only small French, American, Hungarian and Russian oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging.

2001 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $27. The nose is packed with black fruit, violets and sweet oak. Lush, full fruit fills the mouth with blackberry jam and modest oak flavors; 89/89.

2002 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30, 365 cases. Purple/red in the glass, you'll find a big, full nose of black fruit and sweet oak. The aromas do an encore in the mouth, with additional smoky notes; 88/88.

2001 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $27. Black fruit and generous oak aromas are augmented with chocolate and herbs. The wine is big, with jammy cherry/berry flavors, silky tannins and brisk acidity; 87/87.

2002 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28, 455 cases. Here's a Merlot with all of the adjectives - lush blackberries, plums, herbs, jam, balance and integrated oak. The finish is endless; 91/91.

2001 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $27, 380 cases. The wine has a full, rich nose, smooth tannins and fine oak management. Silky blue and black fruit unfolds in the mouth, with a touch of minerality; 87/87.

2002 Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $27. You'll find a nice meaty/smoky nose with blueberry fruit notes. The wine is big, jammy, spicy and elegant in the mouth; 88/88.

Morrison Lane
201 W. Main St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-301-0853
Open Friday to Monday noon to 6 p.m.

Morrison Lane vineyard has grown grapes for Walla Walla wineries since 1994, when they planted five acres of Syrah. The award-winning 1997 Seven Hills Syrah was all from Morrison Lane fruit. K Vintners has done a Morrison Lane designated wine as well.

The vineyard has now grown to 23 acres of Rhône and Italian varieties, as well as a Carmenère. Morrison Lane is producing wine under their own label. Their first releases were Syrah, Counoise and Sangiovese. Later releases include Reserve Syrah, Carmenère and Barbera.

2002 Morrison Lane, Carmenère, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $26, 99 cases. Inviting and friendly comes to mind when sipping this full-bodied, easy-going wine. Cherries, blueberries, leather and cracked pepper spice defines the wine; 91/91.

2002 Morrison Lane, Counoise, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $NA. Aromas and flavors convey bright red cherry fruit and white pepper. Crisp, with rounded tannins, there's a lot going on with this wine; 90/90.

2002 Morrison Lane, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $29, 305 cases. Very balanced, with great tannin management, this easy drinker sees no new oak. Vivid cherry/berry fruit shines on the lengthy finish; 89/89.

Marcene and Paul Hendrickson
Marcene and Paul Hendrickson, Patit Creek
Patit Creek Cellars
4 S. 4th Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-382-1357
Open Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Since its inception in 1999, Patit Creek Cellars chose to focus on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, two of Washington State's most celebrated red wines. They also happen to be the six partners' preferred wines of choice.

Patit Creek Cellars of Dayton, Washington, released 300 cases of its inaugural 2000 vintage Merlot in November 2002. Cabernet Sauvignon was added to their lineup the following year. Production now stands at 700 cases a year, with a maximum production capacity of 1000 cases per year.

Patit Creek sources its fruit from Pepper Bridge Vineyards and Seven Hills Vineyards. They are two of the most highly-respected and proven vineyards in the state.

Patit Creek Cellars only accepts hand-picked fruit, which is carefully sorted by hand once it is brought into the winery. After fermentation, the wines are aged for 18 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak barrels. They age the wine in bottle for an additional year prior to release.

The winery is named after the nearby Patit Creek. In the early 1800's, French traders named the stream 'Petite Creek' and by mid-century, pioneer farmers eventually changed its name to Patit Creek.

The three couples who own and operate Patit Creek Cellars have been close friends for over thirty years. Paul and Marcene Hendrickson manage the small winery, with off-site participation from the other partners. Marcene is the managing principal of Patit Creek Cellars, and Paul (a working pharmacist) fills a second position as winemaker. Under the tutelage of Pepper Bridge Winery's Jean-Francois Pellet, Hendrickson produced the second vintages of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. His background in chemistry is the perfect prerequisite for learning winemaking techniques.

2002 Patit Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $35, 366 cases. This deeply-hued wine gives off aromas of blackberries and wet river stones. Oodles of lush black fruit and integrated oak are presented in this medium to full-bodied Cabernet; 90/90.

2002 Patit Creek, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32, 329 cases. Plums, cherries and berries highlight this Merlot. The wine is very soft, with black fruit lingering on the finish; 88/88.

Seven Hills Winery
212 N. 3rd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-7198
Open Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (May 1 to September 1)
www.sevenhillswinery.com

The Seven Hills Winery and tasting room are located in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building, a renovated wood planing mill listed on the National Historic Register.

Casey McClellan cultivated his interest in wines while planting the first block of Seven Hills Vineyard in the early 1980's. He went on to earn a Master's degree from UC Davis, with an emphasis on wine yeast performance. Casey and Vicky McClellan returned to Walla Walla in 1988. They joined the founders of Seven Hills Vineyard to form Seven Hills winery.

McClellan works closely with the growers throughout the year, monitoring each stage of development in the vineyards. Respecting the terroir of these sites, wines are vineyard designated from Klipsun Vineyard and Seven Hills Vineyard. The winery also sources grapes from Windrow Vineyard, Morrison Vineyard, Seven Hills Vineyard-East, Double River Ranch and Dwelly Vineyard. Each vineyard brings its own particular nuances which ultimately benefits the final blend.

The wines are aged in a temperature and humidity controlled barrel room replete with sky lights, massive beams and rafters. Visitors may look in from the tasting room, or as they dine at the Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant.

2004 Seven Hills, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. You'll find clean Riesling fruit without an oak burden. Peaches, pears and candied fruit abound, all wrapped up in an off-dry, crisp package; 87/89.

2004 Seven Hills, Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16. Lovely fruit typical of the grape carries throughout - melons, peaches and pears. The wine is well rounded, soft and lush; 87/88.

2001 Seven Hills, Cabernet Sauvignon, Klipsun Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30. Raspberry liqueur, black cherries and wood notes carry from the nose to the palate. The wine is tannic but they seem pretty well rounded and should resolve with time. Try again in five years; 87+/87+.

2002 Seven Hills, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30. This deep-ruby wine gives off aromas of black cherries, vanilla and cedary oak. Approachable now, the winery is fruity, with minimal oak flavors; 87/87.

2002 Seven Hills, Pentad, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $50. We're talking serious juice here. Complex, layered, full and rich, the wine seems to cover the entire fruit spectrum. Elegantly structured, all components of the five varieties of red grapes are singing in harmony. Violet and mocha nuances add to the mix; 91/91.

2002 Seven Hills, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $25. The nose is a nice mix of black fruit, floral scents and wood notes. Somewhat one-dimensional in the mouth, black cherries prevail; 86/86.

Dean Derby
Dean Derby, Spring Valley
Spring Valley Vineyard
7 S. 4th Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-337-6915
Open Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.springvalleyvineyard.com

Tragically since I last visited Spring Valley, winemaker Devin Derby was killed in an automobile accident late last year. My deepest sympathies go out to his wife and co-winemaker Mary Derby, and to his parents, Dean and Shari Corkrum Derby.

The Corkrum family has farmed the area known as Spring Valley for more than 100 years. Today, Shari Corkrum Derby and her husband, Dean Derby, provide guidance for the family vineyard and winery. Gaynor Derby, Dean's brother, is responsible for maintaining the vineyard's high standards.

The vineyard is located 12 miles northeast of Walla Walla, situated amid rolling hills of wheat. Extensive evaluation of the terroir revealed an area ideally suited for growing wine grapes. The initial two-acre block of Merlot was planted in 1993 on a south-southwest facing hillside. Today the vineyard consists of seven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 acres of Merlot, eight acres of Cabernet Franc, two acres of Petit Verdot, one acre of Malbec and four acres of Syrah.

After much discussion, the family decided to open a winery starting with the 1999 vintage. Spring Valley only produces estate-bottled wines.

Brian Carlson stepped in at a difficult time to become Spring Valley's new winemaker. Carlson is a UC Davis graduate with a degree in fermentation science. He spent time at Firestone and Kendall Jackson in California and Chateau Benoit in Oregon before coming to the Walla Walla Valley in 1992. He has spent the last 12 years as Waterbrook Winery's winemaker. "I'm excited to be associated with such a fantastic vineyard and the enviable reputation of Spring Valley Vineyard's wines!" says Carlson. "I hope to continue the tradition of first rate wines that Devin so well established."

Grapes from Spring Valley remind me a lot of Red Mountain fruit - they are deep, intense, complex and tannic. Don't be in a rush to drink the wines.

2002 Spring Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Derby, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40. This is a big, brooding wine that needs time to come around. Put it in the cellar and forget about it for five years or more and then you'll be rewarded with the blackberry fruit, sweet oak and violet undertones that are muted at present; 89+/89+.

2003 Spring Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frederick, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40. Deep black fruit, violets and judicious oak unfolds on the nose and palate. Tannins are firm but pliable. This one obviously needs time but shows very good potential; 90/90.

2003 Spring Valley, Merlot, Mule Skinner, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $35. Sweet black cherry and black raspberry fruit leads the charge on the sensory spectrum. Long, full and lovely, this wine has a good future; 89/89.

2003 Spring Valley, Merlot, Uriah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40. Uriah is a Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blend. You'll find an aromatic nose of Japanese plums, black raspberries and Baker's chocolate. Full and rich in the mouth, with cherries and berries abounding. The tannins are pretty rough at this point, but I think they'll settle down in three or four years; 89+/89+.

2003 Spring Valley, Syrah, Nina Lee, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40. This wine is too disjointed right now to rate. Intense black fruit and generous tannins need time to integrate. I'd like to retry this wine in a year; NR.

Note: Just as I was going to submit the article for publication, I received this notice from the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 18, 2005
For Further Information: Keith Love
Prestigious Spring Valley Winery Joins Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Family

WOODINVILLE--Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the leader in Washington State wines, announced today it will manage the highly acclaimed Spring Valley Vineyard and acquire the brand from the Derby family of Walla Walla, WA ... Under the agreement, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will acquire the winery and the brand name Spring Valley and all wine in bottle and barrel. It will lease the vineyard with a long-term contract. The farm has been in the family of Derby's wife, Shari Corkrum Derby, for nearly a century.

Whitman Cellars
1015 W. Pine St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-1142
Open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.whitmancellars.com

Whitman Cellars was founded by John Edwards and Larry and Sally Thomason. Their first crush consisted of two barrels of Merlot and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon, which were blended into a Meritage. The downtown tasting room followed in 2001.

The winery obtains fruit from 19 different vineyard blocks in the Walla Walla and Red Mountain appellations. Noted sources include Seven Hills Vineyard, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Les Collines Vineyard, Waliser Vineyard, Cougar Crest Vineyard and Red Mountain Vineyard.

Stephen Lessard, winemaker and partner at Whitman Cellars, has quite a winery portfolio. He is a food science graduate of Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. Lessard spent his first harvest at three tiny wineries in the area. He then worked for Chalone, Chamisal, Hacienda, and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in California. Lessard then came to Washington, spending six years at Hedges Cellars prior to joining Whitman Cellars in 2002.

Whitman Cellars currently produces approximately 5,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Narcissa (a proprietary blend), Syrah, Viognier and a port style wine each year.

2002 Whitman, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $36. You'll find a host of black fruit on the nose, with French oak nuances. The wine has a lovely mouth feel, rounded tannins and a brisk finish. Impeccably structured, the wine has a long future; 90/90.

2002 Whitman, Narcissa Red, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $24, 2,500 cases. This is a fun blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The wine is well balanced, with integrated oak and accessible tannins. Vibrant cherry fruit and blackberries linger on the lengthy finish; 89/89.

2002 Whitman, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32. This has all of the stuffing to make a nice wine, but it is totally closed down right now, making it almost impossible to rate. They sent me a sample bottle and I left the wine in the decanter for 24 hours before it finally started opening up to show rich black fruit and Baker's chocolate; 90+/90+.

2003 Whitman, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $28. I judged this wine at the Northwest Wine Summit where it won a gold medal. Terrific acidity makes this a great food wine. The bright cherry fruit is starting to close down, so I would not be quick to pull a cork; 89/89.

2004 Whitman, Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19. Whitman Cellars always seems to do a good job with this wine. The wine is placed in three-year-old barrels and does not undergo malolactic fermentation, resulting in a crisp, refreshing wine, melon fruit predominant; 90/90.

Ash Hollow
14 N. 2nd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-7565
Open Wednesday to Sunday (call for hours)
www.ashhollow.com

Bergevin Lane Vineyards
1215 W. Poplar
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-4300
Open Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.bergevinlane.com

Canoe Ridge Vineyard
1102 W. Cherry St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-527-0885
Open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.canoeridgevineyard.com

Cayuse Vineyards
17 E. Main St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-0686
Open by appointment
www.cayusevineyards.com

James Leigh Cellars
16 N. 2nd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-529-1398
Open by appointment
www.jamesleighcellars.com

Lowden Hills
535 N.E. Spitzenburg Road
College Place, WA 99324
509-527-1040
Open Friday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
www.lowdenhillswinery.com

Patrick M. Paul Vineyards
107 S. 3rd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-0676
Open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Wednesday)
No web site currently

Poet's Leap Winery
1215 W. Poplar St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-0905
Not open to the public
www.poetsleap.com

Walla Walla Village Winery
107 S. 3rd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-9463
Open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Wednesday)
wallawallavillagewinery.com

Waterbrook Winery
31 E. Main St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-1262
Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
www.waterbrook.com

West of town

L'Ecole Nº 41
41 Lowden School Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-0940
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.lecole.com

One of the original four wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, L'Ecole is a family-owned business, founded by Jean and Baker Ferguson in 1983. By 1988 they were thinking of retirement. Their daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Marty Clubb, were involved in the San Francisco business world at the time. Desiring more time with their children, they researched the wine business. Marty Clubb took wine courses at UC Davis, and he and Megan took over the winery operations in 1989. The energy they put into the winery shows today.

Located in the historic Frenchtown School that was built in 1915, the backdrop is quite bucolic. Extensive renovations have been completed in their tasting room and entertainment facilities since my last visit.

The recent Merlot bashing in Sideways generated a lot of media prophecies of the demise of Merlot; however Merlot is still King at L'Ecole. I believe even Miles would begrudgingly enjoy a glass of their Seven Hills Merlot.

The winery currently produces 29,000 cases annually, ranging from their flagship Bordeaux blends, Apogee and Perigee, to their stunning late harvest Semillon.

2002 L'Ecole, Apogee, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $44, 1,611 cases. This Bordeaux blend exhibits lovely black fruit, licorice and sweet oak. It is full and intense. It is also less forward and more tannic than the Perigee. Cellar and forget about it for at least five years; 89+/89+.

2002 L'Ecole, Perigee, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $44, 1,160 cases. You'll find a very rich, complex nose that covers the entire black fruit spectrum. The wine is elegant, fruity and seamless - all of the adjectives are here; 91/91.

2002 L'Ecole, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 3,822 cases. You'll find black fruit, a dash of herbs, generous oak and modest drying tannins here. It has nice structure and may come around with cellar time; 86/86.

2001 L'Ecole, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $36, 1,533 cases. The aromas are a delightful mix of black fruit, leather and earthy/truffle-like nuances. Oak is well integrated with the dense black fruit and they have harnessed the tannins as well. Lovely; 90/90.

2003 L'Ecole, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 2,928 cases. Nice for the style, the wine is defined by pineapples, subtle oak, butter creams and soft acidity; 86/86.

2004 L'Ecole, Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 1,262 cases. Here's a great picnic wine. Loads of pear fruit abounds, with delicate sweetness that enhances the wine and enough acidity to balance the sugars; 86/87.

2002 L'Ecole, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 5,044 cases. Blackberries and cedar lead off on the nose. Integrated sweet oak and crisp acidity gives character to the blackberry and black cherry fruit that lingers endlessly on the finish; 88/88.

2002 L'Ecole, Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $36, 1,562 cases. Look out Miles - you'll be hard pressed not to like this Merlot. Layers of black cherries, chocolate, cedar and anise unfold in waves of complexity. Very harmonious; 91/91.

2003 L'Ecole, Schoolhouse Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 2,048 cases. A fun blend of five red grapes, Merlot predominant, the wine is soft, fruity and easy to drink. Grill that hamburger; 85/86.

2003 L'Ecole, Semillon, Barrel Fermented, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14, 3,011 cases. This straw gold wine gives off aromas of figs, citrus and subtle oak. The wine is balanced, crisp and fruity, with oak well in the background; 87/88.

2003 L'Ecole, Semillon, Fries Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 432 cases. There is more oak on the nose than the other two Semillons, but it seems to integrate on the palate. Intense figs, citrus and baked peaches define the wine. Classic; 90/90.

2003 L'Ecole, Semillon, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $19, 440 cases. Peach and fig aromas abound on the nose and palate. The finish is long, crisp and friendly; 88/88.

2003 L'Ecole, Semillon, Late Harvest, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $19 (375 ml), 206 cases. Pure essence of pears unfurls on the nose and expands in the mouth. The wine is very sweet but not cloying. Lovely; 91/91.

2002 L'Ecole, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 2,025 cases. This is a very forward wine, with soft tannins, ripe fruit and sweet oak. It is easy to drink right now, or you can hold it for three to four years; 88/88.

2002 L'Ecole, Syrah, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $36, 1,087 cases. Here's a full, intense Syrah with generous tannins that need bottle time. Sweet oak becomes more apparent on the finish. Very nice overall; 90/90.

Three Rivers Winery
Three Rivers Winery
Three Rivers Winery
5641 W. Hwy. 12
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-526-9463
Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
www.threeriverswinery.com

Three Rivers Winery is the dream of three families, the Ahlers, Stockings and Wollmuths. Their lovely, functional winery has a 14,000-square-foot cellar and barrel room, a tasting bar, a gift shop with a large stone fireplace, and a hospitality suite that can accommodate 75 people, replete with a full-service catering kitchen. Guests can even enjoy a three-hole golf course surrounding the winery.

The winery's estate vineyards include eight acres on the winery grounds, nine acres at Ahler Vineyard and eight acres at Biscuit Ridge Vineyard. They also purchase grapes from top state vineyards such as Boushey, Pepper Bridge and Champoux Vineyard.

All of these grapes fall under the domain of Holly Turner and Andy Slusarenko, the winemaker and assistant winemaker respectively. Turner was promoted to winemaker after the original winemaker (Charlie Hoppes) left for other ventures.

Turner believes the most interesting wines are crafted at the blending table. Her goal is to craft a seamless wine that shows balance upon release, but can age gracefully for years. The wines show her passion.

2002 Three Rivers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Champoux Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington, $39. The wine is densely colored, with huge, complex aromas and flavors covering the black fruit spectrum. Very elegant and structured on the entry, the tannins firm up on the finish. This is a deep, brooding wine that needs at least five years to show its stuff; 91/91.

2001 Three Rivers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19. You'll appreciate a mélange of aromas and flavors - generous oak, blackberries, herbs and chocolate. Very drinkable now; 88/89.

2002 Three Rivers, MC², Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. A blend of three Bordeaux grapes, this is a real killer for the price point. Medium bodied, fruity, with just a touch of herbal notes from the Franc, you can't ask much more from a ten-buck wine; 86/89.

2001 Three Rivers, Meritage Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $39. Their flagship wine earns its status. It is deeply hued, with complex aromas covering the blue and black fruit spectrum. Complex, layered, and well structured, this is going to be a long ager; 92/92.

2001 Three Rivers, Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. The wine is characterized by big, jammy red and black fruit, sweet oak, cocoa and a touch of anise. This is a fun blend showing nice acid and tannin management; 89/91.

2003 Three Rivers, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17. Another killer value - the wine has a lemon custard nose, full, rich, crisp lemon cream flavors and a long, fruity finish; 89/91.

2003 Three Rivers, Meritage White Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19. The fruit comes from Klipsun Vineyards and is gorgeous. A touch of honey adds to the fruit, with excellent oak integration and a long, lush finish; 90/90.

2003 Three Rivers, Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, Biscuit Ridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $14 (375ml). The wine is loaded with grapefruit and candied apricots. The acidity handles the 8.5 percent residual sugar quite well. There's lots of stuff going on here. It paired well with Cougar Gold cheese; 90/90.

2002 Three Rivers, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19. This is a classic example of Washington Merlot. Well structured, full and lush, the wine sports black cherries with a hint of licorice and black olives; 89/91.

2003 Three Rivers, Sangiovese, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $39. This is an excellent New World version of the grape. Ruby red, with bright red cherry fruit, great tannin structure, terrific fruit and balance to boot; 88/88.

2002 Three Rivers, Syrah, Ahler Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $39. The wine displays bright, jammy fruit leaning towards the red fruit spectrum. Tangy acids and rounded tannins give support to the rich fruit; 90/90.

2002 Three Rivers, Syrah, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $39. If Dick Boushey is not growing the best Syrah in the state, I'd like to know who is. This wine is even better now than a bottle tasted a few months back. Full bodied and complex, the wine unfolds in layers of black fruit, game, smoked meat and cracked pepper; 92/92.

2002 Three Rivers, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24. This is a pretty wine, with a mix of red, blue and black fruit, supported by refreshing acidity. A dash of spice comes through on the finish; 89/90.

Woodward Canyon Winery
11920 W. Hwy. 12
Lowden, WA 99360
509-525-4129
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
www.woodwardcanyon.com

Woodward Canyon is one of the old-timers in the Walla Walla Valley, being founded in 1981. Owner Rick Small's philosophy is quality takes precedence over quantity, with current production standing at 14,000 cases. Small oversees all operations in the winery as well as actively marketing his wines. It is nice to see a man so enthusiastic and tireless after all of the years in the business.

Their estate vineyard now has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera and Dolcetto in ground. Small purchases grapes from select vineyards in the state as well.

Kevin Mott is the winery's new winemaker, replacing Gilles Nicault. Nicault spent seven years at Woodward Canyon before moving on to a winemaking position at Long Shadows Vintners. Mott started his wine career at Ste. Chapelle winery, and he most recently was the winemaker at Canoe Ridge.

While I did not have time to stop by on this trip, Woodward Canyon was kind enough to send me several sample wines.

2002 Woodward Canyon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Artist Series #11, Columbia Valley, Washington, $44, 3,157 cases. Black fruit and Baker's chocolate highlight the nose and palate of this deeply-hued wine. Very full, rich and balanced, the wine has generous but rounded tannins. While approachable now, I'd cellar this one for at least five years before trying again; 90/90.

2002 Woodward Canyon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vines, Columbia Valley, Washington, $68, 1,038 cases. Aromas of cassis, blackberries and French oak define the aromas of this purple/black Cab. Tannins are firm but ripe and should age out nicely. Big all around with great intensity on the palate, this one needs at least five to seven years to calm down and strut its stuff; 91/90.

2003 Woodward Canyon, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $33, 497 cases. Aromas of pears, peaches, hazelnuts and oak radiate from this light gold Chardonnay. Refreshing, with flavors echoing the nose, you'll find a touch of heat from the 14.4 percent alcohol; 87/87.

2002 Woodward Canyon, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $33, 1,536 cases. Full and complex, the wine displays loads of black fruit, mocha, spice and vanilla. Firm but ripe tannins dictate three to five years of aging before serving; 89/89.

Bunchgrass Winery
151 Bunchgrass Lane
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-525-1492
Closed to the public (open the first two weekends in May)
www.bunchgrasswinery.com

Harlequin Wine Cellars
1211 Sand Pit Road
Touchet, WA 99360
509-394-2112
Open by appointment
www.harlequinwine.com

Latitude 46º N
1211 Sand Pit Road
Touchet, WA 99360
509-394-0460
Open by appointment
www.latitude46.com

Reininger Winery
5858 W. Highway 12
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-1994
Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
www.reiningerwinery.com

Summary

Walla Walla is a red-hot wine appellation showing phenomenal growth and a high degree of quality across the board. Short of my favorite wine regions in France, I cannot remember tasting so many upscale wines in one area in my life. For more information on this exciting and vivacious area, please refer to the following links:

Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance: www.wallawallawine.com/index.html
Washington State Tourism: www.experiencewashington.com/City_C263.html
Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce: www.wwchamber.com/index.html
WallaWalla.com: www.wallawalla.com
Tourism Walla Walla: www.wallawalla.org
Washington Wine Commission: www.washingtonwine.org

September 2005

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