The Walla Walla Valley has been crowned America’s Best Wine Region in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.
Announced last week, the award is the result of a monthlong, nationwide public vote in an annual poll conducted by the newspaper and its travel site 10Best.com.
Walla Walla was selected from a finalist field of 20 communities, nominated by a panel of experts.
The community, home to more than 120 wineries and fortified with a renowned culinary, arts, entertainment and outdoor recreation scene, has been nominated three consecutive years.
Its first win comes as Long Shadows Vintners lands at fourth place in the Best Tasting Room category for the second year in a row.
“I can think of no better way to honor wines from Washington state in general, and Walla Walla Valley wines specifically, than being recognized as America’s Best Wine Region by a vote of the public,” said Robert Hansen, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, in a prepared statement.
“It’s a testament to the outstanding terroir, meticulous craftsmanship, and to the men and women who are committed to elevating the Walla Walla Valley from both a wine production and tourism perspective.”
The 10Best awards contest launches new categories every other Monday at noon and then gives participants four weeks to vote before winners are announced.
The recognition can be used to promote the area as a travel destination — although tourism and wine representatives acknowledge the limitations on nonessential travel during the pandemic make the timing odd.
“It’s definitely a fine line to walk,” said Tabitha Crenshaw, board president for destination marketing organization Visit Walla Walla.
“For the most part, we’ve really been promoting the idea of planning your dream vacation. Plan your perfect vacation for when the time is right. We’ll be here for you.”
While Walla Walla remains in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan, the award offers a bright spot during a difficult time for businesses, Crenshaw said.
“It’s great to be able to recognize something positive,” she said.
Liz Knapke, communications and marketing director for the wine alliance, said even if travel isn’t possible for many visitors now, the recognition should have long-lasting effects.
“At this moment, when so many of us are not able to travel and daydreaming of where to go next, receiving this tremendous accolade provides an opportunity to plant the seed for future travel to Washington wine country,” she said.
Its potential can draw returning visitors, particularly those whose post-pandemic travel is more likely to be shorter trips by vehicle from around the region, as well as those who have never been to the Walla Walla Valley.
“While times are uncertain now, we know that this will be a lasting honor earned by the land, the wine and most importantly, the people of the Walla Walla Valley to be touted for years to come,” Knapke said.
The U.S. is home to more than 250 wine regions. Walla Walla competed for the title from a pool of finalists that included Sonoma County, Temecula Valley and Valle De Guadalupe in California, as well as two-time winner Finger Lakes in New York.