August 26, 2013 (Monday, cont’d) – Though it doesn’t feel like wine country, tasting rooms begin to appear on Route 12 at least 14 miles west of Walla Walla. We stopped first at Woodward Canyon with a quaint tasting room selling cookbooks from Mozza and Smitten Kitchen, among others. Social media is everywhere these days. This spot feels like the middle of nowhere but offers 5% off purchase if you check in with Yelp. We gladly paid $5 to taste six wines. Next was L’Ecole just a couple hundred yards away. This is a much larger establishment and also offered six wines for $5. A packed car facilitated the necessary discipline to forego buying bottles.
Reininger and Three Rivers are nearby and came recommended, but we continued on Route 12 and exited at 2nd Street then turned onto wide Main Street and parked. Sunny and 80s suited us fine. Apparently it often breaks 100º in summer and gets quite cold in the winter. Jenni fell in love with Debouche, a sizeable store selling mid-century and Danish modern furniture and accessories. She vowed to return when we have a home to decorate. Though someone had recommended Graze sandwich shop and I had read about Green Spoon, we chose Olive for a late lunch and did not regret it. It is spacious indoors and there is ample sidewalk seating. You order at the counter and the menu is tantalizing. We split a duck confit salad and apricot chicken salad sandwich. Jenni got a chai latte and I splurged on an iced mocha. There is WiFi and it is open until 9 pm.
Re-energized to taste, we checked into the CarltAnn House, a proper B&B that we happened to find through airbnb. It is a pleasant, older house with a few rooms on offer; we chose the spacious and light-filled Anne Belov room (named for the hosts’ artist friend whose work is on the walls). There is a large shared bath, which works particularly well when you are the only guests.
John (the proprietor, along with his partner, Nathan) gave us a few recommendations, and we walked through the Whitman College campus to Charles Smith on Spokane Street. This place rocks. The namesake is a character with long, curly, silver blonde hair. It is a big industrial space where all the furniture and walls are on wheels, making the room easy to rearrange for private events and their own parties. Each Thursday is bluegrass and burgers night from 6 pm until close, no cover charge. We opted for the $10 premium tasting (vs. the $5 standard) and enjoyed the wines and conversation with our pourer and a couple visiting from South Dakota who offered recommendations for our upcoming visit. We were offered additional or re-tastes free of charge, and permitted to leave without paying after we said we would return to buy a bottle (which means the tasting fee is waived). A flyer informed us that the 6th annual jazz and wine festival took place the prior weekend.
Around the corner on Main Street, we hit Mark Ryan Winery for a $5 tasting of six wines. Here, too, the fee is credited against any purchase and additional or re-tastes are graciously offered. A rather different vibe from the rigid structure of most wineries I have visited. This is an attractive tasting room and we departed with a delicious bottle of the 2011 Suicide Shift red for $25. The Marcus Whitman is the most well-known hotel in town, and within the structure is a tasting room for TERO Estates and Flying Trout Wines (part of TERO). They waive the tasting fee and offer a 10% discount on purchases for hotel guests. Apparently I like torrontes wines from Argentina (we had bought a couple bottles of the Recuerdo after tasting at Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley in May), a tasty and typically inexpensive white varietal. Perhaps the cumulative wine deserves an assist, as we struck up conversations with a supremely friendly woman from Vachon Island and couple from Florida. Making our way home, we stopped at Salumiere Cesario and bought finochiona and creminelli calabrese charcuterie; triple crème, naked goat and Point Reyes blue cheeses; and Raincoast Crisp seed crackers. They sell La Brea Bakery bread but were out of French baguettes. Also available is a robust selection of large-bottle specialty ales and impressive array of fancy salts in bulk containers.
True to our word, we grabbed the 2012 K Viognier (from the Columbia Valley AVA) at Charles Smith ($25, but feels like $15 net of the tasting fee), and John set up a lovely spread on the back patio with our picnic items and Suicide Shift red. Midway through dinner, John joined with another bottle of red and regaled us with his own life stories. I will not recount all, but his biography boasts multiple sabbaticals, including a trip to Ireland where the fiddle fascinated him and a follow-up trip where he found elder statesmen to teach him the secrets of the strings. I realized here one of the more compelling benefits of extended travel is that we are so much more open to in-depth conversations with strangers. John is a lovely man, but had we been on a romantic weekend getaway we might have preferred privacy at dinner. Instead, Jenni and I are together 24/7 and welcome company! Not to mention, folks seem to want to talk to us more now that our story has changed. It is very peaceful here; the sound of crickets dominates. I found it hilarious when John said “Walla Walla is the town so nice they named it twice” that he had never heard that about New York, nor I about Walla Walla.
We are now big fans of Walla Walla. It feels tiny, in part because there is so little nearby (the closest major airport is a four-hour drive). Yet this town of roughly 32,000 is just about the size of Jenni’s and my hometown combined, and sports a Sears (Hometown Store) and Macy’s on Main Street. I also found myself thinking about the cost of living arbitrage available to those who can earn a living as entrepreneurs or working remotely. I suppose this is obvious, but home prices and general costs are a function of a place’s desirability based on various lifestyle metrics and the supply of well-paid jobs to support those prices. In other words, LA is so expensive not just because it is awesome but because there are so many high paying jobs to support the prices. In Walla Walla, one can buy a 6,500 square foot historic mansion for about $600,000 (vs. maybe $4-6 million in LA), despite that it does not seem to suck here.
August 27, 2013 (Tuesday) – John prepared a gluttonous spread of meats, cheeses, fresh muffins, egg quiche, bread with a few jams, smoked salmon, fruit, tea and coffee. We fit in another enjoyable conversation then hit Safeway for the usual provisions and were on the road a little after 10:30 am. We took the most direct route to Bell Bay Campground in Idaho which included scenic roads that were hilly and windy but overall pretty fast-moving. Route 12 East passes endless rolling hills of (harvested) grain and several elevators. The first town we bisected was Waitsburg, with its own little brewery. Next was Dayton which has gas stations, a movie theater, a couple chains and several places to stay. We took Route 127 out of the valley and crossed the Snake River where there are several barges for grain transport. Eastern Washington is dry with grain everywhere, while almost immediately we encountered pine trees and forest in Idaho.