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Walla Walla Washington: as fun to drink as it is to say

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Although the Columbia Valley appellation of  Washington State continues to the far eastern reaches of the state, Walla Walla Valley is the eastern-most official sub-appellation. Also located on the southern Washington-Oregon border, the appellation spills over into Oregon. The name Walla Walla comes from a native word meaning ‘many waters’, and this is a land of rivers and streams, which allows for grape growing in a region with very little annual rainfall.

Walla Walla was one of the first major wine regions in Washington, beginning in the 1850s. A wine boom took place for the decades of the gold rush, before Walla Walla was effectively cut off from the outside world and the nascent industry died. It lay dormant for nearly a century, until a single acre of riesling and cabernet sauvignon was planted in the 1970s by pioneer Leonetti Cellars. The wines they produced gained a rapid following, and became some of the first true cult wines to come out of Washington State. Other master vintners moved to the area to follow in Leonetti’s footsteps, and within a decade the area was a bustling wine producing region.

Walla Walla is now the second-largest appellation in Washington State, with more than 1,200 acres under vine. The area remains primarily known for its cabernet sauvignon, which makes up nearly half of all grapes planted. The southern portion of the appellation, spilling over into the Oregon border, is known for its world-class syrah as well. Due to the year-round heat, red varietals make up the bulk of the plantings, with merlot and cabernet franc rounding out syrah and cabernet sauvignon to account for almost 90% of the grapes grown.

There are almost 100 wineries in Walla Walla, and while there are a handful of large producers, the majority is very small family operations. Some of these produce extremely tiny quantities of top-tier wines, making them highly sought after and relatively expensive for the region. These so-called cult wines can often only be purchased by visiting the winery of being a part of their wine club, and make excellent gifts or collectables.

Because Walla Walla is off the beaten path in the eastern part of the state, and because there is little to do there aside from visit wineries, planning a trip for a few days to exclusively visit wineries and taste wines is the best idea.