Located in southeastern Washington State and northeastern Oregon, the Walla Walla Valley AVA is a little slice of paradise that spans much of America’s inland northwest.
The first grapes were planted in 1850 by Italian immigrants. Prohibition put an end to winemaking for more than a decade. It wasn’t until wine pioneer Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar began planting grapes again in 1974 that the Walla Walla Valley began to shine.
In 1977, Cantina Leonetti became the first commercial winery. In 1984, Walla Walla Valley achieved official appellation status. Today the AVA is home to approximately 120 wineries. Two-thirds of the AVA is in Washington and one-third is in Oregon.
The name means “many waters” in homage to the rivers in the area that make the area lush. A valley that for more than a century was an important and thriving agricultural center with the cultivation of apples, strawberries, asparagus, onions and then converted into 3,000 acres of quality vineyards and more than 120 wineries.
Walla Walla Valley has the highest concentration of wineries in the state and is also home to some of the oldest wineries in Washington.
The Valley has a wealth of important soils. At the lower altitudes the terrain is made up of cobbled river gravel. These are fields literally covered in dark basalt stones, which absorb the sun’s heat before releasing it to the vines after dusk. These soils are well-drained and are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals that fuel amazing flavors.
The next category is known as loess, layered over alluvial sediments. Loess is a fine silt, carried by the wind. Beneath the loess are coarser layers of sand and gravel deposited by catastrophic glacial floods that swept this region about 15,000 years ago. The result is a complex mix of minerals, which gives a corresponding complexity to the wines grown on these sites.
Plateaus above 1,100 feet elevation host the category of soil we call deep silts. As with the previous soil type, this silt is fine, wind-blown loess. The vines planted here manage to sink their roots very deep, and produce grapes with pure and brilliant aromatic and gustatory characters. The last category of soil consists of very thin silt interspersed with weathered basalt. It is located on steep, southwest-facing slopes and consists of a few centimeters of very fine, wind-blown soil over the ancient volcanic bedrock that supports our entire region.
The valley’s diversity in climate and soil creates very diverse presentations in wines from the southern part of the valley up to the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the Mill Creek drainage in areas to the north.
Grape production is dominated by red varieties.
The top five varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Syrah (18%), Merlot (16%), Cabernet Franc (7%) and Malbec (4%).
Within the Walla Walla Valley AVA is The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, approved in early 2015. The defining feature of The Rocks District is its soil, consisting primarily of dark-colored basalt cobbles. Syrah represents almost half of the planted vineyards (45%) and Cabernet Sauvignon is second (24%).
Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley are continually expanding and the future looks increasingly interesting, placing the region as one of the leading wine grape producing regions in the world.