Vines were first planted in the Walla Walla Valley as early 1850s by Italian immigrants. However, like everywhere else in the country, National Prohibition put a cork in wine production in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when the area saw a renaissance in its wine industry. With this said, the Walla Walla wine region is still young, yet there are a few pioneers who have helped pushed the industry to where it is today. The nice thing is all are still working vineyards making it easy for history buffs to sip in a historic day of Walla Walla wine tasting. The following itinerary will take you through some of the most historic wineries in Walla Walla as well as top historic sites to see in the Valley.
A Day of Historic Walla Walla Wine Tasting
Kick the day off exploring The Whitman Mission. The old mission was once an important stop along the Oregon Trail and the result of Oregon becoming a U.S. territory.
After leaving the the mission, head over to Leonetti Cellar, Walla Walla’s first commercial winery. But, don’t plan to stop in for a tasting. The winery has become such a cult classic with a small production it now has LIMITED tastings. The winery is actually booked out for three years! In other words, making a reservation is difficult unless you can pull some strings. But, since you’re nearby the vineyard, it’s worth a drive by. If anything for an Instagram selfie outside the entrance sign.
Pepper Bridge Winery is a short drive from Leonetti Cellar. This is a great stop for lunch given the food and wine tasting experiences the winery offers. You have a few choices, the first being what might be the coolest and most informative – Food and Wine Pairing. For this experience you’ll get outside the tasting rooms for a tour, followed with a local chef who will prepare a selection of small dishes that will be paired with each wine to show you how the components interact on your palate. Another option includes a picnic lunch with a tasting of their latest releases at a reserved table overlooking the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Both require advanced reservations.
L’Ecole No. 41 is a third generation family-owned, artisan winery that was founded in 1983, making it the third winery established in the Walla Walla Valley. The winery has become a standout for their sustainable farming techniques and only produces 100 percent estate grown wines.
Recognized by Seattle Magazine as having one of the “Best Tasting Rooms”, L’Ecole No. 41 will impress you more with their wines. (These too have received crazy amounts of awards and accolades including the Decanter World Wine Award.) I personally suggest you opt for booking a Reserve Tour & Tasting, which includes a walking tour of the property and operations. This also includes a private seated tasting of eight special wines, including library wines, new releases and/or limited production wines, in the cellar of the historic 1915 Frenchtown Schoolhouse that is depicted on the wine labels.
After your afternoon of sipping in the historic Walla Walla wineries, head back downtown but don’t plan to pop into the downtown tasting rooms, at least not yet. The historic downtown has a lot offer in sharing more of the Walla Walla story, including a few planned and mapped out historic walking tours. Pick one to pair with your interest. My favorite is the historic homes walk, which I attribute to having grown up with a history professor for a dad and real estate agent for a mom.
Once you have worked up an appetite, head over to Hattaway’s on Alder. Not only is the seasonal menu amazing, but you’ll have the chance to sip wines from Leonetti Cellars (assuming they have some in stock). The restaurant sells some Leonetti Cellars wines by the ounce, making it perfect for a little sampling.