March 29, 2022 / 

 PART II: The Pressure Of Choosing Wineries For Walla Walla Vacation

Time to put my own planning skills to the test and plan our trip to Walla Walla. This is what I do for a living, but planning-is-planning. Listen to Part II of my struggles and tips to make your next trip one to remember. 


Hi there, this is part II of planning my trip to Walla Walla. In the last episode we focused on booking accommodations and finding a tour company. This episode will focus on choosing the right wineries and creating an itinerary.


I said it before, planners don’t get enough credit. There is a lot of pressure in designing an itinerary and if anything goes wrong, guess who gets the blame. Just like I do with my wine tours, I don’t want any surprises. I like to allow the group to have some skin in the game. My tip for all those planners out there, is to share plans and itinerary openly in an email.  With wine tours, I state it like facts versus making it seem like a question. I try to imply that this is a thoughtfully curated schedule and unless you have a serious problem with it, go with the flow.


This can be risky depending on the characters in the group, but for the most part, your friends will be appreciative that you did all the work. And since you got their buy-off, if anything goes wrong, everyone can take some ownership. It helps to take a little pressure off.


Since we have three days in Walla Walla, I wanted to kick off the first day with a wine tour. The two main reasons for this is,


  • It kicks off the trip with a worry free day for “the planner.” They can sit back, relax, and have someone else host. 
  • The other key reason is you never know what gems of advice you’ll get from your host or wineries that you visit. Locals, especially those who are on the front-line of hospitality, have the best advice to share regarding restaurants, other wineries to visit, and activities. Heck there may even be some special events happening that you can spontaneously join. 


The last time I was in Walla Walla, there was a food truck event at one of the local breweries. Coming from Portland, you take food trucks seriously. We attended and had a wonderful time watching the sunset with delicious food and beer like a local.


At the end of the last episode, I mentioned finding Freddy G’s wine tours. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone, shared texts and emails.  Freddy is delightful, very accommodating and forthcoming with information. I told him our priority is good wine, with a mix of established and small boutique wineries.


He gave me four wineries, Canvasback, Caprio Cellars, Kinhaven and Va Piano, and told me to look them up. This is not something I ask my customers to do, mostly because, like me, I know some will care enough to do it anyway. And the others have the willpower to trust the curator.


Of course, I am not the later, so I looked up each winery and they all hit the mark of what I was looking for. Good wine, some glam and some hole-in-the-wall winemaking. I love taking risks, and not cross-referencing this advice with google. If you recall this was my approach with choosing a wine tour company. 


I loved Freddy’s recommendations and gave him the go ahead with one change. He recommended four wineries in a 5 hour period. I requested that we only go to 3. When you are wine tasting, as you visit more wineries your pallet changes.  Have you ever bought wine you were really excited about, and then when you taste it again, it’s less impressive. There is the Euphoria effect at wineries, but also the fact that you have tasted so much wine in a single day your pallet could be toast. Three wineries, especially with a group, allows for tasting and some socializing without being in a rush to the next place.


Ok, let’s recap, Thursday is wine tour day with Freddy. That leaves Friday to visit a few wineries on our own. And Saturday for some downtown tasting and exploring.


Gone are the days of being spontaneous, I need to make winery reservations for Friday. 


Here is my thinking.  A good wine tour company like Freddy G. will recommend wineries in a single region. Why? It’s the best way to ensure your time is spent in a tasting room and not in a vehicle. Walla Walla’s regions are Westside, Eastside, Southside, and Airport Way. Our wine tour is centered around the Southside. Which means, I want to focus on a different region for Friday. 


A great place to get familiar with regions is the local wineries association. I googled Walla Walla Wine and sure enough they were the first URL. Associations and city cites like Visit Walla Walla usually have the best winery maps and recommendations for how to navigate in the region.


While I was doing some research on the various regions, I posted part one of this podcast and received some great comments back with winery recommendations including L’Ecole 41 and Woodward Canyon Winery. Word of mouth is the best. It’s a vetted recommendation. And a no brainer. I immediately made reservations. 


The Third and final winery for day two caught my eye as I was reading an article in the on the best Walla Walla wineries. Valdamer Estates is stunning and features a restaurant. Lunch plans are now set. That’s three wineries. Which means day-two of wine tasting is complete.


My other goal was to do a day of wine tasting in the downtown tasting rooms. Most often people want to be out on the vineyard, enjoying the scenery, just as much as the wine. I am a big advocate for the in-town tasting rooms in the Willamette Valley. They feature wineries that don’t have their own vineyard, but amazing wine from sourced grapes. These tasting rooms could also feature wines from other regions. Or they could be a second location for a bigger winery. Plus the urban tasting rooms are nicely decorated and within walking distance to our Airbnb.


I am already exhausted, and I’ll i’ve done is find the wineries I’d like to visit. Now it’s time to make reservations. Make this part easy on yourself and make reservations 3-4 weeks in advance. This will guarantee more times will be open and you can easily choose your path. In this case, two of the wineries were on the Westside and one was located in the Southside, Valdemar. Since they are also our lunch option, I set an appointment at 12:30. Then we’ll venture over to the Westside for a 3pm appointment and then leave the last open since they allow walkins. That way if we are tired, we can head back to our place without feeling guilty. 


The third and final day is our downtown day. Also, check out our blog for top reasons to wine taste in-town. Freddy had recommended Va Pinio for our wine tour, but when I noticed they also had a very trendy wine bar, I decided to save them for our downtown experience. Since most of the downtown tasting rooms are walkin, I have made the choice to wait and see what is recommended to us when we are in town versus having a schedule. Plus, I also want to squeeze in one tasting and a brewery at the Airport District. So this is the day to be spontaneous. Plus, with two wonderful days of wine tasting already there will be no regrets no matter what happens.


In conclusion, it helps to have some focus. Know what kind of amenities and vibe you want for accommodations. And have some general expectations for your wine tasting experience and use that to guide your search. If you like a certain grape varietal. If you want to find smaller, more unknown wineries.  These details will help you know where to search. Ask friends, leverage social media if you have to. Hire a tour company. Before you know it your perfect itinerary will come together. 


Make your reservations and don’t cram too much into the day. Three wineries max. And allow yourself the grace to only visit two. Drinking can be so exhausting. Take morning walks to get your blood flowing and start the day off with a clear mind.


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