Walla Walla Valley AVA
You might wonder why the Walla Walla Valley AVA includes Oregon wines, after all, Walla Walla is a town in Washington. While the valley was long considered a Washington brand as the town it’s named after is in the state, you have to understand the history behind the wine in this region for it to make sense.
The AVA sits at the base of the Blue Mountains stretching from Washington’s southeast corner across the Columbia River into Oregon’s northeast region. It includes over 2,000 acres of vineyards with most of the wineries on the Washington side, although nearly half the acreage is in Oregon. Many of the wineries in both states get their grapes from the Oregon side of the valley and experts say the majority of new plantings are likely to take place here in the future.
Grape-growing in the area dates back to 1859, with the arrival of Italian immigrants. Nurseries soon begin popping up across the valley, with one that offered more than 80 different grape varieties from France. During the 1870s gold rush in Idaho, Walla Walla served as a supply post, with goods like wine sold to the miners. Frank Orselli made some 2,500 gallons of wine, selling it in a bakery downtown. During prohibition, there was no commercial wine growing, but the homemade wine business thrived. Post-prohibition, Blue Mountain Winery opened, closing in the 1950s. The wine industry was left mostly untapped until 1977 when Gary Figgins began planting grape vines at his family homestead. He founded Leonetti Cellar, the first commercial winery here, with other pioneering winemakers soon to follow.
It’s only been in recent decades there’s been a more concerted effort on the Oregon side. It began with one of the valley’s most respected and oldest wineries, Seven Hills, which was moved from Washington to Oregon. Since then, it returned to its roots, relocating to downtown Walla Walla.
Wine in the Milton-Freewater Rocks District
The Milton-Freewater Rocks District is just eight miles south of Walla Walla in Oregon. This is fertile farm country with the picturesque Blue Mountains providing a scenic backdrop. Rocks has gained global recognition for its wines, particularly Syrah. But it also produces fabulous Grenache and Cabernet sauvignon, with 472 planted wine-grape acres.
The unique wines aren’t fruit driven, but rich and complex with some mineral characters. The grapes absorb minerals from the basalt cobblestones, resulting in earthy, savoury wines that are often compared to wines from the northern Rhone Valley in France.
The Dedicated Winemakers
The unique wines possess worldwide appeal with the emerging Rocks District widely regarded as one of the country’s most exciting viticulture areas. It’s more labour intensive, with intense flavours coming from an intense, noticeably rocky landscape that also gets brutally cold in the winter. All the effort winemakers must put in has resulted in the realization of decades-long dreams, like the Robertson Family’s Delmas/SJR Vineyard. It produces wines born of the distinctive geology, with exemplary quality, character, and enduring value.