Walla Walla

Washington

Walla Walla The Walla Walla valley has been a regional agricultural hub for more than a century; and it still abounds with crisp apples, juicy strawberries, tender asparagus, sumptuous sweet onions, and a cornucopia of other vibrant produce. Nearly 2,000 acres of prime vineyards and more than 100 remarkable wineries are just the most recent expression of a rich farming heritage.

Official recognition began in February of 1984, when the federal government designated the Walla Walla Valley as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Walla Walla Valley overtly straddles state lines: two-thirds of the AVA is in Washington and one-third is in Oregon. Why? Because the finest wines reflect nature, and Mother Nature doesn’t recognize political borders. Nor does she generate anything approaching monotonous uniformity. So the elevations across the appellation soar between 400 feet and 2,000 feet above sea level. Similarly, annual rainfall figures triple from a sparse seven inches at the western end of the valley to a lush 22 inches along the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the east.

The valley is defined by its geologic past … and the impact it has on the present. At the conclusion of the most recent Ice Age, much of Eastern Washington experienced the largest basaltic lava floods in geological history. The floods “backed up” into the Walla Walla Valley, depositing rich silt and scattering huge boulders, called “erratics.” Though the majority of vineyards are irrigated, this is one of the rare places in Eastern Washington with the potential, in at least a few sites, to be dry farmed. Walla Walla’s outstanding winemaking community has forged a well-deserved reputation for its Syrahs, Merlots, and Cabernet Sauvignons. The grapes are often included in a single blend, a sort of super-Wallan red. Some excellent Sangiovese is also grown, along with scattered, tiny plots of exotic grapes such as Counoise, Carmenère, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo and Barbera.

The valley is full of a number of soil ranges carpeting the valley. The variations are nearly infinite, but one could categorize them into four major groups. At the lowest elevations are cobblestone river gravels. These are fields literally covered with dark basalt stones, and they soak up the warmth of the sun before releasing it back at the vines after twilight. These soils are very well-drained and they are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals that fuel remarkable flavors. The next category is loess layered over flood sediments. Loess is fine, wind-blown silt; and it measures two to four feet deep here in areas below 1,100 feet in elevation. Beneath the loess are coarser layers of sand and gravel deposited by catastrophic, glacial floods that swept through this region about 15,000 years ago. The result is a complex mix of minerals, and it lends a corresponding complexity to the wines grown in these sites. The uplands above 1,100 feet in elevation are home to the silt category. As with the previous soil type, this silt is fine, wind-blown loess. But in these higher locations the powdery dirt measures more than eight or 10 feet thick. Vines planted here are able to send their roots very deep, and they produce grapes with pure, bright aromatic and flavor characters. The final soil category is very thin silt sprinkled over weathered basalt. It’s found on steep, southwest-facing hillsides, and it consists of just a few inches of very fine, wind-blown soil over the ancient volcanic bedrock that supports the entire region. These rocky materials represent the most complex terrain in the valley.