Travel: Walla Walla wineries

By John Gottberg Anderson For The Bulleitn
Published Aug 24, 2014 at 12:11AM / Updated Aug 27, 2014 at 08:47AM

Blending your own wine

Although it has much more to do with merlot than syrah, Walla Walla’s Northstar Winery offers wine lovers an opportunity to blend their own wine (with a personalized label) during the 90-minute, “Northstar Blending Experience.”

Beginning with an overview of Washington’s growing regions, participants are guided through a barrel tasting of four distinctive merlots, along with a cabernet sauvignon and a petit verdot. A winemaker offers instruction on blending techniques and strategies as guests — using such equipment as beakers and graduated cylinders — experiment with different percentages of the wines, finally settling on tastes that please their palates.

Offered, by appointment only, at 1:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday, the exercise is priced at $85 per person.

— John Gottberg Anderson

Expenses for two

Gas, Bend to Walla Walla, 551 miles (round-trip) at $3.85/gallon: $84.85

Lodging (three nights), Walla Faces Inn: $343.20

Dinner, T. Maccarone’s: $88

Breakfast, Walla Walla Bread Co.: $14

Lunch, Capstone Kitchen: $24

Dinner, The Marc: $110

Breakfast, Olive Marketplace: $23

Lunch, Graze: $20.15

Dinner, Saffron: $77

Breakfast, Bacon & Eggs: $32

TOTAL: $816.20

If you go

All addresses in Walla Walla, Washington

Information

Tourism Walla Walla. 26 E. Main St.; 877-998-4748, www.wallawalla.org.

Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. 5 W. Alder St., Suite 241; 509-526-3117, www.wallawallawine.com.

Lodging

Inn at Abeja. 2014 Mill Creek Road; 509-522-1234, www.abeja.net. Rates from $265.

The Marcus Whitman. 6 W. Rose St.; 509-525-2200, 866-826-9422, www.marcuswhitmanhotel.com. Rates from $109. The Marc Restaurant and Vineyard Lounge. Breakfast and dinner every day. Expensive.

Red Lion Inn & Suites. 325 E. Main St.; 509-529-4360, www.redlion.com. Rates from $59.

Walla Faces Inn. 214 E. Main St.; 877-301-1181, www.wallafaces.com/hotels . Rates from $110.

Dining

Bacon & Eggs. 503 E. Main St.; 509-876-4553, www.baconandeggswallawalla.com. Breakfast and lunch except Wednesday. Budget and moderate.

Capstone Kitchen (Wine Country Culinary Institute). 3020 E. Isaacs Blvd.; 509-527-4557, facebook.com. Lunch only, Tuesday to Thursday. Budget.

Graze. 5 S. Colville St.; 509-522-9991, www.grazeevents.com. Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, lunch only Sunday. Budget.

Olive Marketplace and Café. 21 E. Main St.; 509-526-0200, www.olivemarketplaceandcafe.com. Three meals every day. Budget and moderate.

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. 125 W. Alder St.; 509-525-2112, www.saffronmediterranean kitchen.com. Dinner from 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Moderate.

T. Maccarone’s. 4 S. Colville St.; 509-522-4776, www.tmaccarones.com. Moderate to expensive.

Walla Walla Bread Company. 225 E. Main St.; 509-522-8422, www.w2breadco.com. Breakfast and lunch except Sunday. Budget and moderate.

Wineries

Amavi Cellars. 3796 Peppers Bridge Road; 509-525-3541, www.amavicellars.com.

Gramercy Cellars. 635 N. 13th Ave.; 509-876-2427, www.gramercycellars.com.

Northstar Winery. 1736 JB George Road; 509-525-6100, www.northstarwinery.com.

Pepper Bridge Winery. 1704 JB George Road; 509-525-6502, www.pepperbridge.com.

Reynvaan Family Vineyards. 6309 Cottonwood Road; 509-525-3562, www.reynvaanfamily vineyards.com.

Sleight of Hand Cellars. 1959 JB George Road; 509-525-3661, www.sofhcellars.com.

Va Piano Vineyards. 1793 JB George Road; 509-529-0900, www.vapianovineyards.com.

Walla Walla Vintners. Vineyard Lane off Mill Creek Road; 509-525-4724, www.wallawallavintners.com.

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Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Jean-FranÁois Pellet, head winemaker at Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars, relaxes with a glass of syrah at Amavi. A Swiss native who came to Walla Walla in 1999, Pellet says the syrah grape is "extremely delicate Ö it seems very masculine but it doesnt like to be touched."
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Participants in Northstar Winerys "Blending Experience" use graduated cylinders and beakers to develop their own unique blend of red wine. The 90-minute course includes a barrel tasting of four distinctive merlots, a cabernet sauvignon and a petit verdot.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin The elegant lobby of the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel is a showplace in downtown Walla Walla. At 13 stories the tallest building for many miles around, the hotel was built in 1927 and fully renovated after its 1999 purchase by businessman Kyle Mussman.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Antonio Campolio, executive chef at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, works in the kitchen of The Marc restaurant, named 2014 "restaurant of the year" by the Washington Wine Commission. A West Virginia native, Campolio previous was head chef at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Original oil portraits by Candice Johnson, a Seattle-based, Paris-trained artist, hang on a wall at the Walla Faces Inn. Johnsons work also adorns the labels of Walla Faces wine ó produced by her brother and sister-in-law, hotel-and-winery owners Rick and Debbie Johnson.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin T. Maccarones, which bears the name of owner Tom Maccarone, is one of several sophisticated fine-dining restaurants in downtown Walla Walla. Others include the Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, Brasserie Four and Whitehouse-Crawford.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Barrels of grenache blanc and viognier are used for blending in small quantities with syrah at Reynvaan Family Vineyards. The winerys 2010 Stonessence Syrah was honored by Wine Spectator with a score of 96, the highest score ever given to a red wine in Washington.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Trey Busch, winemaker and partner at Sleight of Hand Cellars, shows off the collection of classic rock albums that entertain guests in his tasting room. Busch specializes in syrah, because "not a lot of varietals thrive in such a range of climates and temperatures," he said.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Despite its forbidding appearance, the terroir of The Rocks district, on the Washington-Oregon border southwest of Walla Walla, nurtures syrah grapes that local wine experts call "dense and powerful." The cobblestones are a legacy of the ancient Walla Walla River bed.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Bill vonMetzger, winemaker at Walla Walla Vintners, offers a barrel tasting at his winery on the city's east side. "Because there isn't a standard flavor profile for syrah," he said, "there is a sense of adventure when we make it ó we never know what we're going to get."
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin In mid-July, a cluster of syrah grapes has yet to change color from green to the deep blue-black it will carry in autumn, when grapes are ripe. The terroir was pioneered by Christophe Baron of Cayuse Cellars, who found it to be similar to Frances Ch‚teauneuf-du-Pape region.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Greg Harrington, a veteran New York sommelier, founded Gramercy Cellars in 2005. "I'm more concerned with making a wine you can drink for 10 years, than in making one totally ready to drink the day I release it," he said.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin A young couple discuss the merits of new syrah releases with the tasting-room manager at Gramercy Cellars. "Syrah is kind of like pinot noir with attitude," said owner-winemaker Greg Harrington, adding: "I think its an amazing grape."
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Winemaker Matt Reynvaan stands before the 10-acre Foothills in the Sun vineyard at Reynvaan Family Vineyards. "I think what makes us separate and unique is that we only use grapes that we grow ourselves," Reynvaan said.
Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin Lavender adds color to vineyards off Mill Creek Road on the east side of Walla Walla, where Walla Walla Vintners share fertile hills with Amaurice Cellars. These vines produce mainly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese, but they also hold a couple of acres of syrah.