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Touring The Washington State Wine Region – Day One

Touring The Washington State Wine Region – Day One

Endless prairie under a cushion of soft cloud.

Endless prairie under a cushion of soft cloud.

We drove from Missoula, Montana yesterday under a blanket of cloudy sky and arrived in Walla Walla, Washington late afternoon in a deluge of rain. We checked in to our hotel and immediately made our way to the downtown area to see what was happening and to get a “lay of the land”.

Downtown Walla Walla, Washington

Downtown Walla Walla, Washington

It was incredibly cold walking downtown in the wind and the rain and we found refuge at the Fort Walla Walla Cellars Tasting Room. Our host, Terry, poured us a sample of their 2010 Merlot, followed by a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were complex and delicious. Terry and his friend, Pat, then treated us to a glass of the 2007 Merlot. Merlot is not our favourite varietal, but we really enjoyed both vintages poured for us. It was a delight to speak with Terry, Pat and Shelley about the area, wines, restaurants, etc. Ron teased Terry about working for the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce as he said that, with the exception of perhaps one winery, each of the approximately 150 local wineries are making GREAT wine. Similarly, when we pressed him to recommend the town’s best restaurants, Terry told us that there are many wonderful chefs and places to eat in the area. We left with a bottle of each of the two varietals we tasted and a great feeling of having met and spent time with three new friends.

The Fort Walla Walla Tasting Room on Main Street

The Fort Walla Walla Cellars Tasting Room on Main Street

Fort Walla Walla Cellars is a boutique winery that produces about 2,000 cases of ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Bordeaux blend wines from grapes produced exclusively from vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley.


We’ve wanted to tour the wine producing areas of Washington and Oregon for several years and we’re excited to finally be here. Pacific Northwest wines dominated the top of Wine Spectator magazine’s annual top 100 list in 2015, a compilation of the best wines in the world, according to the world’s largest and most influential wine publication. In 2015, wines from Washington and Oregon finished an astonishing 20 percent of the top 50, with five wines from each state. Very impressive.

Whitehouse-Crawford Dining Area (photo courtesy of http://www.whitehousecrawford.com)

Whitehouse-Crawford Dining Area (photo courtesy of http://www.whitehousecrawford.com)

We did take Terry’s recommendation for one of his favorite restaurants, Whitehouse-Crawford. Dating back to 1880, the site of this restaurant was originally a planing mill and furniture company. Destroyed by fire in late 1903, it was rebuilt in brick and continued as a planing mill and furniture factory until it was sold to the City of Walla Walla in 1988. The current owner, Salvation! LLC, saved the site from being razed to build a motel and carefully restored it as a quality restaurant that celebrates food, wine and the history of the Walla Walla Valley.

Harvest Apple Salad

Harvest Apple Salad

Our evening started with an order of Empanadas, perhaps the best either of us have ever had – light pastry and delicious filling. We then shared a Harvest Apple Salad, followed by the Pork Shoulder.

Pork Shoulder

Pork Shoulder

Robertson, our waiter, recommended the 2010 aMaurice Cellars Syrah, “Fred”, from the Walla Walla Valley and a 2012 Gramercy Cellars blend from the Columbia Valley, “The Third Man”. The Gramercy Cellars wine was spectacular and this vineyard produced the 2012 “Deuce Syrah” which was named #22 wine in the world by Wine Spectator in 2015.


Regional Cheeses

We finished our evening’s meal with a selection of Regional Cheeses (served with candied pecans, rhubarb chutney, and house made crackers) and a glass of Graham’s 20-Year Tawny Port. The service, the quality of the food, presentation and value were all excellent.


Our first night in Walla Walla was so positive that we decided to stay and play one more day. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!


Fettucine with Sausage and Fried Sage Leaves

Although I haven’t finished telling our story about the trip to Cabo, I wanted to write about a fabulous recipe that I tried today (after walking to the top of the Pedregal) from the New York Times.


Here in Cabo, Ron and I have access to the freshest and most amazing ingredients – it really is a cook’s delight. We have an organic market just half a block up the street from us that offers a gorgeous selection of fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, goat milk dairy products, breads and take-out foods every Wednesday and Saturday. I noticed that one of the vendors, Juan Carlos, had some beautiful fresh sage the other day. I managed to track down some Italian sausage (it can be a bit of a challenge to find some ingredients down here, believe me!) and prepared this dish that we recently found in the New York Times archives:


It was absolutely delicious! I served it with tender mixed lettuce and frisée, diced avocado, toasted pine nuts and a very simple vinaigrette of white wine vinegar with tarragon, olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

The wine I chose to serve with it was a 2009 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills of Prosser, Washington. The description on the bottle says:

Working with old vines and newer vines, this cab shows the earthy sage of the old vines and the smoky fruit of the new. Complemented by ripe raspberry, dark chocolate and a hint of spice.

Last year a lovely young couple, Davy and Diana, came into Pancho’s and Ron and I enjoyed some wonderful conversation with them. They contacted us after their visit and said that they wanted us to try some of the wines that they are producing in their small town, Prosser, in Washington state. We were delighted, of course, to try some of the wines that they recommended, and they sent them to friends in Palm Springs so we could bring them back when we were up for the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament in March.


We never did have a chance to try a bottle before we left Cabo last season, so today was the day that we opened one of the four precious bottles that Davy and Diana sent to us. The wine was delicious and paired well with this dish. I selected the wine and worried that a cabernet might be too big for this cream based dish, but the Italian sausage and sage were delightful with this choice.

This is a dish that I would definitely serve to guests and look forward to enjoying again soon (thankfully there are leftovers from this lunch!). Buen provecho!

Charleston, South Carolina!

After we left Washington and endured bumper-to-bumper traffic to Richmond, we stayed the night there so Ron could watch the baseball finals and we then headed for Charleston, SC the next morning.

The hotel we had made arrangements to stay in, the La Quinta in North Charleston, had no rooms ready to check into when we stopped by at 4:00 so we drove into Charleston to do some sightseeing and have dinner.

Ron as read most of the books that Pat Conroy has written and I recently read my first book of his, Beach Music, which I enjoyed tremendously. Pat Conroy is perhaps best known for Prince of Tides, but, as a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, many of his books, like My Winning Season, Lords of Discipline, Broad Street and The Great Santini talk to experiences, both positive and negative, at The Citadel. We located The Citadel and drove and walked the campus and visited the basketball auditorium, tennis courts and other features of this famous military school. Reading Pat Conroy’s work will be more meaningful for me in future and Ron now has a vivid picture of the scenes and stories he’s already enjoyed.


We drove around Charleston, parked and walked along the waterfront to take in the beauty of the mansions situated there. The architecture and preservations of homes and historic buildings throughout the city is incredibly impressive.


We headed downtown and walked the main streets looking for a recommended restaurant named FIG (Food is Good). As impressive as their menu looked, they had a significant line-up, so we headed across the street and had some great food at Sticky Fingers BBQ. Definitely NOT for vegetarians, this restaurant turned out some fine southern barbecue, tremendous Sweet Potato Casserole and a fabulous homemade coleslaw. They’ve served their food to a massive list of celebrities and we can now appreciate why. The food and service were great. While at the restaurant, we called the hotel and our room STILL wasn’t ready and it was now 8:30 at night.


We had dropped by the historic Francis Marion Hotel to admire the architecture and to see if the musicians on the second floor (visible from the street) were perhaps playing some jazz that we could enjoy. An exceptional young man working at the hotel who had just moved from Vermont, Seanan Keleher, asked where we were staying and we told him that the hotel that we had booked earlier in the day through Expedia did not have our room ready when we dropped by at approximately 4:00 this afternoon, nor at 8:30 this evening when we called to check on it. He said that he had one room left and offered to work with the hotel we’d booked and with Expedia to have our money refunded and to arrange for us to stay at the Francis Marion Hotel instead. It took almost a half hour on the phone with various people, but he made it happen. We couldn’t have been more delighted. Seanan went above and beyond any normal expectations of service. It was a real pleasure to stay in this beautiful hotel, built in 1928, with such a magnificent view of this amazing city.


The next morning, we set off to take in as much of the city as we could possibly fit in and took a narrated carriage ride through historic Charleston. Before we left the city, we grabbed a quick lunch at a local Irish pub and enjoyed their version of an “Irish Quesadilla” – corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese cooked in a quesadilla with a side of sautéed spinach. Great idea to replicate for St. Patrick’s Day!


Washington, DC

We headed to Washington, DC when we left Baltimore. We weren’t in a great hurry to visit Washington until we were sure that the government workers were back to work and everything was open again after the sequester and closures. The time we waited was worthwhile as two days before we wouldn’t have been able to access many of the buildings, memorials or even public bathrooms.

It’s quite thrilling to see the capital buildings, even from a distance. We caught sight of the Capital Dome far away on Washington Avenue and it really is an impressive sight. Ron had been once before but it was my first visit.


We parked next to a public park quite far from the capital buildings and were greeted and serenaded with a song from Steve, one of the homeless men that spent their days there. Ron gave him some money to watch our car and he played his jazz rendition of Stormy Weather on his old trumpet to thank us. He and his friends couldn’t have been nicer and we were trusting that they really would watch our vehicle while we were touring the sights.

Steve Playing "Stormy Weather"

The White House, House of Representatives and the House of the Senate were very impressive. Despite all of the divisiveness and conflict that the government has endured as of late, you can’t help but be awed and inspired by the US capital – considered historically the most powerful nation in the world.

We walked for miles that day and were moved tremendously by the World War II Memorial and, more impactfully, by the Vietnam War Memorial. There was a contingency of elderly servicemen and their families/caregivers that were taking them through the memorials and it was a very emotional experience to watch. For us, reading the names of the tens of thousands of men who gave their lives senselessly in the Vietnam War and knowing that Ron could have been one of them was very moving, to say the least.


The Washington Monument was encased with scaffolding and undergoing repair, but the National Botanical Garden, National Mall and all of the other monuments, parks and memorials were open and very impressive. The weather that day was perfect which only added to our experience.


We were delighted to find our car exactly as we had left it even though Steve and his friends had left the park. We can only hope that the money we gave him went towards food and/or shelter and helped him in some way. Ron jokingly said that he hoped that Steve and his friends bought and enjoyed a nice bottle of California red wine on us – whatever! One more opportunity to be very grateful for what we have and the life we lead.