Walla Walla: A Place of Memories, Old and New
I’m in that space between trips, with my past and future visits to wine country like bookends on either end of my day-to-day life here in Seattle. True, I’m a city girl through and through, but for the past few years an impossible dream of moving out to Eastern Washington has been taking form. So it makes sense, then, I suppose, that after spending ten days in Walla Walla last month, I’m getting ready to head back there again.
I discovered Walla Walla in the spring of 2008 when my husband and I set out for a semi-aimless weekend road trip. We were dreaming about starting a distillery back then, before the practice became de rigueur among aficionados of fine spirits, and we decided to visit the guys at Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane for some inspiration. Hitting the road sometime in the morning (which is impressive, given our tendency to get a late start on road trips), we arrived in the industrial district housing the distillery around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. Our hosts happily showed us around, still beaming over their stills and bottles. (They were pioneers in post-Prohibition distilling in Washington State, and it was still pretty new to them.) Afterward, we fortified ourselves quickly with a fast-food sandwich and set out again, this time deciding to head south for a three-hour drive to Walla Walla.
That trip did it for me. We were in Walla Walla for one night, probably less than 24 hours, but that was enough to get a taste—quite literally—of the town. Since then we’ve found multiple excuses to return, averaging about three annual trips for the past few years. This last time, however, was different. What had once been a weekend trip for us was now taking the form of a full ten-day vacation.
Planning a trip to wine country requires sound research skills, familiarization with maps (those things that existed before GPS), and a fine balance between schedule and flexibility. Even though we weren’t going to be limited to a weekend this time around, the Scandinavian in me still appreciates efficiency and a good plan. We had a list of old standbys to visit since it had been over a year since our last trip, as well as wineries we wanted to discover (Walla Walla is home to over 100 wineries, after all). Since some wineries are only open Thursday through Sunday while others welcome visitors every day of the week, it pays to know who’s open when and to have a sense of where they’re located so you can group neighbors together if at all possible. In addition, a number of them are only open by appointment—which, although highly disappointing if you haven’t planned in advance, is a real treat when you’re there getting individualized treatment and tours.
I set out to plan our vacation—five nights with my husband and son, followed by four more with my parents joining us—early on, scheduling no more than one winery appointment a day and leaving most of the afternoons and evenings free. Still, looking back at it, I’m amazed at how full we packed each day. While I normally think of vacations as times with days spent lounging on the beach or by the pool, I think this one felt so relaxing—despite being on the go all the time—because of the nature of the place. Though Walla Walla is a continuously-growing wine destination, it’s still a small town, and the pace is just different. The wheat field-lined landscape is dotted with vineyards and wineries, and it’s possible to feel miles away from anyone after driving for just a matter of minutes in any direction.
As I mentioned earlier, I have this dream of packing up and moving to Walla Walla. I could buy an old Victorian-era house—of which there are plenty—fix it up and spend my days cooking and entertaining, writing and working on my photography skills, and raising my family. But the truth is, Seattle is where I’m from and where I feel I’m supposed to be. In the almost-seven years since my husband and I got married, we’ve had opportunities to move, both for school and career, but we’ve stayed. The nice thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is that there are so many great places to visit—Walla Walla included—just hours away. And perhaps some of those escapes I love so much are best experienced in small doses, in which they can retain their magic. In any case, as I’ve been reminiscing over our trip last month, knowing that I’m returning soon is comforting. That may seem like a strange word to use, but I always feel a bit wistful after returning from vacation, knowing that the experiences are now memories, not in the present but in my past. Having a chance to revisit the sites of those memories—while at the same time creating new memories with some dear friends who are coming along—is truly comforting indeed.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing with you my favorite wineries and restaurants, along with picnic ideas, wine-tasting tips from the experts, and other activities to enjoy in the Walla Walla Valley. Subscribe to the blog’s feed so you don’t miss a post!
Photos taken at Les Collines Vineyard, June 2012. Post written in early July 2012, published mid-month.