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!

The History of the “Walla Walla Inns at Historic Downtown”

The Walla Faces Inn at Historic Downtown is housed in one of the oldest, most prominent buildings in Walla Walla: the Hungate Building.

Erected in 1905, this building has stood on as Walla Walla has progressed from a rural farming town to a bustling, elegant destination.

The Washington Territory was created in 1853 and Walla Walla County was created a mere year later. Subsequently, the city of Walla Walla was laid out by the surveyor H. H. Chase in 1859. The property is a part of the oldest patent in Walla Walla, dated from 1861, which was before Walla Walla was incorporated as a city. Its first owners were A. J. Cain, the newspaper financier and Walla Walla prosecuting attorney who was known as “the Father of Columbia County”, and A. H. Reynolds, who established Walla Walla’s first bank. The area housed a grain warehouse in 1884, an agricultural supply store in 1888, and a blacksmith shop in 1894. Although these small businesses fit the needs of the rural farming community, some local businessmen had grander ideas.

In 1903, the property was purchased by Harrison H. Hungate, an educated farmer who served as the Walla Walla County treasurer. The area that now houses a bustling downtown was rows of stables and Hungate had to seek permission of the livestock owners to build his two-story building. As soon as the ink was dry on his contract, Hungate got to work.

Hungate employed an architect named Henry Osterman, a German immigrant who designed many of the prominent buildings in Walla Walla, including the Whitman College Administration building, Green Park Elementary, Sharpstein Elementary, Liberty Theater, and Carnegie Library.

Osterman immigrated to the United States in 1889, where he worked as a carpenter. On the side, he designed his own house and learned to speak English. His skilled work garnered so much attention that he was able to open an architectural firm in 1899. According to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Osterman designed “practically all the important business and office buildings in the city, together with many of the finer residences”.

The exterior of the Hungate Building in historic downtown Walla Walla

The Hungate Building in historic downtown Walla Walla, home to Walla Faces

Construction began in 1904 and the Walla Walla Hotel was finally erected in 1905 with the same address that the Walla Faces Hotel at Historic Downtown holds today: 214 East Main. When Hungate died in 1916, his daughters split inn property equally. It was kept in the family until 1972, when its ownership again came into flux. The Hungate Building hosted a variety of short-lived businesses ranging from ice cream to barber shops.

Rick and Debbie Johnson, the Walla Faces owners, purchased the Hungate Building in 2005, continuing the building’s historical tradition as one of the most prestigious hotels in the Walla Walla Valley.

Want to see it for yourself? Check out our Hotels page for more information about the Hungate Building’s latest evolution and to make a reservation!

The 2013 Fall Teaser

It’s fall! The leaves have turned and are fluttering off the trees, and wineries around the Walla Walla Valley are preparing to open their doors and cellars for the big event this weekend: the 2013 Fall Release!

Here at Walla Faces, we’re busy preparing for our next release, in spring 2014. However, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate, so this weekend, we’re inviting you to our 2013 Fall Teaser!

We’ll be hosting a cozy reception at our downtown tasting room and art gallery this Saturday, November 2nd, from 3 to 6 pm. For your typical $5 tasting fee (free for our wine club members, of course), you can taste a sample of our work-in-progress 2012 Estate Syrah and our soon-to-be-bottled 2012 Tempranillo.  Tempranillo is a diverse food-pairing wine with great flavors of cherry and plum followed by a little vanilla and clove.  This wine pairs beautifully with lasagna, pizza and other tomato-based sauces.

Come chat with our assistant winemaker, Victor De La Luz.  You’ll enjoy his charismatic personality and stories of this year’s harvest.

We’ll also have some tasty tidbits of  luscious chocolates filled with the 2009 Estate Syrah, “Bill,” and samples of various cheeses paired with our current wines.

A small plate of chocolates beside a glass of red wine

Wine and chocolate–a heavenly pairing for our Fall Teaser!

This weekend’s your only chance! Stop by the downtown tasting room, at 216 E Main St., and celebrate Fall Release with us!

Fall Teaser – Event Details

  • What: 2013 Fall Teaser
  • Where: Walla Faces Downtown Tasting Room and Art Gallery, 216 E Main St.
  • When: Saturday, November 2, 3-6pm
  • Cost: $5 per person
  • Details: Meet our assistant winemaker, Victor de la Luz, sample our upcoming Tempranillo, and try nibbles of Bright’s Syrah-filled chocolates and premium cheese.

Why start a tasting with red wines?

If you’ve dropped by the Walla Faces tasting room, you may have noticed something a little unconventional about our tasting order: we start with our red wines and move to our whites. Usually, when you do a wine tasting, it’s the other way around entirely! So, what is the benefit of moving from red to white wines?

Although the order may seem unusual, the reason we, at Walla Faces, go from red to white comes from traditional wine tasting sequences. There are two classic orders for wine tasting. Firstly, people move from light wines to heavy wines. Because tannins can build up in your mouth, ending a tasting on richer, heavier wines prevents any residual tannins from tainting your impression of a lighter, more playful wine. The second classic tasting order involves starting with dry wines and ending with sweet wines. Moving from a sweet wine to a dry wine can cause the drier wine to taste comparatively sour. Thus, it’s usually best to “end on dessert”.

For many wineries, these two orders are the same. For example, a winery might start a tasting with a dry Chardonnay and end on a sweet, heavy Port. For us, they are not the same! We have a sweet, light dessert wine: our 2008 Ice Wine.

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

A Walla Faces wine tasting moves from red to white!

We’ve adjusted the traditional wine tasting order to really showcase the wines that we make, moving through the wines the same way you might move through a meal. We start with our ‘appetizers’, which are our lighter, smoother reds: the 2008 Fusion Red and the 2009 Syrah. We move to our ‘entrees’, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet. Finally, we end on our ‘desserts’, the 2010 Riesling and 2008 Riesling Ice Wine. Within the red wines, we stick to the classic ‘light to heavy’ order. However, by moving from red to white, we don’t affect our palettes by putting sweet wines ahead of their dry counterparts.

The “whites to reds” order is usually a good rule of thumb. However, it is sometimes necessary to adjust a rule to fit wines you want to highlight!

Wine Grapes Vs. Table Grapes: A Comparison

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting our vineyard just before harvest, you might be surprised at the dramatic differences between wine grapes and table grapes (the grapes you might buy in the grocery store)! Although both wine grapes and table grapes are the same genus, Vitis, they have many disparate characteristics.

Wine grapes are always one particular species of grapes: Vitis vinifera. This is a species that is native to the Mediterranean region, ranging from central Europe to northern Iran. Table grapes, on the other hand, vary. Some table grapes, such as Red Globe grapes, are also Vitis vinifera. Others are a cousin of the traditional wine grape. Concord grapes, for example, are Vitis labrusca, a vine that is native to the Eastern United States.

Table grapes and wine grapes have been selectively bred for different qualities, meaning that the grapes are pretty dissimilar! In comparison to table grapes, wine grapes are very, very small, closer to a centimeter in diameter. They have very thick skins, which will ultimately impart a lot of flavor onto the wine. Table grapes tend to have thin skins that are easier to munch on, meaning they’ll pop delightfully in your mouth. Wine grapes also have big seeds, which take up a huge part of the fruit. As a result, when you bite into the thick skin of a wine grape, they’ll sploosh open, leaving you with a big, hard seed.

Table grapes vs. wine grapes Walla Faces

Table grapes vs. wine grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon from the Walla Faces vineyard)

Wine grapes are also much sweeter than table grapes, since that sugar is necessary for fermentation. Wine grapes are harvested when they are around 22-30% sugar. Table grapes might be closer to 10 or 15% sugar.

In addition to the genetic differences between wine grapes and table grapes, the vines are also treated differently. The T-shape of the grapevines maximizes their exposure to the sun. Table grapes use a trellis system in which the grapes hang under the vines. They get less exposure to the sun this way, but they don’t rub against each other. This increases the amount of fruit they can produce, yielding up to thirty pounds of grapes per vine. (For comparison, wine grape vines would be lucky to get to ten pounds!)

Worldwide, there are 75,866 square kilometers dedicated to grapes. A solid 71% of these grapes are used for wine. 27% are consumed fresh fruit and 2% as dried fruit. Thus, it seems that even though wine grapes aren’t as delicious right off the vine, their unique characteristics make them the more popular of the two!

Restaurant Spotlight: Whoopemup Hollow Cafe

Opened in 2005, Whoopemup Hollow Cafe has quickly gained a reputation for being one of the tastiest culinary experiences in the Walla Walla Valley. Their Cajun-inspired Southern menu draws Walla Walla residents and tourists alike to the sleepy town of Waitburg, a tiny municipality that is northeast of the Walla Walla city limits.

The four owners, Ross Stevenson, Valerie Mudry, Bryant Bader, and Leroy Cunningham,  each bring a different skill set to the table. Stevenson, Mudry, and Bader got their start in the fine dining industry in Seattle. “Between the three of us, there’s probably 100 years of restaurant experience!”, Stevenson notes. Cunningham’s specialty is woodwork and interior design. With Bader as the chef, Mudry as the pastry chef, and Stevenson and Cunningham working out of the kitchen, the Whoopemup Hollow Cafe works like a well-oiled machine, with four hard-working owners. “We’re all from the school of hard knocks,” Stevenson observes.

Stevenson and Cunningham originally came to Waitburg to open a B&B. When Mudry and Bader came to visit, the Whoopemup dream was born! The Cajun inspiration came from the passions of the chefs. Although none of the four owners are from the South themselves, Stevenson assures me, “We like to eat it and we like to cook it!” The delicious and unique menu certainly draws a crowd. “When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it’s important to be something out of the ordinary to make people want to visit you,” says Stevenson. (The restaurant is a little bit off the beaten path; it’s about a half an hour drive from the Walla Faces Inn at Historic Downtown.)

 

Luckily, the fantastic food more than makes up for the trip. My personal favorites include the Boudin-Stuffed Beignets and the Sausage and Chicken Gumbo. If you can save room for dessert (a hard task), your socks will surely be knocked the rest of the way off! Each dessert is not only sumptuous and delicious, it’s a bonafide work of art.

The rich farming community of the Walla Walla Valley ensures that the Whoopemup Hollow Cafe’s food always tastes its best. “We get as much local produce as we can,” says Stevenson. Fruits and vegetables come from a local farmer in Dayton. Their andouille sausage comes from the award-winning local butcher, Blue Valley Meats. Cheese is purchased from Monteillet Fromagerie, a farmstead artisanal cheese facility in the Walla Walla Valley who produce goat and sheep cheeses. Steaks hail from Painted Hills, a grassfed beef pasture in Fossil, Oregon.

Whoopemup is definitely a place to relax with some delicious food. As the menu reads, “Sit back and relax; you’re in WAITSburg!” Stevenson adds, “Come to have a good time. We’ve all been in fine dining for so long… I just want to have a good time and serve some delicious food!” It’s awfully difficult to argue with an invitation like that.

Walla Faces 2013 Syrah: Harvested!

At the Walla Faces Estate Vineyard, we grow two of Walla Walla’s signature grape varieties: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two grapes ripen at different rates, meaning we need to harvest on different dates. The Syrah grapes are always ready to pick before the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Cabernet grapes are usually 2-3 weeks behind the Syrah in terms of being ready to harvest.

As predicted, the warm summer weather bumped up the date of harvest significantly.  Last year, we harvested our Syrah grapes on Halloween. As the Tasting Room staff handed out candy to swarms of Walla Walla youth, Rick, Debbie (owners) and our vineyard staff were hard at work harvesting the grapes! This year, we harvested the Syrah almost a month sooner: on October 5th.

As winemaking has progressed, it has become increasingly scientific. In centuries past, vineyard owners decided when to harvest based on taste alone. Now, most wineries use quantitative analysis to ensure that their grapes are top-notch at harvest. At Walla Faces, we do a bit of a hybrid. On Thursday, October 3rd, we brought our grapes to ETS Laboratories, an analytical lab that provides services to Walla Walla wineries. There, we measured the sugar, acidity, and pH. Our grapes tested at 26 Brix (26% sugar), suggesting that harvest should be imminent. These slightly higher sugar levels help us ensure that the flavors of our wine are fully developed before we start crush. However, we feel that you cannot harvest based on numbers alone. Our second step is to go through the vineyard and taste! We are immortalizing this flavor, so it has to be perfect. Rick and Victor de la Luz (Assistant Winemaker) tasted the grapes and found them excellent.

 

“We spent Friday rallying the troops!” Debbie, a Walla Faces owner, noted.

Victor called our vineyard crew to see if they were available to pick on Saturday.  Fortunately, they were available to pick Saturday morning.

On Saturday, the weather was brisk, but sunny, in the high 60s. Ten people, including Victor and the two owners, Rick and Debbie, hustled. They managed to harvest our grapes in three hours. From there, the grapes were brought to the Walla Faces Winery for crush. Rick, Victor, and helpers sorted the grapes and crushed them, finishing at one thirty Sunday morning!  The Syrah grapes are now fermenting on their way to becoming our 2013 Syrah.

Although the Walla Faces 2013 Syrah is well on its way to your table, the big task is still yet to come. We have 7.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon that are yet to be harvested.  We will start harvesting these grapes next week.

“Pairing on Main” Raises Money for Cancer Fund

September 21st was a busy day in the Walla Faces Tasting Room. (It was one of those days where your pace has to be consistently stay between a fastwalk and a sprint.) Not only did we have an endless stream of customers during our regular tasting hours, between 1 and 6, at 6pm the entering crowds became a veritable flood. It was time for “Pairing on Main”, a food and wine event organized by Providence Saint Mary Medical Center, a local full-service hospital.

2013 was the 9th annual Providence Saint Mary Gran Fondo. Gran Fondo, which means, “the Great Ride” started out as a bike riding event to help raise money for the Cancer Special Needs fund. This fund is essential for providing support to local cancer patients. Help ranges from medication to wigs and supportive undergarments for breast cancer patients. Since its advent, it has expanded, allowing participants to choose an event, including a walk, a motorcycle ride, a 5k fun run, a horse trail ride, and a cycling event. For the past five years, Providence Saint Mary has also organized a “Pairing On Main”, which couples local wineries and restaurants to create a series of culinary experiences as guests. This is Walla Faces’ second year participating in “Pairing on Main”.

100% of the money that is raised from Gran Fondo goes directly to Walla Walla patients and their care.

I sat down with Mardi Hagerman, the Providence Saint Mary Resource Nurse, who was the brains behind Gran Fondo. “I was the original act in town for it!” she proclaims. “We needed to make some money for the special needs fund… the idea came up in the hallway with a nurse who was a cyclist, working with the Whitman cycling team.” The addition of “Pairing on Main” was the brainchild of Walla Walla Chef and Caterer Ceil Blain. “It just took off!” Mardi notes.

Participants receive a wineglass and a map. They migrate from tasting room to tasting room, each of which provides a sample of wine and a perfectly paired bite-sized hors d’œuvre, catered by one of Walla Walla’s finest restaurants. The first “Pairing on Main” sold 75 tickets. Now, the capacity has been bumped up to 150. “We’re not going to go above that because we are cognizant of the generosity of our vendors on main street, who are donating their food and wine… the restaurants are still serving guests plus doing our event!” Mardi confirms. “Our downtown proprietors are so generous.”

Mardi continues, “[This year] was very successful.” The 2013 Gran Fondo raised a record-breaking $29,000 for the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund. “The first year, we made $900,” Mardi notes. “Every year, people are a little more familiar with us and a little more sensitive to our cause. After all, there’s no one that isn’t affected by this diagnosis, whether it is a personal diagnosis or a family diagnosis.”

Our Pairing on Main Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Our “Pairing on Main” Volunteer, Mardi Hagerman, and Walla Faces Owner Debbie Johnson Pose for a Photo

Mardi is not only in charge of organizing the event, she is the brawn behind the operation as well! “I’m the waitress,” she says. “I help out where I’m needed. I got my food handler’s permit so that I could do the grunt work.”

This year, Walla Faces was paired with Whitehouse Crawford. We served both our 2008 Syrah, a library wine with a perfect balance of white pepper and blackberry notes, and our 2010 Riesling, an off-dry wine that’s as complex as it is crisp. After tasting our wine, Whitehouse Crawford Head Chef Jamie Guerin prepared a Capocollo, jalapeño, goat cheese, and arugula salad-stuffed gougères. These cheesy French pastries are a wine-pairing classic; in France, they are traditionally consumed in wine cellars as a part of a wine tasting. In addition to donating our wine, 25% of Walla Faces bottle sales during the “Pairing on Main” were donated to the Providence Saint Mary Cancer Fund.

“Every year, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of this community,” Mardi says. “I have met so many wonderful people thanks to ‘Pairing on Main’, who have a strong heart for what we do.”