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Tag Archives: G. Cuneo Cellars

Wining in Walla Walla

27 Jul
27 July 2018.
It has been a very long time since we have driven through the Columbia River Gorge. The last time for me was a trip to Pendleton in early 2012 to oversee an office remodeling for my employer. My head was filled with thoughts of our impending move to Rome and not with an appreciation for the landscape I had passed through many times over the years.
As we drove east, magnificent evergreens gave way to evidence of last year’s tragic forest fire, then dry land farms and ranches became interspersed with lush green vineyards.

Me flanked by Ric (L) and Rick (R). Cocktails on the porch at Green Gables Inn.

We were on our way to Walla Walla to join my oenophile brother and my sister-in-law for a wine tour. My brother is truly a wine lover at an expert level. Ric and I appreciate wine and to be able to tag along on this adventure with Rick and Jane was a treat. Rick’s research and planning led us to wineries my Ric and I would never have found. (Yes, two Richards when we travel. A constant source of confusion.)
Our timing was excellent: Walla Walla was declared “Best Wine Town” by Sunset Magazine the very day we arrived. Can the crowds be far behind?

Barnaby Jones and brother Rick share a moment on the porch.

We settled in at the elegant yet cozy Green Gables Inn, housed in a historic home dating to 1909 and meticulously restored to its glory. To our delight, the property is overseen by the delightful Barnaby Jones.
One of the wonders of the Walla Walla region is its farming history. The waving wheat fields, golden in their ripeness with a backdrop of vineyards and the Blue Mountains, are a stunning sight and evidence of the state’s importance as a producer of grain. The presence of the wineries is a testament to the fertility of the Palouse. In 1972 there were six wineries in Washington State. Now there are over 800! The same climate that is ideal for wheat is also perfect for growing grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. The two American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within the Palouse have the same latitude as the Bordeaux. Yeah, there is some excellent wine here.

Duck parade on the Whitman College campus.

We set out to find some.
My brother planned an outstanding tour. We visited a dozen cellars over the course of four days. One more day and my next stop would have been Betty Ford.
Actually, it was nicely paced. On two of the four days, we visited only two wineries. Key to keeping our heads on straight (and able to stay awake for dinner) was sharing tastings at almost every winery. Cuts down on the buzz and minimizes the need to waste wine by spitting. If you buy some wine the tasting is free. My brother is a collector so purchases were no problem. (Thanks, Rick!)
Tastings reminded me of the old days in Oregon, back in the late 80s when we first cruised through wine country during an open-house weekend. Per person tastings in Walla Walla are usually $5 or $10 with an occasional spike to $20 when tasting reserve wines or doing a vertical tasting.
Four of the wineries really stood out for Ric and me.

I’ve never seen a tasting room as peaceful as Spring Valley’s.

Spring Valley Vineyard is a family operation that goes back five generations of farming in the Corkrum family who first homesteaded and grew wheat here. Grapes were first planted in 1993, fairly early in the storyline of Walla Walla wineries. The wines are amazing (French-style, with estate-grown Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot) but I think I was most impressed by the story of family farming, keeping the operation in the family and staying true to their roots in wheat farming while moving into upscale wines. About 900 acres of the thousand-acre farm are still planted in wheat. We enjoyed a tour of the ranch where the tasting room was in a grove of trees by a spring-fed pond. Delightful!

The tasting room in the copse, Spring Valley Vineyards.

Memorial to winemaker Devin Corkrum Derby with wheat fields in the background. Almost 900 acres of the 1000 acre ranch are still planted in wheat.

Always good to see butterflies on a farm. Buddleia near the spring attracted this large one.

Gino pours for Jane, Rick, and Ric at G. Cuneo Cellars.

G. Cuneo Cellars tagline is “Italian Style American Soil.” We are so pleased to have found Gino once again. Many years ago (mid-90s to early 00s) we used to buy wine futures from Cuneo Cellars in Carlton. In fact, before he moved to Carlton we used to visit Gino Cuneo at a small almost-impossible-to-find winery in the Eola Hills where we would do barrel tastings, buy futures, and feast on Italian meats and cheeses. We had wondered over our years in Italy whatever became of Gino. We knew he had left the Carlton operation (now known as Cana’s Feast Winery), but we had no idea where he had gone until my brother tripped over his tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. We made it a point to visit and were thrilled to find Gino making Italian Style wines right there in Walla Walla. He is the only winemaker in the Pacific Northwest to produce wines from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. We are not Rosé lovers, but one sip of Gino’s Rosato and we were hooked. We do miss Italian wines and are looking forward to receiving a wine club shipment this fall. Look him up at G. Cuneo Cellars right across from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Gino Cuneo (& me) at the tasting room he shares with Cotes du Ciel.

The old trainstation serves as a tasting room. The Shiels’ saved it from destruction.

Also a family operation, Côte Bonneville is in the Yakima Valley AVA, about a 90-minute drive from Walla Walla. My brother has been a fan of theirs for years and a road trip was in order for a private tasting with winery owner Kathy Shiels. Kathy and Hugh have been growing grapes in the Yakima Valley for 26 years, and now daughter Kerry is the winemaker. It is a very closely controlled family operation: not too big and very exclusive. BTW, Bonneville does not refer to the famous Columbia River dam, but rather to the family home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fine wines? Oh yes! And the cute train station remodel is stunning.

The iconic schoolhouse at L’Ecole No. 41.

L’Ecole No. 41 is a long time Northwest award winner and given its presence one would think it was a corporate operation. But no, it is a 3rd generation family-run business. I admire lovingly restored old buildings and this old schoolhouse salvaged from destruction is a delight. By the end of Day Four of our Walla Walla tour my interest in trying more wines was waning, but L’Ecole No. 41’s special Friday Reserve Tour & Tasting was the perfect ending to our trip with great wines, camaraderie, and a walking tour of the property.

Our tasting at L’Ecole No. 41. It was hard to pick a favorite.

Not only were the wines great; In four nights we had four great meals in Walla Walla.  As a town about four times the size of Lincoln City, it had ten times the restaurant choices, especially at the high end.
Public House 124 is hard to classify. Maybe as one reviewer said on Trip Advisor, “a bar with a twist.” Inventive small plates, flat bread that should be called pizza, beer, wine, cocktails, sandwiches, and more. The truffle fries are swoon-worthy and I don’t even like truffles. Seamless service by a competent and pleasant staff. Efficient and professional but not stuffy.

This staircase at L’Ecole No. 41 was manufactured at Whitehouse-Crawford when it was a furniture factory.

Whitehouse-Crawford is a cavernous ex-planing mill and furniture company. (In fact, L’Ecole No. 41 features a staircase made there.) The ambiance is a bit noisy, service is professional if a bit distant, but the food is perfect and of course, there is wine…. Try the halibut. I have never had better halibut and considering I live by the ocean, that is high praise indeed.
That covers nights one and two. Each meal was better than the one prior and they were all excellent.
Night three found us at Brasserie Four, which seems to have been plucked out of France dropped into the Washington wheat fields. Perfectly roast chicken, moules-frites like one gets on the Riviera, a cheese-board worthy of a Parisian fromagerie. My only regret is that we were too satiated for dessert. And there was single malt waiting at the B&B.

The wrap aournd porch is perfect for summer breakfast, cocktails, and after dinner drinks.

The best for last! My favorite was Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. We don’t even get close to Middle-Eastern or Italian cuisine in Lincoln City. It is the only restaurant we have been in — since we were last in Europe — that had octopus on the menu. (It was delicious.) Paella with squid ink was popular with our group of four and the Moroccan Fried Chicken looked fabulous. I indulged in the Moroccan lamb sausage with chickpeas but I’d like to eat my way through the entire menu. This restaurant alone would have me back in Walla Walla sooner rather than later.
I can’t believe we lived in Portland for 25 years and never made it to Walla Walla. Now that we’ve been, I am certain we’ll be back. Save a place on the porch for us Barnaby.

Barnaby Jones keeping watch over the breakfast hour.

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