Walla Walla’s the perfect place to combine a walk and a wine festival.
WALLA WALLA — For visitors, this town with two names has three big things going for it:
1. Great local wine (and, now, beer).
2. Good food.
3. Its walkable, historical downtown ripe with opportunities for indulging in (1) and (2).
Two local women did the math. In May, they started Walla Walla Food Tours, leading walking tours of downtown that serve as a tasty introduction to all the above.
The 2½-hour tours by Teresa Fausti and Nancy Barcenas fill your stomach with food and drink and your eyes and ears with local history, the latter ranging from a colorful local madame who pretty much ran 19th-century Walla Walla to a contemporary museum-keeper who dresses up in Victorian steampunk wear.
“We have wonderful wine, beer and food, and a rich history, so we include it all,” says Fausti, who moved to Walla Walla in 2014 from the Seattle area, but whose Italian roots include a great-grandfather who grew his own wine grapes in this valley.
New around town
Not only is the food tour new to town, so are several of the stops along the way.
First comes Kontos Cellars ’ new downtown tasting room (10 N. Second Ave.; kontoscellars.com), where on our tour winemaker Cameron Kontos stops in from just bottling 400 cases of syrah and Malbec to chat about his business, voted “favorite winery” of 2015 by local newspaper readers.
Kontos learned to make wine at age 18 from his father, Cliff Kontos, longtime winemaker for Fort Walla Walla Winery. Six generations of his family have lived in Walla Walla.
Sitting on a shaded patio where water misters cool visitors on hot days — making you feel like a crisp lettuce leaf in the Safeway produce aisle — tour goers sip a Kontos blend called Alatus. The Latin name, meaning “with wings,” commemorates an eponymous 63-foot sailboat on which the Kontos family and kin spent many happy summer days touring the San Juan Islands.
If you go
Walla Walla Food Tours include a 2½-hour, flat and easy walking tour of downtown Walla Walla, 11:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays year-round; $59. Adding soon: a ghost-oriented tour, in time for Halloween; watch website for details. 866-736-6343 or wallawallafoodtours.com.
With cooling days and crisp nights, autumn can be the best season to visit Walla Walla Valley wineries. For information and guides to visiting 76 area wineries, see wallawallawine.com/#wineries.
For a mobile winery tour-guide app, see wallawalla.mobilewinetour.com.
The Marcus Whitman includes high-end rooms in a 1920s brick tower, with less pricey rooms in a modern annex; easy walk to downtown tasting rooms. 6 W. Rose St., 509-525-2500 or marcuswhitmanhotel.com.
A Courtyard by Marriott opened in spring edging a strip mall a few blocks from downtown. Space-agey room décor. 550 W. Rose St., 509-876-8100 or marriott.com/hotels/travel/alwcy-courtyard-walla-walla.
There are also plenty of reasonably priced chain motels; see the visitors bureau website.
Walla Walla visitors bureau: 877-998-4748 or wallawalla.org
The wine, with woozy and wonderful aromas of raspberry and dark cherry, is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from local vineyards, regularly paired on the tour with taste treats from Brasserie Four (brasseriefour.com), Walla Walla’s premier French restaurant.
History and food
On a walk down Main Street, the two tour guides thumb through a binder of photos from the town’s past and tell about Josephine “Dutch Jo” Wolfe, a tough cookie who came to town around 1860 to run the leading brothel. Coincidentally, in front of a building where Washingtonians first met in 1878 to draft a state constitution, we run into local Lois Hahn, who regularly performs historical re-enactments as the famous madame-of-ill-repute.
The three laugh over a story about how Wolfe’s brothel was once quarantined for two weeks and Walla Walla’s civic affairs were managed by dropping a basket from the second story with written orders, since the 19th-century mayor, a doctor and other town leaders were trapped inside.
“A 1952 Look magazine listed sweet and charming Walla Walla as one of America’s seediest cities, because we still had brothels!” says Barcenas, a 21-year resident of the town. The brothels didn’t disappear until the 1960s.
Other stops on the walking tour:
• D’Olivo, which opened in May in a Main Street storefront, features more than 80 stainless steel, spigoted tanks dispensing ultra-premium olive oils, seed oils and balsamic vinegars, the kind of stuff to make chefs drool into their capellini.
Visitors knock back tasting cups of oils ranging from Arbequina, from Spain — “very grassy,” hostess Haley Gadzik notes — to a Leccino from California, with a tastebud-blowing 668-parts-per-million of polyphenols, the antioxidant responsible for the bitterness in robust olive oils (10 E. Main St., d-olivo.com).
• At Kirkman House Museum, host Rick Tuttle occasionally shows up in eccentric period costume (including a grandly plumed top hat), as he did for our stop at the 1880 home of wheat-and-cattle baron William Kirkman (Fausti calls him “the Bill Gates of Walla Walla”) and his wife, Isabella.
Fall wine festivals across Washington
Washington winemakers celebrate the end of harvest and grape crushing with special events throughout autumn:
• Lake Chelan Crush, Oct. 3-4 and 10-11; tasting, grape stomps, winemaker dinners and more. lakechelanwinevalley.com
• Yakima Valley’s Catch the Crush, Oct. 10-11; grape stomps, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, tasting. wineyakimavalley.org/events-item/catch-the-crush
• Walla Walla Valley’s Fall Release Weekend, Nov. 6-8; winemaker dinners, live music, art festivals and more. wallawallawine.com/fall-tasting
• Olympic Peninsula Wineries’ Harvest Winery Tour & Scarecrow Contest, Nov. 7-8; tasting, food pairings, live jazz. olympicpeninsulawineries.org/passporttour.php
• Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island’s Thanksgiving Winery Tour Weekend, Nov. 27-29; tasting, tours. bainbridgewineries.com/winerytours
• Yakima Valley’s Thanksgiving in Wine Country, Nov. 27-29; tasting, tours, charity drive. wineyakimavalley.org
• Lake Chelan’s Fall Barrel Tasting, Nov. 27-29; red wines from the barrel. lakechelanwinevalley.com
• Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Thanksgiving Open House, Nov. 27-29; new releases, food pairings, holiday discounts, charity drive. columbiagorgewine.com
• Walla Walla Valley’s Holiday Barrel Tasting, Dec. 4-6; new releases, barrel samples, art, music. wallawallawine.com/holiday-barrel-tasting
The furnished home is restored with the care a gemologist would take with crown jewels. At the dining table, tour-goers munch on flank-steak sandwiches with chimichurri from Graze, a popular local sandwich shop and caterer (grazeevents.com). The sandwiches are served on an antique platter, hand-painted with hop vines, that belonged to Isabella Kirkman (214 N. Colville St., kirkmanhousemuseum.org).
• Another five-minute walk leads to a snack stop with couscous/broccoli salad and spelt bread at an umbrella table outside Walla Walla Bread Co. (225 E. Main St., w2breadco.com).
• At a Main Street addition new last fall, a restaurant called Wingman Birdz + Brewz, owner Brendon Mendoza converts tour goers into fans of his unlikely sounding Peanut Butter and Jelly Wings, garnished with Thai peanut sauce and raspberry glaze and topped by green onion and sesame seeds. Washed down with a Burwood Pale Ale (from a local brewery that also opened in 2014), it’s a new addiction that prompts me to go back later for takeout (230 E. Main St., wingmanbirdz.com).
• Another short walk, with more history narration, brings us to a brief stop at Colville Street Patisserie for a palate-cleansing gelato. Inventive house-made flavors include apricot chamomile, cucumber yogurt, fennel and more (40 S. Colville St., colvillestreetpatisserie.com).
• Last stop, also new in 2014: Henry Earl Estates’ wine-tasting room, in a rough-brick building dating to 1879, for pourings of a Wahluke Slope riesling and a Red Mountain merlot, paired with caramelized-onion quesadillas made with — ta da, they had to show up somewhere — Walla Walla sweet onions (25 E. Main St., henryearlwine.com).
Ahhh. It’s 2 p.m. on a warm day in the town so nice they named it twice. Well-fed tour-goers, belts slightly loosened, waddle back to their hotels for a nap.