Last week I wrote about discovering some new (to us) wineries in Walla Walla, producing amazing wines that quickly reached the upper levels of our list of favorites. I shared our experience at Long Shadows, and this week I want to follow up with my promise to tell you about The Walls Vineyards.
In some ways, the two wineries provide a study in contrasts. Long Shadows boasts a Chihuly-adorned tasting room, a cohort of well-established and renowned winemakers, an expansive production facility with no expenses spared, elegant labels, all set down amidst rolling hills in a rural landscape and with wide-open views. The wines produced are elegant, refined and delicious.
The Walls sits in a somewhat gritty, semi-industrial neighborhood on the west side of Walla Walla in a one-story, mostly windowless, whitewashed concrete building. The interior is clean but spare. The bottles sport labels featuring a quirky little cartoon figure, “Stanley Groovy,” spectacled, portly, in various poses but often interacting with that wall: on tiptoe on a chair peering over it, sitting atop it, pondering thoughtfully before it.
An aside: You should also know that the winery’s name is a reference to a prominent (and notorious) landmark of Walla Walla: the Washington State Penitentiary. The website elaborates upon the meaning of “walls” (worth a read), concluding with a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree: “Wine is the river that can overflow, subvert and topple these walls. It is a powerful force in bringing people together and building true community.”
Ali Mayfield, the Walls’ head winemaker, while still early in her career, has learned from the best (even working at Long Shadows for a time). She and owner Mike Martin commit to sourcing the best grapes, using the best equipment and taking the utmost care in producing exceptional wines. In that, they prove equals to Long Shadows.
We first tried one of The Walls’ wines at dinner at Passatempo (also owned by Mike Martin) a few nights earlier. Although we’d already decided to visit The Walls during our weekend stay, that taste of The Ramparts, a Grenache blend, sealed the deal. At the tasting room we tried two Chardonnays, one aged in oak (Martin’s Gold) and the other in concrete tanks (McAndrew, light, crisp — a great summer wine and would be perfect with seafood). We also tried Curiositas, an elegant, lush but subtly balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, and Stanley Groovy, a blend of Iberian Peninsula grapes. Harry and I were particularly interested in tasting the latter, as we have an extended trip to Spain and Portugal coming up in the fall. If it is any indication of what we have in store, we’ll be in heaven. The wine is rich and full of fruit, with a nice finish and a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from the other reds we tried. We brought home a couple bottles, and another member of our party joined The Walls’ wine club (the Insiders — wink, wink), so we hope in the future to have access to some exclusive bottlings available only to wine club members.
Our discovery of both Long Shadows and The Walls certainly made our most recent visit to Walla Walla a memorable one.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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