Quality Cabernet Sauvignon is not cheap. Barrels are expensive and good Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t using any woody fake outs with oak powder or chips. Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon is about half the price of comparable Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa. I can cut Napa some slack. The land costs in Napa are more than twice those in Walla Walla. And while a few bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon are sleeping in my cellar, both me and my wallet like Walla Walla.
You can age Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon too. The “Vintage Pour” event at Celebrate Walla Walla featured older Cabernet Sauvignon vintages. Standouts were a gorgeous 1997 Woodward Canyon and a 2005 Seven Hills Winery. Maybe not the spider web covered bottles from a Bordeaux cellar, but Walla Walla hasn’t been at it for hundreds of years either. Whether you like your Cabernet Sauvignon young and tight with primary fruit and oak, or older and complex with spiced umami and moist rich forest floor flavors, or something in between – you can find that in Walla Walla,
And if you are a real geek who needs a pedigree similar to the “chicken dossier” from Portlandia, well welcome to Walla Walla where Cabernet Sauvignon may be King, but Dirt is definitely a Deity. And elevation determines to a large degree what type of dirt you get. When the Ice Age Missoula floods formed the geography destined for agriculture, heights above the flood line formed thin layers of wind blown loess over basalt rock. Loess is pronounced like “lust” without the “t”.
Moving to lower elevations silt was deposited with heavier materials settling out in areas where the water got trapped before flowing through. Finally in The Rock District of Milton Freewater, the Walla Walla River can still be seen depositing basalt rocks in a fan shape pattern (alluvial fan.) Here we find more Syrah than Cab.
If that’s not geeky enough factor in the different water and heat holding capacities of soil types with a rainfall that varies between 7 and 22 inches moving west to east.
Visiting with Marty Clubb from L’Ecole Nº 41 in the Ferguson Vineyard it is easy to see the loess atop basalt. There are little cooled lava veins leaving a friable terrain that is easily broken with fingers and penetrated by vine roots.
It was L’Ecole’s first Ferguson release, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, that won Best Bordeaux in Decanter’s World Competition. Marty thinks the judges mistook it for a French wine. After a bit of ribbing he agreed to open a bottle and it definitely tasted Old World.
When visiting a wine region, I want it to be easy. Appointments are fine but not fun if it’s the only way to taste. I want good food, convenient lodging, and I want to talk to someone who knows something about the dadgum wine. Again I offer Walla Walla. Walla Walla is main street USA, dotted with preserved retro storefronts and in view of the sand art Blue Mountains.
With a population around 32,000 people and over 100 wineries in a couple of days you can be an industry insider. Pick a downtown hotel and walk to tasting rooms and restaurants.
I attended an educational press trip to Walla Walla. All views are my own.