The Celebrate Walla Walla event, June 16-18, will focus on cabernet sauvignon from the Walla Walla Valley, Napa Valley, Chile and Bordeaux.
SINCE THE WORLD discovered the Walla Walla Valley in the early 1980s, the region has been famous for its red wines — particularly cabernet sauvignon.
We have the area’s first two wineries to thank for this. Leonetti Cellar’s 1978 cab was rated by one publication as the best in the United States, and Woodward Canyon Winery followed with cabs that compete with the best anywhere.
In many ways, this explains why 95 percent of Walla Walla’s 2,836 acres of vineyards is planted with red wine grapes and why cabernet sauvignon is, by far, the dominant grape variety, with more than 1,000 acres planted in the valley.
Three to try
Reininger Winery 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: This classic cab from Chuck Reininger is built on aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry and sweet herbal notes with underlying minerality.
Nelms Road 2014 cabernet sauvignon, Washington, $25: This value label is one of four cabs produced by longtime Walla Walla Valley winery Woodward Canyon. It is a delicious fruit-driven red with dark chocolate and moderate tannins.
Seven Hills Winery 2013 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Winemaker Casey McClellan has crafted a superb wine with aromas and flavors of focused dark fruit backed by touches of mint and firm, satisfying tannins.
Interestingly, the decisions that went into directing the Walla Walla Valley toward red grapes had little to do with climate and more to do with attitude.
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For example, the Yakima Valley is home to a majority of white wine grapes. The climates of the regions are similar, but vineyard plantings in the Yakima Valley started much earlier than they did in Walla Walla, and the predominant attitude was that the Yakima region was best suited for white varieties. That sentiment persists today in the Yakima Valley, best known for riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
The cabs coming out of the Walla Walla Valley are not made exclusively from local grapes. Far from it. Winemakers are more than happy to reach into the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope to source fruit. But their most treasured grapes originate in Walla Walla.
That is one reason Celebrate Walla Walla will focus on cab this year. The three-day event, which begins June 16, will bring in top winemakers from Napa Valley, Chile and Bordeaux. They will stand alongside Walla Walla producers to explore cabernet sauvignon.
Perhaps the star of the show — certainly the most compelling — will be Thomas Burke, a Master Sommelier who will represent Château Margaux, one of Bordeaux’s famous First Growths. Burke will present Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux. While Pavillon Rouge is considered Margaux’s “second label,” it is no slouch, as it typically retails for about $200 per bottle. (By comparison, new releases of Chateau Margaux can exceed $1,000 per bottle.)
For those looking to take a deep dive into cabernet sauvignon, consider this year’s Celebrate Walla Walla event.