Eastern Washington. If you don’t live in the state of Washington, you probably haven’t heard much about it. Washington is known for Seattle, and all that goes with that great city — the coffee, the food, Pike’s Place Market, the Space Needle, the ferries, the music scene, the view of Mt Rainier — but on the other side of the state is a land that is unique and special in it’s own right. The eastern side of Washington is arid and hot with golden brown rolling hills and blue skies that stretch for miles. It’s also wine country. With 200 plus wineries in the area of the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla County, there are countless places to while a weekend away, even with a toddler in tow. Unlike some wine destinations, the Walla Walla region isn’t snooty. Every place we visited was unique and welcoming, all eager to pour a taste of their delicious wines even with our rambunctious toddler in sight. We found the area to be surprisingly kid friendly. A few of the places we stopped even offered up toys, soccer balls, and/or chalk for drawing to keep the little ones entertained while the adults sipped and savored — Isla wasn’t the only kid spotted on the wine tasting circuit.
From the Seattle area, it’s roughly a 3 hour drive to Yakima where the wineries and all the fun begins. We chose to stay in Walla Walla, which is roughly another hour east, but beyond the food scene, there isn’t much in the town of Walla Walla itself. There are plenty of hotels, bed and breakfasts, or Air BNBs in the area to tickle whatever fancy or budget you have. So pick a spot, any spot, in southeastern Washington, and you’ll be surrounded by delicious wine and food.
We start our tasting journey at the grand estate of Terra Blanca which has an entrance that has yet to be topped in this region. A wisteria-covered walkway leads to a double door fit for a giant. Thankfully the entrance isn’t misleading. The tasting is just as bold as the entrance. We shared a red tasting and were pleasantly surprised by the flavors and boldness of their staples and their blends. Their signature Onyx blend in particular blew Samuel away with its vanilla aftertaste that lingered long after the initial taste. I was drawn to their bold Malbec. We bought a bottle of both 🙂 If you’re a white fan, they do have a mix tasting available.
What makes this place even better is the Vineyard Grill that is open on the weekends from April through October. The patio seating overlooks the distant red mountains and miles of grape vines. There are worst places to order delicious wood-fired pizzas and salads. You could spend hours here drinking the delicious wine and enjoying multiple courses of delicacies, making this the one and only stop in your wine journey, but I would recommend jumping back in your car and heading farther east because there is so much more to explore.
From Terra Blanca, we head east on I-182 to US-12. On US-12, you will meet the Columbia River and one of my favorite views of the drive: Wallula Junction where the river curves and is dwarfed by cliffs. Coming back west, the view isn’t as grand so soak it up.
Our next stop is the winery of L’Ecole No. 41 where the venue isn’t quite as grand as Terra Blanca, but the building has history and character. It’s an old school house from 1915 where the floors creak and the windows have waves. It’s a beautiful building and it beckons to be explored. They grow and produce 100% of their own wine, and you can taste it in their product. Their oaky chardonnay stood out for me.
Next, we head south of Walla Walla to another one of my favorites, Amavi Cellars. The wine is incredible, especially their Cabernet Franc, but what is wonderful about this place is the view. From their tasting room, you get a chance to soak in the Walla Walla Valley and the Blue Mountains. The staff is lovely, and they also have a cute gift shop with all kinds of fun t-shirts to represent the area.
There are so many vineyards in this area, you could close your eyes, spin around and start walking toward another vineyard, and most likely have a wonderful tasting experience, but if you are ready to indulge in a culinary delight, drop everything and head to Saffron in downtown Walla Walla. The mediterranean cuisine in this small but beautiful restaurant cannot be beat. We had grilled squid, falafel, cauliflower, tahini and eggplant, and grilled lamb sausages with a side of pita, and every bite was better than the last. As they brought each dish, we couldn’t get over the intensity of the flavor, the freshness of the ingredients, or the attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked. Then when it came to dessert, we simply couldn’t choose, so we ordered the velvety mocha ice-cream for Isla, and we had the Lebanese semolina cake with honey labneh and peaches. We are still talking about it. I would drive back to Walla Walla — yes, the 4 hours back– just to eat this meal again. It was phenomenal.
After this meal, sleep. You need to savor it and dream about it.
The next morning grab lattes and pastries as well as a couple loaves of bread from the Walla Walla Baking Company, locally owned and operated. The pastries are scrumptious and the coffee is Italian, so there’s not much to complain about. Their wheat sourdough is making delicious toast at our breakfast table as I write this, so I definitely recommend checking out the bakery if you’re in the area.
This is when we head back east, (if you have more time, by all means stay and try as many of the unique wineries as you can safely handle) but there are still several delicious places to stop on the way back including the Chukar Cherry headquarters in Prosser, Washington. If you like chocolate, just don’t think about it. You’re stopping. They have all combinations of dried cherries and nuts covered in milk, dark, and white chocolate, as well as some of the best trail mix selections out there. Dried cherries with pistachios, almonds and dark chocolate chunks? Yes, please.
Next head to Silver Lake winery that has a fun venue for adults and children. For parents, this is where you can really take a deep breath and relax. There is a big grassy play area with soccer balls and corn hole with picnic tables for lounging and sipping, and let’s not forget the view. It’s a stunning picture of the Yakima Valley with miles of grape vines. Just park it here for as long as you need to.
A great place to end the journey back to the Seattle area (especially on a hot summer day) is at Treveri Cellars. They specialize in sparkling wines, from dry to sweet, white to red, and their tastings are free! You can’t beat that. Delicious sparkling wine for free — what’s not to love? They also have a grill area where we ordered a delicious burger and fries for lunch. I particularly fell in love with the Sparkling Riesling and ended up having a glass which was a refreshing end to our 90F+ day!
Sadly that’s a wrap on our weekend escape to the Walla Walla and Yakima Valley wine region. It was only a four hour drive across the state, but it truly felt like we were in a different country. At times, it reminded us of Israel or the desert in Arizona, and of course there were many moments when thoughts of Tuscany rolled through our minds. But while Walla Walla Valley may recall these very diverse places, it is still a unique place with its own charm and flavor. I encourage you to take the time to venture down her dusty paths around her vineyards and orchards, sip her wine and taste her fruits because you never know what you might find.
Never stop exploring ~ Happy Travels