Tag Archives: Eastern Washington

Walla Walla, Washington: Sunshine, Wine, and Batman

Four days in Walla Walla in July: A cute town with lots of shops and great restaurants, a Batman legacy, and more wine than you can shake a cork at.

 

Washington may be the Evergreen State, but half the state is not green at all. Eastern Washington is full of rolling hills, canyons, tumbleweeds, lakes, orchards, and wineries. As wine tasting is our favorite sport, we’ve explored quite a bit of it, but not all. I had been to Walla Walla once for a one night trip for the annual Onion Festival a few years back. It was a quick trip, and I was looking forward to seeing a bit more.

Every summer, hoards of Western Washingtonians pour over the Cascade mountain passes to Eastern Washington in search of sunshine. This was exactly our mission on this trip. We found a rental house with a pool on HomeAway, and our group of 8 friends was excited for a poolside holiday. Turns out, Walla Walla is a cute town that has a lot to offer. Come for the sunshine, but stay for the food, wine, and scenery.

 

 

Day 1: Roadtrip from Seattle to Walla Walla

Walla Walla is about a 4.5 hour drive from Seattle. We left Seattle on Wednesday morning at 9:00, after rush hour died down. I estimated our lunch pit stop time to be about when we were passing through Prosser, which ended up being correct. We stopped for lunch at the Horse Heaven Saloon in downtown Prosser.

But before we got to Prosser, there were dinosaurs in Granger.

"<yoastmark

"<yoastmark

"<yoastmark

I’m all about a good roadside attraction. There isn’t a lot going on in Granger, which is probably why they created a dinosaur park to attract tourists. It’s worth a stop if you are into that sort of thing.

In Prosser, The Horse Heaven Saloon was small, dark, and delightfully air-condtioned.

horse heaven saloon prosser
Image from http://www.horseheavensaloonprosser.com/

The food was pretty damn good. Paddy and I shared the nachos, which came with a beer cheese sauce. The cheese sauce was really tasty and a nice change-up from traditional nacho cheese. The chips were house-made. The menu is mostly pub grub, but all done really well with a bit of extra creativity. Our friends enjoyed their burgers and sandwiches as well. We would recommend this lunch stop if you are passing through Prosser.

rolling hills near walla walla
Rolling hills outside of Walla Walla

Finally just outside of Walla Walla, we made one last stop at Woodward Canyon Winery, because we can’t help ourselves.

Woodward Canyon Winery, Walla Walla
Woodward Canyon Winery, Walla Walla

The host at Woodward Canyon gave us an overview of Walla Walla’s wineries, along with some restaurant recommendations. She suggested that if we only have limited time to wine taste during our visit, that we should go to the wineries on the south side of Walla Walla, as that area is the most scenic. Noted.

Woodward Canyon’s wines were a bit on the pricier side, but we did purchase a bottle of their less expensive “Pizza Wine,” a red blend with a whole lot of different types of grapes involved.

We finally met up with our friends in Walla Walla in the late afternoon. Our rental house was as described and the outdoor pool was as glorious as we had hoped. We spent the evening in the pool.

 

Day 2: Exploring Walla Walla: Shops, a historical museum, and Batman.

Here’s a little-known fact: Adam West, the star of the 1960’s Batman series, grew up in Walla Walla. The town of Walla Walla is so proud of this that they have an Adam West Day every year in September on Adam West’s birthday.

If you’re a Batman fan and can’t make it to Walla Walla on Adam West Day, don’t worry. You can visit a copious amount of Batman items and artifacts at the Kirkman House Museum. Paddy is a huge Batman fan, so this was a must see for us.

Kirkman House Museum
Kirkman House Museum

The Kirkman House Museum is a restored 1800’s mansion previously owned by the Kirkman family. We were given a guided tour by a very nice lady of the entire mansion and all its historical Kirkman family and 1800’s era artifacts. It was all very interesting, but the highlight was definitely the Batman room.

Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum
Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum. Shark repellent!
Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum
Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum

The climactic moment in the Batman room was when the statue next to the Bat Phone triggered the wall to the “Bat Cave” fire poles opened. Alas, there was no Bat Cave, but there was a good photo op with the poles and the Bat Phone.

Bat Phone at the Kirkman House Museum
Paddy on the Bat Phone at the Kirkman House Museum
Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum
Batman room at the Kirkman House Museum

If you are a Batman fan, or into historical museums, the Kirkman House is worth a stop. Open Wednesday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Sunday 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Admission $7.00, cash preferred.

We spent another hour or two walking around downtown Walla Walla. There are many fun shops to explore with gifts, antiques, clothing, and toys. If you have a sweet tooth, Brights Candies is an old fashioned candy shop that has many kinds of candies and excellent fudge. The Hot Poop record store had a funny name and a large inventory, but their prices were a little outrageous. I did find a fun disco record there though.

Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Walla Walla
Bright colored shop in downtown Walla Walla

If you enjoy wine tasting, there is a tasting room in between almost every other shop in downtown Walla Walla. If you are staying in town and don’t want to worry about driving, this is probably the best place to wine taste that I’ve been in Washington. You can walk to all the tasting rooms and restaurants and taste as much wine as you want without having to worry about transportation. There are more tasting rooms for local regional wines than anyone could ever visit in a day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, because it was 95 degrees out, and because pool.

 

 

Day 3: Southside Vineyards and a delicious dinner

We were ready to taste some more wine, and see some grapes growing. For me, part of the fun is visiting the vineyard and seeing the actual grapes growing in the sun. Most vineyards allow picnics as they don’t serve food, so you can make an afternoon of it and enjoy the wine and the scenery. In addition, tasting rooms are a great place to chit chat with a local host and find out recommendations and info on the area.

We followed the advice of our host at Woodward Canyon and drove out to the south side. Our first stop was the Castillo de Feliciana vineyard, which is actually just over the Oregon border and not in Walla Walla. It is only a 15 minute drive from town.

"<yoastmark

"<yoastmark

Castillo de Feliciana has a Spanish theme, from the tasting room architecture to the music to the grape varieties grown. It was a gorgeous vineyard, and the hosts told us to go sit out on the patio while they brought each tasting out to us. We sat and enjoyed the vineyard views of the countryside and Blue Mountains.

Views from Castillo de Feliciana patio
Views from Castillo de Feliciana patio

Our favorite wines were the Miercoles (“Wednesday”) red blend, the Rose of Tempranillo, and the 2015 Garnacha. We purchased a bottle of the Rose and the Garnacha. I think the tasting fee was $10 per person, waived with bottle purchase.

Castillo de Feliciana also serves sangria in the summer if you feel like spending some time and having a picnic. There are plenty of patio tables to picnic at, and the Spanish music piped outside really sets the mood. Bring some tapas and hang out for an hour or two with a glass of your favorite wine after the tasting.

We decided to go to one more vineyard, and chose Va Piano. Va Piano is an Italian style vineyard (we just went to Spain, why not go to Italy too?) in a cluster of many vineyards back over the Washington border.

"<yoastmark

"<yoastmark

"<yoastmark

Va Piano had grapes growing almost right up to the front entrance of the building, frosty air conditioning in the tasting room, and a very friendly host. The tasting fees were higher here but the wines are high quality. Tasting fees are waived with purchase.

I am not normally a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but the Va Piano 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite white of the bunch, and a really nice refreshing summer wine. We ended up buying a bottle of the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2016 Syrah. We got a taste of the rich and smokey estate Syrah, which was not in our budget, unfortunately. It was really, really good though. We did not care for the Chardonnay here.

We had a picnic at the large, shaded table outside the tasting room, and our friendly host provided complimentary water.

grapes at va piano winery
Grapes growing at Va Piano Vineyard

If you are really into wine tasting at Walla Walla Valley vineyards and want to make a day of it, there are several tour and transportation options. You can join a tour for the day or hire a private tour driver for your group. I would recommend booking a few weeks in advance in the summer, especially for a weekend. Options can be found here: https://wallawalla.org/listing-category/wine-tours-transportation/

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, as it was 96 degrees and we’d had enough walking around in the heat for the day.

 

Later that evening, we went out for dinner. We only went out to eat once on this trip as we like to cook together at our rental house to save money (and a lot of us like to cook). However, there are a lot of great restaurant options in Walla Walla, and it took us a bit to narrow it down to one choice for our dinner out.

We opted for Hattaway’s on Alder, and were not disappointed.

Hattaways on Alder Walla Walla
Hattaways on Alder in downtown Walla Walla
Hattaways on Alder Walla Walla
Delicious cocktails at Hattaways on Alder in downtown Walla Walla

Everything was oustanding: the service, the cocktails, the food, and desserts. It was very difficult to decide on an entree. Our host at Va Piano vineyard told us that he was still thinking about the chicken and grits dish he had ad a week or so before. I also have a hard time saying no to a good duck breast. Paddy and I ended up both going with the grilled pork collar with smashed potatoes, black garlic crema, and charred tomato chimichurri. We shared the duck pate appetizer as a starter.

duck pate appetizer at Hattaways on Alder, Walla Walla
Duck pate appetizer at Hattaways on Alder, Walla Walla
Grilled pork collar at Hattaways on Alder, Walla Walla
Grilled pork collar at Hattaways on Alder, Walla Walla

The pork collar was very smokey, and the black garlic was a delicious compliment. The charred tomatoes added a nice acidic element to balance the heavy pork.

Our friends had a variety of dishes, and we covered close to everything on the menu. Everyone was very happy with what they ordered. Our friend who took our Va Piano host’s advice and ordered the chicken and grits dish was not disappointed.

Pan seared halibut cheeks at Hattaways on Alder, Walla Walla
Pan seared halibut cheeks with grits with tomato confit, manchego cream, and BBQ butter at Hattaways on Alder

A few other restaurants that we were interested in but did not get to try on this trip:

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen

Soi 71 Noodle House

Brasserie Four

 

Day 4: Palouse Falls excursion

Our last full day in Walla Walla led us out of Walla Walla for the morning to Palouse Falls, an hour drive north of Walla Walla.

The drive to Palouse Falls from Walla Walla is through rolling hills of wheat fields. You can take a couple different roads from Walla Walla to get there. The most direct is highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which has a lot of windy twists and turns in the beginning. If you are prone to motion sickness, this might not be the best route for you. The other direct way is highway 12, connecting with the 261 in Lyons Ferry. The latter goes through a small town or two, and is longer but a bit less twisty.

We took highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which was pretty but did make me a little queasy, despite sitting in the front seat. The drive was only about an hour, and there was still plenty of parking available when we got there. We took highway 12 back.

*Note: Palouse Falls is a state park, which requires a Discover Pass to park there. There are no places to purchase a pass at the park, so buy an annual pass or day pass prior to your trip.

From the parking lot, walk down through the tiny campground to the cliff to view the falls.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is beautiful, but dangerous. For more about our day trip to the falls and what to expect, read our full post here.

Snake River leading to Palouse Falls
Snake River leading to Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls trail
Palouse Falls trail

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, because pool.

 

 

Walla Walla was a fun summer trip. It is a nice town with great summer weather, fantastic restaurants, and our favorite spot in Washington State so far for wine tasting. There are many beautiful sights to see nearby and fun shops to explore in the town. There is far too much wine to taste in one trip, so Paddy and I will be going back on our own to pick up where we left off.

Walla Walla has several hotel options in the downtown area, and many AirBnb/Home Away rentals as well. Bonus if you can find a vacation rental with a pool!

Day Trip to Palouse Falls, Eastern Washington

A quick day trip to one of the largest and most remote waterfalls in Washington State: How to get to Palouse Falls and what to expect

 

I had seen photos of Palouse Falls in our home state of Washington and always wanted to go there, but it wasn’t really close to anything and is quite a long trek from Seattle. An off-shoot of the Snake River located in Southeast Washington State, Palouse Falls really is in the middle of nowhere. This summer, we had plans with some friends to spend a few days in Walla Walla—about an hour drive from Palouse Falls. We decided to take a day trip to check it out.

While wine tasting the day before in the Walla Walla area, our wine servers advised that we go to Palouse Falls early in the morning if possible. Visiting the falls has become increasingly popular. We set out on the road from Walla Walla at around 9:00 AM on a Saturday, hoping to beat any possible crowds.

Getting There:

Drive to Palouse Falls, Eastern Washington
Drive to Palouse Falls, Eastern Washington

The drive to Palouse Falls from Walla Walla is through rolling hills of wheat fields. You can take a couple different roads from Walla Walla to get there. The most direct is highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which has a lot of windy twists and turns in the beginning. If you are prone to motion sickness, this might not be the best route for you. The other direct way is highway 12, connecting with the 261 in Lyons Ferry. The latter goes through a small town or two, and is longer but a bit less twisty.

We took highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which was pretty but did make me a little queasy, despite sitting in the front seat. The drive was only about an hour, and there was still plenty of parking available when we got there. We took highway 12 back.

*Note: Palouse Falls is a state park, which requires a Discover Pass to park there. There are no places to purchase a pass at the park, so buy an annual pass or day pass prior to your trip.

From the parking lot, walk down through the tiny campground to the cliff to view the falls.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls

The falls are stunning, and the canyon is a sharp contrast to green western Washington, and even the golden wheat fields on the way to the falls. There are a few view points from the parking lot area.

 

Hiking?

We were hoping for a small hike or something to make the visit a bit more exciting than getting out of the car and looking at the falls. We walked up the hill to the left of the parking lot facing the falls and found a small trail, with this sign:

Palouse Falls hiking
Palouse Falls hiking

The trail led away from the falls, along the canyon towards an eventual descending trail down to the canyon floor a ways from the falls.

Palouse Falls trail
Palouse Falls trail

We walked on it for a little ways, but had no intention of trying to get down to the falls.

If your plan is to swim beneath the falls or hike down to the falls, please reconsider. There have been several deaths at Palouse Falls, the more recent ones including a man who fell when a ledge crumbled underneath him, and another where a man swimming under the falls got sucked under by the waterfall and drowned. It is extremely dangerous, and the falls are best enjoyed from the top of the canyon, a safe distance from the edge.

We may have been interested in exploring the trails on the top of the canyon away from the falls a bit more, had it not been 90 degrees with the strong possibility of rattlesnakes.

Regardless, the views were gorgeous and there were copious amounts of wild sunflowers.

Sunflowers
Sunflowers near the trail
View of parking lot and campground at Palouse Falls
View of parking lot and campground at Palouse Falls
Snake River leading to Palouse Falls
Snake River
Palouse Falls
Edge of the canyon

 

The area was gorgeous, and it was a nice morning activity from Walla Walla. I don’t think the trip to Palouse Falls would be worth the drive for a day trip from anywhere further away than an hour and a half. There isn’t a lot to do other thank take in the beauty of the falls and the surrounding canyon.

 

Staying near Palouse Falls:

For a longer visit, the tent campground at Palouse Falls State Park wasn’t great. There was no privacy at all and you have day trip visitors trekking through the campground constantly. It is also first-come, first-served, meaning that if you drive all the way out there and the campground is full, you are out of luck. However, I am willing to bet that at night when all the visitors are gone and it is just campers left, the stars probably look spectacular.

If you really want to camp in the area, you might be better off camping at the Starbuck/Lyons Ferry KOA a 15 minute drive away. I haven’t stayed there, but they take reservations and the campground is right on the Snake River. Their website shows swimming and boating activities available at the campground.

Overall, Palouse Falls and the surrounding Snake River area is a unique area in Washington State and definitely worth a visit.

 

 

Wine Tasting in Prosser, WA 2016

Wine tasting in Prosser, WA: Visiting a tiny historic town in the Horse Heaven Hills, with lots of wineries and a fabulous dinner

 

For our anniversary this year, we wanted a quick getaway out of the city, but we didn’t have a lot of time or money. Since we both love wine tasting and have so much of Washington’s extensive wine country left to explore, we decided to check out Prosser.

Prosser is in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills region of southern Washington State. It is about a 45 minute drive south east of Yakima, and an hour and a half west of Walla Walla. It was roughly a 3.5 hour trek from Seattle. We chose Prosser as it appeared from looking at the map that there were quite a few tasting rooms and a nice restaurant in walking distance from the Best Western, which meant that we didn’t have to worry about drinking and transportation.

We left Seattle at 8:00 AM on Saturday, timing our arrival in Prosser for right around when the winery tasting rooms open. Once we began our drive south on I-84 just after Ellensburg, the landscape changed dramatically. The mountain forests and valley farmland gave way to dry, rolling hills and desert sagebrush.

We arrived in Prosser just after 11:00, and ventured into the historic downtown area. It was late morning on a Saturday, but downtown had barely a soul in site. There were some antique shops open, but not a whole lot going on. The buildings were old, reminiscent of the wild west. Prosser felt like a ghost town that a group of people had recently decided to inhabit again.

Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA

We had brought some picnic items with us, but wanted to find a grocery store where we could get a baguette to go with our meats, cheese, and pickles. The only grocery store in town appeared to be the Prosser Food Depot in the downtown area. We were able to find a baguette, and the store looked like it had most of the essentials.

Armed with snacks, we were ready to taste some wine. Our first stop was 14 Hands Winery just on the outskirts of downtown. We were familiar with their commonly found grocery store wines, and wanted to know what else they had to offer.

14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA

14 Hands Winery is themed after the Horse Heaven Hills and the wild horses that once inhabited this region of Eastern Washington. Our host was very friendly and greeted us immediately when we walked in, and had no problem with us bringing in a few snacks while we were tasting the wine. There was a country band playing that was covering old Johnny Cash songs and other old-style country songs.

The wines we tasted were their reserves, only available at the winery. The reserve Syrah was our favorite of the wines we tried, which included a Savignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Rose of Malbec, a Cabernet, and a Merlot. They were all nice, but not wonderful enough to make us cough up the $30 a bottle price. The tasting fee was $7.00 per person, waived if you buy a bottle. They sell their regularly distributed wines there as well for $10-$12 a bottle, so it made sense to buy two of those for a few extra dollars than to pay the tasting fee.

Next, we moved on outside of town to one of the oldest wineries in the region, Pontin Del Roza. Pontin Del Roza Winery has been making wine since the 1980’s, but the Pontin family has been farming the land for the majority of the 20th century. The tasting room was air conditioned and quiet, giving us a chance to talk to owner for a bit.

Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA

Pontin Del Roza Winery had a very nice sweet (but not too sweet) Chenin Blanc, a couple reds that I hadn’t heard of (but wasn’t a huge fan of), and some other very tasty wines including a Merlot, a Cabernet, and a nice Rose.

The outdoor patio was very relaxing and there was a bocce ball court. We were welcome to sit and eat the rest of our picnic out on the patio. There were carafes of water with mint and cucumber, and sodas for sale as well. I ordered a glass of the Chenin Blanc to go with our picnic and got an extremely generous pour.

Pontin Del Roza Winery patio prosser
Pontin Del Roza Winery patio
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser

After lunch at Pontin Del Roza, we were ready to check into the hotel and ditch the car. You can only do a little bit of wine tasting if you are driving.

We checked into the Best Western at Horse Heaven Hills, which was about what you can expect a Best Western to be. It was nice to have AC and a fridge in the room, and the bed was comfortable.

Our room at the Best Western in Prosser
Our room at the Best Western in Prosser

We had chosen this Best Western because it was in walking distance to Prosser’s Vintner’s Village. Vintner’s Village is essentially the mini Disneyland of wine tasting, with 10 winery tasting rooms in one 32-acre area, along with one nice restaurant. There is also an RV park near the village with a RV sites, a couple of tent sites, and an outdoor pool as well if you want to camp.

Vintner’s Village is pretty much set up for wine tourism. The Village and the Best Western are fairly new, attempting to bring a collection of the regional wineries together in one spot, working together to make it convenient for tourists.

Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA
Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

You’re not going to find picturesque vineyards and gorgeous grapes growing in the sun here. It’s pretty much just a collection of very large tasting rooms with a few nice courtyards. However, it was nice to taste at our leisure and not have to worry about driving or transportation.

We only made it to two of the tasting rooms, as it was late in the afternoon. The tasting rooms are generally open from 11:00 or 12:00 to 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. The 91 degree desert sun was extremely hot. We approached a large complex called “Winemaker’s Loft” in the style of a Tuscan villa. Inside were a couple different wineries, and we started with Coyote Canyon.

"Winemaker's Loft" in Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
“Winemaker’s Loft” in Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

We tasted a lot of wine at Coyote Canyon, and the wine server and her little dog were very accommodating. We didn’t taste any that “wowed” us enough to buy a bottle, so we thanked them and headed next door to Martinez & Martinez. We were a bit tipsy at this point, so this was going to have to be our last stop. It was also just about closing time for the tasting rooms.

Martinez & Martinez has a little tasting room with a lot of Mexican-inspired art. The hosts were friendly. The best part about their tasting room however, was the frozen wine slushie machine. It was the perfect ending to our day of wine tasting on a hot Eastern Washington day. It was made with the Martinez & Martinez Rose, and tasted a lot like sangria with added fruit juice.

Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser

After we finished our slushie, we headed back to the room to cool off and rest for a bit.

Our dinner reservation was at 7:00 at the one restaurant in Vintner’s Village, Wine O Clock Wine Bar. I had read that reservations were strongly recommended, so I filled out their online contact form and requested a reservation the week prior.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

The restaurant is part of the Bunnell Family wine cellar. The dining room is set up like you are eating in someone’s house, with a very homey open kitchen, tables with Kitchen Aid mixers and cook books in the corners, and a TV with muted vintage Julia Childs cooking shows running on a continuous loop.

Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser
Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser

The menu changes weekly with the seasonal whims of the chef and her garden. You can pair your entree with a suggested wine flight instead of committing to a single glass so that you can get a sampling of the Bunnell wines while you dine.

The water served had cucumbers in it, which was a nice refreshing touch on such a hot day.

Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser

We started with the burrata, which came with a fruit jam, fresh figs, and toasted baguette slices. Everything was top quality, although we did think the burrata cheese could have used just a pinch of sea salt or something to zest it up a bit. Just a personal preference.

Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser
Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For our entrees, Paddy had the pork loin with sweet potato cakes, and I had the nicoise salad with a bearnaise sauce, golden beets, and seared ahi tuna. Both were delicious.

Paddy’s entree had fresh garlic greens that were delicious. We couldn’t believe we’d never had them before. They kind of tasted like a garlicky asparagus stalk. Everything was delicious.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For dessert we shared the chocolate mousse cake, which came with a dessert wine of sorts that the server told us to taste before she would tell us what it was. It was sweet and robust and very complimentary to the rich chocolate. It was a cherry cordial, with no grapes at all. The chef makes it to serve in the restaurant but doesn’t have a license to bottle and sell it at the moment.

Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

After dinner we walked outside into the warm twilight. It was such a nice evening, finally a comfortable temperature to walk around in. There was a party going on over at Winemaker’s Loft with a BBQ and a Mexican band. It looked fun but we didn’t feel like shelling out the $10 cover.

 

We wished we had the time and money to stay another night and check out more of the region and Vintner’s Village, but we’ll have to come back another time. The warm evening and the RV park across the street made us wish we had a trailer to camp in instead of the hotel.

Overall, Prosser was a great quick anniversary getaway and we’d love to come back. If you want to do some wine tasting in the Yakima to Walla Walla area of Washington, this is a great stop with easy access to a lot of wine and accommodations in one place.

Walla Walla, WA 2016: Sweet Onions and Wine

Walla Walla, Washington 2016: A quick girls’ weekend trip to Walla Walla during their annual Sweet Onion festival. Onions, great food, and wine, wine, and more wine…

 

I’d never been to Walla Walla, WA, or knew much about Walla Walla other than that it was in Eastern Washington, contained the state penitentiary, and was the home of the infamous Walla Walla sweet yellow onion.

My friend and I read that there was an annual Sweet Onion Festival every year in June, and we decided this year we’d check it out. In addition to onions, we assumed we’d be guaranteed sunshine on the east side of the Cascade Mountains (sunshine is not as frequent in Seattle in June), and we’d heard there was lots of great wine in the area and were hoping to do some wine tasting. Onions, sunshine, and wine–(three great tastes that go great together?) A girls’ trip seemed in order.

Day 1:

We left cold, rainy, Seattle at 6:30 AM to get a head start on the long drive. We were all wearing sundresses and tank tops, expecting gorgeous rays of 75 degree summer sun to blind us at any moment as we went over Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades.

To our disappointment, the rain and 56 degree temperatures continued to follow us from Seattle. Confident that the 75 degree sunshine that the weather report promised us would appear any moment, we cranked up some disco on the stereo and sallied forth to wine and onion country.

We ran into a little snag in our route with an accident fully blocking both lanes of a highway, and had to detour which turned our 4.5 hour drive into a 5 hour drive, but it wasn’t too bad. We had snacks. We arrived in Walla Walla at 11:30 AM, and checked into the Motel 6.

Motel 6 Walla Walla
Motel 6 Walla Walla

The Motel 6 was clean, basic, and the beds were comfy. A fridge was included, which we utilized. There was a laughably small pool off of the parking lot, and a convenience store next door. The best thing about the Motel 6 however, was the location. It was right in downtown Walla Walla and in walking distance to everywhere.

**Note: Hotel reservations recommended in advance for the Onion Festival weekend.

Unfortunately, it was still rainy and not any warmer than when we left Seattle. Gretchen (who is always prepared) had brought a couple umbrellas which helped tremendously as we walked around town. We were hungry, so we scouted out somewhere for lunch.

We didn’t scout very long. Despite the umbrellas, we were unprepared in our cardigan sweaters and sundresses for rain and the light wind that seemed to be picking up. We settled on the first place that looked good, which was Wingman Birdz & Brewz.

Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla
Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla

The food was good and the service was friendly. I had the “Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese” which was grilled cheese on brioche with three kinds of cheese, tomato, bacon, and avocado. It was delicious, albiet a little pricey at $12.00 for grilled cheese.

Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla
Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla

The rain and wind still weren’t letting up after lunch, so we ducked into the little Macy’s on Main Street in hopes of finding raincoats on sale. We were in luck, and found a raincoat and a hooded sweatshirt for $15 -$20 each in the deep discount section. Macy’s is a pricey store, but when they have a sale, they have a SALE.

The locals kept remarking on how unusual the weather was, and lamenting about the poor Onion Festival that was getting rained out. We passed the small corridor of vendor tents comprising the festival on our walk, but just didn’t feel like being in the rain. It didn’t look like we were the only ones, there weren’t a lot of people milling around at the festival.

We explored a couple antique shops, and a great little soap and body care shop on Main Street called Midnight Oil Soap and Apothecary. The very creative and fun soaps and personal care products are all made by the owner Kim on her farm outside of town, many made from goat milk from her own goats. I was enticed by some glittery cucumber melon body butter, which I regretted not purchasing then as we discovered the next day that she was closed on Sundays. Fortunately, she sells her products online as well. If you’re looking for a gift for someone, this is a great place to shop.

midnight oil wine soap walla walla
Image from http://midnight-oil-soap-apothecaary.myshopify.com/
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla

The rain still wasn’t letting up, (despite the weather reports on our phones still proclaiming 73 and sunny weather for the afternoon) so we decided it was time to start wine tasting. We ducked into the first tasting room we encountered, which was the Mark Ryan Winery.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

We tasted several wines, some with names that led me to believe that Mr. Ryan is an avid Pearl Jam fan (“Crazy Mary” and “The Dissident” for example). The tasting room had nice atmosphere and a very friendly host who came around to pour the wines for us while we sat by the window. We did find the $10 tasting fee to be a little steep here, but it is waived if you buy a bottle.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

The Dissident was our favorite wine that we tasted, a hearty red blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

Walla Walla has 25+ tasting rooms in the downtown area, which is actually a little overwhelming. We decided to ask our friendly host where she recommended we head to next, and she recommended the Rotie Cellars tasting room across the street.

The Rotie Cellars tasting room felt like a law office waiting room, pretty bland with not much character. The wines were quite the opposite, however. We loved them all, but the Southern White was my favorite. A very summery, fruity and refreshing wine for a hot summer day. The name and flavor made me want to go sit on a big porch in Georgia, eating peaches and drinking this wine on a hot, sticky, southern summer night.

There weren’t a lot of wines to taste (I think we tasted 4?) but they were all very nice. Tasting fee was $5.00.

Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla
Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla

We asked our friendly wine server at Rotie where he recommended going next, and he directed us over to 2nd Avenue just off of Main Street where there were a few of his favorites.

We found Spring Valley Vineyard, which our Rotie server highly recommended. This tasting room proved to be our favorite one hands down.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla

In addition to fabulous wines, Spring Valley is a family run vineyard with a lot of family history going back to the 1890’s. The service was excellent, with a dose of the family history to go along with it. I don’t know what the tasting fee was because we all bought wine here (it was waived with purchase, whatever it was), but if it is $10.00 it is worth it. They invite you to try all six of their wines, each one proudly named after a member of their family. You can taste the love in each sip.

In addition to delicious wine and excellent hospitality, we were served a chocolate truffle with our last wine–a Syrah named Nina Lee. The truffle was infused with the Nina Lee Syrah as well. That is the wine I went home with, along with a little two pack of the truffles to share with Paddy later.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla

When we left Spring Valley, we were significantly buzzed but couldn’t resist one more tasting room next door at Maison Bleue, another family-run winery with extensive vineyards in the Walla Walla area and two in the Columbia Valley.

Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla

At Maison Bleue we tasted four reds and two whites, including two different Chardonnays. The first Chardonnay was aged in stainless steel, the second was aged in a traditional oak barrel. I’m not a fan of oakey Chardonnay, but the stainless steel aged chardonnay was very nice. The Syrah was my favorite red, but I’m a little partial to Syrah.

When we left Maison Bleue– low and behold–the sun was finally out. A little drunk, we walked back to the hotel to lay in the sun near the tiny parking lot swimming pool. One of us may or may not have fallen into the pool fully clothed. The sun was nice. Eventually we were joined by children doing cannonballs, so we retired to the room to take naps before dinner.

Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla

 

For dinner we had made an 8:00 PM reservation at The Ox & Cart at the recommendation of the wonderful people at Spring Valley Winery. We’d had visions of enjoying more lovely Walla Walla wine with a nice dinner, but we were a bit wined out. The waitress gave me a funny look when I ordered a bloody mary, and asked if I had an evening hangover. Yes, something like that. The bloody mary was excellent–it came with house pickled pearl onions.

Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla

We were hoping that there might be a special dish for the onion festival highlighting the Walla Walla sweet onion, but it didn’t seem that many restaurants were on board with that. Nonetheless, The Ox & Cart was a great choice for dinner. It is part of the new farm-to-table style of cuisine focusing on regional organically grown food.

Gretchen and Kari shared the Amberjack Crudo appetizer, which they said was outstanding. I felt like I needed some fresh veggies in my life, so I ordered the Spring’s Bounty Salad as a starter, a fresh mix of asparagus tips, fava beans, cucumbers, and other veggies with green garlic and a champagne vinaigrette. It was just what I needed.

Spring's Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Spring’s Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

For an entree I had the Oregon Sole  with crispy potato cake and sauteed spinach, which I didn’t expect to be battered and fried but it was great regardless. I found it a tiny bit under-seasoned and could have used a bit of salt to jazz it up, but salt wasn’t provided on the table.

Gretchen had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with waffles, which she said was amazing. Kari had the Study in Foraged Mushrooms with charbroiled morels and porcini mushrooms, asparagus and wheat berries.

Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

All the food tasted extremely fresh and a lot of care was put into each dish. If I go back I may be tempted to bring some sea salt along in my purse though.

After dinner it was about 10:00, and we were tired but curious to see what kind of Walla Walla nightlife was going down. We did not find much. We found two bars that had some action–one was very crowded and the other had some kind of punk band all ages show going on. We weren’t feeling it for either of those scenes.

There was also a country/classic rock band playing the remnants of the little Onion Festival on Main Street, to a crowd of about 20. It was cute.

We were hoping to find a bar to have a quiet drink in, but there wasn’t much of any place that we saw to have a quiet drink in open at 11:00 PM. We were tired from an early morning and all that day drinking, so we decided to turn in for the night.

Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife
Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife

 

Day 2:

We woke up to the Eastern Washington summer sun shining full force outside. We checked out of the hotel and walked into town in search of sustenance.

We walked by Bacon and Eggs, which must be awesome because it was packed with a line out the door. We weren’t in the mood for a long wait, and decided on the Olive Marketplace on Main Street. There was no wait, and had shady tables outside on the sidewalk. Their menu was amazing. I wanted everything, it was hard to decide. Breakfast flatbread pizza with pork belly and farm fresh egg? Chevre asparagus strata? Maple braised pork belly with sweet potato hash? It was all too much. And that doesn’t even cover their baked goods, which were completely out of control.

Kari had a fig danish and the vegetable benedict with roasted veggies, Gretchen had the baked brioche french toast with pink lady apples and fresh berries, and I had the smoked salmon benedict with lox and poached eggs on a home baked biscuit with spinach. It was all outstanding.

Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla

I got a peek into the kitchen from the expansive dining area and there were several huge, delicious looking layer cakes standing on the kitchen island that were waiting for something.

You order at the counter, and food and coffee are brought out to you when they are ready. The prices were very reasonable. They also had a large display case of deli items such as olives and fancy cheeses ready for someone’s picnic. Their lunch menu looked amazing as well. I will definitely be coming back here next time I make it to Walla Walla.

Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla

After breakfast, we decided to check out the Sweet Onion Festival on Main Street. It was mostly two blocks of vendors lining the street, all selling arts, handicrafts, and local gourmet foods. I bought some organic garlic and some Walla Walla sweet onion mustard.

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

There were also some good photo opportunities:

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

We walked around the main part of town a little longer, visiting another great antique store called Tra Vigne on Main Street that had all kinds of treasures. Gretchen found a pie safe that she was in love with but was too big to transport back in her car. However, we found out that the owner does trips to Seattle and will deliver for a very reasonable price.

We made one last stop at Bright’s Candies to pick up some jelly beans for Kari’s kids before we headed home. They sell all kinds of classic candy as well as ice cream and house-made chocolates.

Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla

The drive back to Seattle took about 5 hours again, due to a slight slow-down on I-90 due to a couple of accidents. The long drive was worth it though, it was a short but very fun weekend.

I liked Walla Walla more than I thought I would, and I would absolutely visit Walla Walla again. The only large drawback is the long drive from Seattle. While the Sweet Onion Festival was cute, it turned out not to be the main draw. The main draw to Walla Walla these days is wine. It was the perfect place to sample some of the great wine that Washington State has to offer, with many vineyards you can drive to outside of town and tour, and a plethora of tasting rooms in the downtown area that don’t require driving (always something we look for with wine tasting). In addition, there seemed to be a number of great restaurants to compliment all that great wine, something that Paddy and I have had trouble finding on some of our other Washington wine tasting adventures.

I am looking forward to bringing Paddy back to Walla Walla in the future, and staying a bit longer than one night to see more of the area.