Walla Walla AVA

A town so nice, they named it twice!

Well, not so much the town in this scenario as the entire appellation. This seems only fair as the this AVA is located in two separate states – Oregon and Washington. The justifications for the establishment of the viticultural area are historic, geologic, geographic and climatic.

Walla Walla translates at “rapid stream” or “many waters” in the Sahaptin language that is shared by the Walla Walla, Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Tenino peoples. Western settlers moved into the area beginning in the 1830s when Marcus and Narcissa Whitman came as missionaries to the Walla Walla people but were murdered by the Cayuse following outbreaks of measles that the indians believed were caused by the whites (they were, but they didn’t do it on purpose as no one was aware of germ theory quite yet).  Viticulture began informally with French fur trappers in the 1840s in an area previously known as Frenchtown, now called Lowden.

The geologic basis of the creation of the appellation is based in part  on the similarity of the river plain of assorted wind blown loess soils well drained by smaller streams that cut through the area.  Being located  between the Cascades and the Blue Mountains along the Washington, Oregon and Idaho border means that the area is blocked from the moderating temperatures nearer the Pacific but also in a rain shadow as well.  This means that the climate is more intense with warmer days with cool evenings and semi-arid which requires irrigation for cultivation.

Modern viticulture (i.e. post-(the dreaded) Prohibition) began with Leonetti Cellars in the 1970s with Woodward Canyon Cellars and L’Ecole 41 coming along in the 1980s .  The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 and amended to extend the territory in 2001.  Varietals produced in the area include:

  • Barbera
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Carmenere
  • Chardonnay
  • Cinsault
  • Counoise
  • Dolcetto
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Marsanne
  • Merlot
  • Mourvedre
  • Nebbiolo
  • Petit Verdot
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Rousanne
  • Sangiovese
  • Semillon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Viognier
Oh, and I have actually been to this viticultural area!  The Wine Bloggers’ Conference in 2010 was in Walla Walla.


















Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Chono Carménère

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I might be temporarily abstaining from wine on school nights (due to lent) but that doesn’t mean that I can’t continue to talk about the wines that I have already tasted.    This wine, like the Passion Has Red Lips, also falls into the Tip O’Neil Corollary territory and I was lucky enough to get to taste it when the rep came into the store.

The Chono wines are  associated with a wine I discussed a while ago… say, in the Fall of 2008, the Palin Syrah, which are both distributed by GeoWines.  I always like Chilean Carménère because it reminds me of my wine history. Carménère is the lost grape of Bordeaux where it was used to enhance the flavors of the other noble grapes of the region, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Merlot.  After Phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards in the region, it was believed that Carménère was all but wiped out.  In 1994, an oenologist discovered that a variety of Merlot in Chile that tended to ripen faster was in fact the long, lost grape.  They were interplanted with Merlot which they resemble and accounted for a  large percentage of the grapes produced.  It turns out that Chilean winemaking owed more to France than Spain as one might have expected.

I have also learned that there were so many Carménère grapes produced that they were often used in the production of Pisco and Aguardiente.

The Carménère is produced in the Maipo River Valley of Chile which is in the heart of the most productive vineyards in the country and relatively close to Santiago. The grapes are picked in the second week of May are macerated in stainless steel and then partially aged in oak.  My first sip gave me a smokey taste of dark fruit. The second sip after a few minutes allowed the wine to open up and become smoother and fuller with more of an emphasis on black cherries and less on the smoke.  Clearly, a wine to let breathe a moment or two.