Restaurant Spotlight: T. Maccarone’s

Visitors to Walla Walla wine country: Are you looking for fine dining with a local flair? Wondering what might be a good restaurant for a date, family gathering, or special occasion during your stay at Walla Faces? A few blocks away from our downtown inns is T. Maccarone’s, a self-described “modern Washington wine country bistro influenced by classic Italian sensibilities,” perfect for all these occasions and more.

I had the chance recently to sit down with owner and general manager Tom Maccarone in his beautiful blue and grey dining room. Born and raised here in Walla Walla, Tom opened the restaurant in 2005. He moved away to Seattle for years, working for Nordstrom’s and Eddie Bauer, before returning to his hometown and pursuing his true passion in the restaurant business.

The Food

From at big Italian family, Tom says that the restaurant initially served a lot of his own grandmother’s recipes and more traditional Italian food, but that the menu has changed and grown as he’s brought on new chefs and grown the business. These days, Tom says head chef Gerry Mezza is whipping up new delicacies all the time. “Yes, we have bolognese, tagliatelle, and we use gnocchi, but we have a lot of things that we play with curry, and have a lot of Asian-inspired food. So, you know, you have to stay relevant in the business, you have to stay on top of things, stay a step above what everyone is doing.”

Since we were already on the topic of the menu, I asked Tom about his favorite thing to order.

At first he just laughed. “Ohh, that’s tough. Probably my go to is the bolognese. It’s been on the menu for five, seven years… there are certain things that we just cannot change or take off the menu. For something lighter, not so filling, the halibut is just drop dead. For a mix, there’s the Land and Sea—it’s two beautiful lamb chops and two seared scallops. But there is nothing on the menu that I wouldn’t order!” I would have to agree—everything I’ve tried so far at T. Maccarone’s has exceeded my expectations, from the fresh, tangy pear and arugula salad to the rich and creamy lamb gnocchi.

It’s A Local Thing

T. Maccarone’s strives to serve “everything local we can get,” including everything from meat to eggs to herbs to, of course, wine. But the business is a love letter to Walla Walla in more ways than just its menu.

“I have a huge local following, ‘cause I was born and raised here,” Tom explained, rattling off a long list of friends, relatives, schoolmates, teachers, and other relations who regularly visit the restaurant. “It’s endless!”

“I’m really the only person that has this caliber of a restaurant in Walla Walla who was born and raised here… It’s an old community, it’s an old town, so the heritage here is strong and long.

Tom reflects that the familial feel of T. Maccarone’s is one of the things he tries hardest to create in his day-to-day work as the face of the restaurant. Even if customers are from out-of-town, he hopes to include them in the community when they visit T. Mac’s.

“My whole philosophy with this business is that I want people to feel at home here, I want them to feel comfortable, I want them to feel like they’re at my house having dinner. So the experience is me coming over to them, saying hello, asking them where they’re from, talking to them, making them feel welcome.”

T. Maccarone's dining room

T. Maccarone’s dining room

Owner and general manager Tom Maccarone

Owner and general manager Tom Maccarone

The chefs, waiters, and staff all come together at T. Maccarone’s to make Tom’s vision come to life.  The fresh, local food that is simultaneously classic and new, along with the modern and comfortable space and friendly faces, make this one of my favorite places in town to “go out.”

“Good food, good wine, good friends, and good atmosphere equals success to me,” Tom told me, looking around the room with a smile. We think so too!

T. Maccarone’s is located at 4 N. Colville Street, Walla Walla WA 99362, and is open daily 11:30-9pm for lunch and dinner. Call them at (509) 522-4776, or visit them online at http://tmaccarones.com/.

A Happy Accident: Our Guest House Renovation

One of the most exciting happenings at the Walla Faces Vineyard this season was the recent opening of our newly renovated guest house! However, it was somewhat of a last-minute addition to our spring to-do list…

In February, what you might call a “deep freeze” hit the Walla Walla valley. The winter’s icy temperatures were perfect for winemaking, and made a unique contribution to the production of our new rosé–but unfortunately, they were not so kind to our guest house. Before long, we discovered that a pipe had frozen and burst, flooding the building and ruining the floor, walls, and some furniture.

A team from local First Choice Restoration, led by Randy Wisdom, was there doing cleanup within the hour. Meanwhile, owners Rick and Debbie decided to turn the mess into an opportunity.

Instead of a mere reconstruction, the guest house received a full remodel, to give it an updated, cleaner, and more sophisticated atmosphere. It boasts all new drywall and a new white-washed oak floor. A larger, tiled fireplace is the centerpiece of the rearranged living room, while the bathroom has brand new tiling and fixtures. The updated space is airy, modern, and luxurious.

Our guest house was already one of our favorite places at the Vineyard. It is the largest available space, with a full kitchen and a hot tub. Even better, the windows and private patio have spectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding Blue Mountains. Now it’s more beautiful than ever, and it’s hard to think of a more peaceful place to spend a vacation.

Thank you, February! It turns out that pipe bursting was the best thing that could have happened to our guest house after all.

If you want to see the new space, now is a great time to book it for a few days! Go to http://www.wallafaces.com/hotels/ for details.

A Local Tradition: The Walla Walla Downtown Farmers Market

If you find yourself in Walla Walla for the weekend and take a morning walk down Main Street, chances are you will be drawn in off the sidewalk by the Downtown Farmers Market.

Walla Walla Farmers Market pavilion

The pavilion at the Downtown Farmers Market is hard to miss.

The market is a festive melee of local families, children, visitors and students, all enjoying live music and eating homemade snacks. Cheerful conversation floats around the earthy-smelling summer air. Bags bulge with mouthwatering produce—not just our famous sweet onions, but leafy greens, bright radishes, carrots, and tomatoes—whatever is freshest and most in season!

From May through October, more than seventy vendors gather at 4th and Main every Saturday, offering local produce, delicious homemade food, and arts and crafts. The market is a fixture of Walla Walla summers. It has gone up every weekend in this very spot since 1996. However, it is ever-evolving—this year, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation will also run a “Twilight Farmers Market” on Thursday evenings at a separate location on First Avenue. This new market starts in June, to ensure long, warm evenings for shopping, socializing, and perhaps watching the spectacular Walla Walla sunsets.

If, like me, you are always looking for an authentic local experience when you visit a new town, the Farmer’s Market is the perfect destination. On these sunny summer mornings, local buyers and sellers gladly welcome newbies, tourists, and out-of-towners. When I moved to Walla Walla four years ago, visiting the market on those first few lonely weekends made me instantly feel like a real part of the town’s community. It also gave me a chance to taste local food, contribute to local small business, and pick up a few cool gifts for my family back in Portland, handmade by Walla Walla residents. On my first visit to the Farmer’s Market I bought a box of fresh raspberries and a terrific duct tape wallet for my fourteen-year-old brother from a local kid who looked about the same age. Afterwards, I spent another hour walking slowly up and down the rows of tents and tables, listening to the bluegrass music, soaking it all in.

Whatever treats and treasures you might find, half the beauty of the Farmers Market is the chance to experience Walla Walla in a brand new way, and participate in a local tradition!

The Saturday Downtown Farmers Market began May 3rd and is located in Crawford Park at 4th Ave and Main and runs from 9am-1pm every Saturday. Thursday Twilight Farmers Market will begin June 5th on First Avenue. Visit http://downtownwallawalla.com/category/news/downtown-farmers-market/ or call (509) 529-8755 for more information.

Read more about the history of the farmer’s market here: http://wallawallalifestyles.com/to-market-two-markets/

The Tale of Our Rosé

Spring Release 2014 will be an exciting event at Walla Faces for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the release of our very first rosé! We recently sat down and spoke to winemakers Rick Johnson and Victor de la Luz about the creation of this one-of-a-kind wine.

Choosing the Grapes

Our grapes glowing in the summer sun

Rick and Victor worked hard to find the perfect grapes for our first rosé.

Our rosé is a blend of three grapes: Counoise, Syrah, and Mourvedre. As Rick explained, the rosé was first modeled after the classic ‘GSM’ blend from the Rhône region of France, which uses Grenache instead of Counoise. But when it came time to buy grapes, all the vineyards he approached were out of Grenache! Instead, Rick and Victor sampled Counoise grapes, and fell in love, deciding to use them in place of Grenache. “In fact, next year, we’re contracting in advance for all of their Counoise!” he laughed.

Counoise (pronounced “coon-wahz”) is a rare grape in the United States. Typically grown in Provence, France, the Counoise grape was only recently brought to the U.S. from France—in 1990, California’s Tablas Creek Vineyard brought cuttings of the vine from Château de Beaucastel. Those Counoise vines had to stay in quarantine for three years before they could be used to produce new American Counoise grapes! Even after the first Counoise vines cleared quarantine, it wasn’t until 2000 that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms approved the new wine. Thankfully, by the time we were ready to make our rosé, all that hassle was behind us, and Counoise grapes were readily available in the United States.

This unique combination of grapes means our rosé has a one-of-a-kind flavor. The Counoise grape lends the wine a unique, spicy quality, but the Mourvèdre grapes temper that and create a smooth, velvety texture. Finally, the Syrah increases the wine’s savory notes and balances the wine’s flavor profile. And of course, the wine’s gorgeous grapefruit color absolutely sparkles inside a wine glass. It’s definitely not a wine to miss!

Making the Wine

Rick was more than happy to share with us the process of making the rosé.

Once the grapes were picked, their juice was extracted by using a free run process; we allowed the weight of the piled-up grapes to determine what juice came out. This juice went straight to the fermenters, where it had to be “pumped over,” or circulated, two times a day! Victor sure got tired doing pump-overs again and again.

Victor de la Luz pumping wine

Victor got exhausted pumping the wine over and over and over again!

After the free-run, the remainder of the grapes were crushed for a red wine. Meanwhile, the rosé-in-progress was fermenting away, and once it reached a sugar content of 1.25%, the fermentation was stopped.

The next step was stabilization, which helps give the wine its clarity. At this step, wines are often cold-stabilized—supercooled via expensive equipment. Rick and Victor, however, had a flash of inspiration, and dragged the tanks of rosé out into the frigid Walla Walla winter! “It was so cold,” Rick said, “that Mother Nature did the job for us.” Mother Nature was so eager to do her job, in fact, that they had to bring the wine back indoors before it froze!

From there, it was just a few more steps. The wine was heat-stabilized, filtered with Bentonite clay for three to four weeks, and then racked. Rick and Victor adjusted the sulfur, and then it was bottling time!

Clear glass bottles being filled with rosé

Bottling the rosé was an all-day process.

The Perfect Blend of Talent

Rick and Victor worked together on Walla Faces’ first rosé. “Rick’s much more about the science, and getting the right numbers, while I brought the experience,” Victor said. “It was always nice to have Rick behind me, pointing out the things I didn’t see.”

Both are pleased with the result. “We fell in love with Counoise because of its flavor and floral aromas,” Rick said. “The rosé highlights that.”

“I’m happy with it,” Victor said, taking a sip. “It has a dry, long finish, with a very good balance between the residual sugar and acidity.”

“It’s a sophisticated rosé,” he added. “I can’t wait to start working on next year’s.”

We’re excited to add this striking new wine to our lineup. Once it’s released in May, visit one of our Walla Walla tasting rooms or check out our online store to give it a try!  You’ll be glad you did!

The Season for Pink

Pink wine?  What?

This May, Walla Faces is adding a new wine to its lineup: the 2013 rosé.  This wine was co-produced by winemakers Rick Johnson and Victor de la Luz.  It is the color of a beautiful Charlotte Armstrong rose— bright, pink and fresh—and it absolutely sparkles inside a wine glass.  With fragrant notes of cinnamon and strawberry, this beautiful beverage will give you a whole new appreciation for pink!

We are certainly embracing pink ourselves here at the winery! In honor of the rosé, we have replanted the gardens, which are now blooming bright with fresh new flowers and roses celebrating our new favorite color.

What makes wine pink?

You’ve heard of red wine and white wine. But how did we make a rosé such a bright color of grapefruit pink? No, we didn’t just blend red and white wines together, as I might have guessed a year ago! The answer has to do with where a wine’s color come from. I once assumed that green grapes made white wine and red grapes made red wine. But this is only partially true. You do need red or black grapes for red wine.  But as it turns out, you can use dark-colored grapes for white wines too!

Well, how does that work?

The color of a wine is actually determined during the winemaking process. After grapes have been harvested, they’re crushed to release their juice.  Left in the juice are the grape skins and seeds, called pomace. For white wines, the pomace is quickly removed from the juice, but for darker wines, the pomace is allowed to soak in the juice.

To make a rosé, as you might have guessed, you take the middle road. Rather than immediately removing the pomace, and rather than letting it soak in the juice until it turns deep red, you allow the pomace to soak for a short amount of time—usually a day or less. The result is a wine that isn’t as pale as a white or as dark as a red, but somewhere between the two.

Why else are we excited about rosé?

Rosé isn’t from a specific grape or region; it’s just a genre of wine, like red or white. The biggest producers by volume are France, Spain (where it’s “rosado”), Italy (“rosato”), and the United States. Most rosé wines are blends of multiple grapes. Some of the most common grape varieties used in dry/European-style rosé are Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir. The grapes that make up our rosé blend are typical of the rosés of the Provence region in France, but we’ve selected entirely North American grapes for the wine.

A rosé can represent the best characteristics of both red and white wines. For instance, some cheeses go better with white wine, some with red; yet almost all pair well with dry rosé, which has the acidity of white wine and the fruit character of red. Our rosé, which is a blend of Couinoise, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes, is at once spicy and velvety smooth, with both savory and fruity notes. We think it will make a scrumptious pairing with a spicy barbecue sauce, making it perfect for spring and summer parties.

We’re excited to add this striking new wine to our lineup. Once it’s released in May, visit one of our Walla Walla tasting rooms or check out our online store to give it a try!  You’ll be glad you did. Long live pink!

Want to learn more about the creation of our rosé? Read about the winemaking process here.

L’Occitane en Provence

When you check in to one of our hotel rooms, you’ll soon notice that we don’t stock our bathrooms with no-name soaps or shampoos. We believe that our guests deserve the best, so we use L’Occitane en Provence health and beauty products in our suites.

L’Occitane, of course, makes high-quality products, which is one reason we’re proud to carry them. But in addition to that, the L’Occitane company is an example of a business dedicated to important social causes. Today, we’d like to share the L’Occitane story, so you can know more about the bath products we offer at Walla Faces.

A wide selection of the L'Occitane products we stock in our hotel suites

From soaps to fizzy bath cubes, we’re proud to offer a wide variety of L’Occitane products.

The Origins of L’Occitane

L’Occitane began in the tiny local markets of Provence, France. In 1976, founder Oliver Baussan, only 23 years old, reoccupied an old soap-making factory to follow his passion for traditional Marseille-style soap-making. Using a distillation still, he extracted the essential oils from wild rosemary and used it to make shampoo. A year later, L’Occitane expanded and reserved its very first harvest of lavender.

Four years later, Oliver began traveling the world, coming into contact with exotic new ingredients. He fell in love with the shea butter made in Burkina Faso, Africa and ordered a large shipment.

The little-company-that-could continued to expand, and in 1990 became a fragrance merchant. In 1992, L’Occitane en Provence opened its first boutique location in Paris, and by 1997, the company had also opened various other boutique fronts in other major cities such as New York, Hong Kong and Japan. As of 2012, L’Occitane had over 2,000 stores internationally.

A Brand with a Conscience

L’Occitane isn’t just committed to producing luxurious soaps and fragrances—it’s also dedicated to numerous social causes. For instance, in 2001, L’Occitane began a partnership with Orbis, an international non-governmental organization (NGO), to fight blindness in developing countries. The French company was even one of the first in the world to feature labeling in Braille on its bath products.

In 2006, L’Occitane created the L’Occitane Foundation. This philanthropic organization exists to support the blind and visually impaired, and to fight for the international economic emancipation of women. In particular, the L’Occitane Foundation supports efforts toward these goals in Burkina Faso, where Oliver Baussan first fell in love with shea butter. The United Nations Development Programme has even recognized L’Occitane as an “exemplary company”!

If that weren’t enough, L’Occitane also takes steps to encourage traditional cultivation of the ingredients in its products, doesn’t conduct animal testing, and purchases shea butter directly from women in Burkina Faso, earning their products the Ecocert “Fair Trade” certification. Clearly, L’Occitane is a brand with a conscience.

When you come to visit us in Walla Walla, you can feel reinvigorated by the indulgent L’Occitane products we feature, like zesty citrus verbena shampoo, or effervescent sugar cubes designed to make your baths that much more relaxing. But more than that, you can take comfort in the fact that the products you’re using come to us from Provence, France, home of a socially responsible brand!

Eager to enjoy a luxurious stay in our hotels? Learn more and make reservations here. For more information on the history of L’Occitane en Provence, check out their timeline and brand page.

Go Take a Hike!

Do you like to hike? If you do, then you’re in luck! Walla Walla’s surrounding area is full of gorgeous hiking routes and leisurely scenic walks—perfect for pairing with a weekend of wine tasting. After nearly four years living here, I’ve developed a few favorite hikes in Walla Walla and the surrounding area.

Harris Park

Just 14 miles south of Milton-Freewater, Walla Walla’s southern neighbor, is Harris Park. Although today, it’s owned and managed by Umatilla County, it actually began its life in the 1920s, as a Boy Scout camp owned by the Rotary Club of Walla Walla. About thirty years later, in 1950, most of the land was given to the County, and it was developed into a recreational area.

Today, the park features many different trails, which allow you to hike right along the Walla Walla River. On your hike, you’ll see various types of plants, breathtaking formations of ancient basalt, wonderful views of the river, and even spots to hop in and take a dip!

Harris Park is open from March to October 15th, weather permitting. You can learn more about the trails here or by visiting the Harris Park website.

Bennington Lake and Rooks Park

Want a mild hike? Take a ten-minute drive from our downtown hotel and check out Bennington Lake and its neighboring park, Rooks Park.

Bennington Lake is a recent addition to the Walla Walla landscape, all things considered. Back in the early 1900s, there was a great deal of concern about the possibilities of Mill Creek flash-flooding incidents—and in fact, in 1931, Mill Creek overflowed, spilling into the streets of downtown Walla Walla! The Army Corps of Engineers responded by constructing Bennington Lake, a man-made reservoir designed to protect both Mill Creek and the city of Walla Walla from dangerous flooding.

This man-made lake offers a wide variety of fun activities. Of course, there’s hiking—20 miles of multipurpose trails surround Bennington Lake provide the most scenic hikes in Walla Walla. But if you’re not in the mood for hiking, Rooks Park and Bennington Lake together offer picnic tables, a playground, BBQ grills, and even a sand volleyball court. And if you’re fond of fishing, you’re in luck—the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with rainbow trout every spring!

The sun setting over a trail a Bennington Lake

The Bennington Lake trails offer gorgeous views at sunset.

Rooks Park is open year-round, from 7:00am until sunset. The Bennington Lake area is open year-round, from 5:00am until 10:00pm.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is a bit further than the two parks above, but it’s well worth the extra effort. Located about 90 minutes northeast of Walla Walla, the Palouse Falls State Park is named for the 200-foot waterfall it contains, which was designated Washington’s state waterfall in February 2014.

Not only is the waterfall an impressive sight, it’s also been the site of a hair-raising stunt. On April 21st, 2009, kayaker and adrenaline junkie Tyler Bradt descended Palouse Falls in a kayak, setting an unofficial world record for the highest waterfall descent! If you aren’t feeling like that much of a daredevil, though, you can take a hike around the Palouse River Canyon and bask in the beauty of the grand waterfall and its surroundings.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls drops nearly 200 feet. It’s taller than Niagara Falls!

Palouse Falls is open from 6:30am until dusk in the summer, and 8:00am until dusk in the winter. You can learn more about it on the Washington State Parks website and on the Washington Trails Association site.

The Walla Walla Wheat Fields

Finally, if all else fails, you can always go for a leisurely stroll along the golden wheat fields just outside of Walla Walla!

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day

When you think of Valentine’s Day, what comes to mind? A romantic getaway with someone special? An elegant bottle of red wine? Or perhaps… chocolate? In recognition of the holiday, we’d like to take a look at chocolate—its history, the offerings here in Walla Walla and in our very own tasting room!

Although today, chocolate seems like the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift, its association with the holiday is actually fairly recent. St. Valentine’s Day has existed since the 1400’s, yet it wasn’t until the late 19th century that a Briton named Richard Cadbury introduced “eating chocolate” as a treat to share with one’s valentine. Almost 500 years of Valentine’s Day without chocolate—can you believe it? Naturally, once Cadbury introduced the idea of edible chocolates in lavishly decorated boxes, it took off. And today, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate can be found everywhere in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day!

One place to find delicious chocolates in Walla Walla is the legendary Bright’s Candies. Located in an historic building on Main Street, Bright’s has been hand-crafting candies and chocolates since 1934, and is a local favorite for everything related to sweets. Walk up to the counter and you’ll see rows and rows of handmade chocolates, as well as vintage glass jars filled to the brim with gummies and other candies. Love Jelly Belly jelly beans? A wall in the back of the store is loaded with every flavor imaginable. And for a cool treat during the summer months, Bright’s serves scoops of ice cream. You can even stick your nose to the glass and watch the master candymakers at work! You truly have to see it to believe it.

Of course, very little pairs with chocolate—or Valentine’s Day—like red wine. As part of Walla Walla’s “February is for Foodies” promotion, Walla Faces wine has conspired with Bright’s to produce scrumptious chocolate cordials infused with our 2009 Syrah, “Bill”. The rich, dark taste of the Syrah mingles with the smooth, sweet chocolate, producing an exquisite taste combination. We’re sure you’ll fall in love with them!

Through the entire month of February, each wine tasting will be coupled with a complimentary cordial. So if that sounds like your kind of treat, come visit us! We’re open every day from 1-6pm. From all of us at Walla Faces, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!

In Walla Walla, February is for Foodies

It may be cold and sunny in Walla Walla during February, but things are cooking here! Literally! Here in Walla Walla, it’s all about food and culture for this entire month. At least, that’s what the “February is for Foodies” promotion suggests, which is about to kick off its third annual iteration.

Started in 2012 as a way to promote local restaurants and wineries in the middle of the otherwise slow season, Tourism Walla Walla’s month-long promotion offers visitors a special glimpse of Walla Walla’s gourmet culture.

Many of the local restaurants are joining in the celebration by offering special menu items throughout the month of February. One of our favorites, T. Maccarone’s, is hosting a “Sommelier’s Valentine Wine Dinner” on Sunday the 16th. And for a breakfast or lunch option, Maple Counter Café is presenting White Chocolate Raspberry Pancakes, drizzled with their homemade Lemon Curd Anglaise. Oh my!

For home chefs who want to whip up delectable meals in their own kitchens, the Wine Country Culinary Institute, located at the Walla Walla Community College, will be offering cooking classes each Saturday during the month. For your $30 entry, you will enjoy instruction, a light lunch and wine tastings. This entertaining lunch will run from 11:30am – 1:30pm. For tickets, call Tourism Walla Walla at 509-525-8799.

Barb Commare, marketing and communications manager at Tourism Walla Walla, says she’s excited for the promotion to begin. “It’s so much fun putting it together and seeing the creativity of local businesses shine through.”

After three years of “February is for Foodies,” Barb has nothing but high hopes for the promotion’s future. “We want it to continue,” she says, “making it bigger and better every year.”

Of course, no celebration of Walla Walla’s food culture would be complete without wine! Many of the wineries will participate in the promotion by offering guests chocolates made locally, by chocolatiers such as Bright’s Candies, Alexander’s and Petits Noirs.

The complete list of this year’s “February is for Foodies” promotions can be found on the Tourism Walla Walla website, right here.

So, how is the weather, you ask? The weather has been quite nice this winter, with very little snow on the Snoqualmie Pass, traveling from Seattle, WA, and along I-84 from Portland, OR. Although this time of year is not known to be warm, we do have many sunny days here in Walla Walla and very little rain.

If you’re looking for something fun to do, something to entertain you, and possibly educate you, this might be just the adventure. Come and enjoy a day or two of food, wine, and fun–you might just discover your inner chef!