The East Side Wine District features some of the most coveted and idyllic spots on the Walla Walla wine map. Because they are a bit further a-flung, and because the East Side Wine District is home to some of the harder-to-get-into wineries, the best way to experience these Walla Walla wineries is through a touring company.
Luckily, we have The Touring Co right here in Walla Walla. Owner and Touring Maven Ali Rodgers sat down with us to share some insider tips for touring the East Side Wine District in this Walla Walla wine district spotlight.
Wine Country Recommendations from The Touring Co
Tip #1: Take it Slow
Ali’s top recommendation: take it slow to really take in the beauty of the surroundings on the edge of the Palouse.
“On our drive out to the east side, at least one person will comment on the beauty of the scene,” Ali notes. “‘Wow it’s so beautiful out here.’ You really get a feel for what the Palouse is.”
The drive to the East Side Wine District features rolling wheat fields on one side and the flowing Mill Creek River on the other. Most of the wineries you’ll visit are set amidst vineyards and rolling hills. Do yourself a favor and plan a loose agenda when you visit the East Side so that you can explore, relax, and enjoy the year-round wonder that is this setting.
There are also fewer wineries overall in the East Side Wine District, so there’s no need to rush.
Tip #2: Pack a Lunch
There’s nothing quite like a wine country picnic, and standout spots like Walla Walla Vintners make for a terrific picnic setting. They have recently enhanced their outdoor seating to better accommodate lingering outside.
Some favorite restaurants to pick up your picnic include Graze: A Place to Eat, Cugini’s Italian Imports & Deli, and downtown favorite Stone Soup. In fact, Ali includes lunch from Graze in some of their tour packages because of how picnic-perfect their offerings are (and how delicious).
If you are planning a picnic, be sure to check with your destination winery to ensure that this is permissible. Some, but not all, local wineries have no problem with you bringing along your own food, but it’s good courtesy to double-check.
Tip #3: Bring your camera
One more tip before we take you behind the scenes on a Day in the East Side: bring your selfie stick! The East Side Wine District is a fantastic spot for pictures in the vineyards because so many of the wineries are located right on the site where some of their grapes are grown. With vineyard access right onsite and in abundance, photos of and in the vineyard really capture the sense of being in wine country, where some of the other wine districts have vineyards in a lesser degree.
The East Side Wine District is also higher elevation than other districts. You can capture better views looking down into vineyards and gorgeous vistas of the Blue Mountains without needing to take an ATV ride into the weeds.
A day in the East Side Wine District
(recommended itinerary from Ali Rodgers, owner and Touring Maven, The Touring Co)
First, pick up your picnic lunch (see Tip #2).
Then head out to stop #1 on your East Side Wine District itinerary – Ali recommends Aluvé.
“We love introducing people to wineries that guests likely wouldn’t have found on their own. Aluvé is a prime example,” Ali explains. “Their wines are not heavily distributed because they’re predominantly a direct-to-consumer model, and they also don’t make a ton of wine.”
Aluvé is a Veteran-owned and operated Estate Vineyard and winery located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. They specialize in small production lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Sangiovese, poured for you by Kelly and JJ—the owners and winemakers–in one of the most picturesque settings in the Valley.
“You get to taste with the people who made the wine. Kelly and JJ pour it for you. This is rare to find, even in Walla Walla.” Ali continues, “Who better to tell you about the wines than the people who made them? And it’s easy to fall in love with their story. Not only are we proud to support ex-military, but people that retired with the armed forces and are now living their dream.”
Aluvé has a large outdoor covered patio overlooking their vineyards, which sets the stage for their portfolio of delicious wines. Aluvé also offers a limited food menu, and zero contact checkout at your table upon completion of your tasting. To schedule your tasting appointment, visit https://www.aluvewine.com/visit.
Next, after your leisurely tasting at Aluvé, it’s time for wine and a picnic in a beautiful vineyard setting. The perfect spot for that is Walla Walla Vintners.
“Our guests enjoy Walla Walla Vintners for the view, ambiance, and delicious wines. It’s easy to forget you’re around other people there, with the sound of rustling leaves in the trees,” Ali describes. “This is one of those spots where our guests will often buy a bottle to enjoy there (with a picnic or on its own).”
This raises an excellent point about the East Side Wine District in general. In the summer months, the East Side wineries are a perfect place to wrap up a day of tasting because of their higher elevation and light breezes. Those dog days of summer call for leisurely sipping in a relaxed and cool setting. The wineries on the East Side have all of that and more.
But back to Walla Walla Vintners. If you visit their website before you visit the winery in person, you’ll see this simple headline:
“Grow the best fruit. Make amazing wine. Share with friends.”
Walla Walla Vintners has a 25+ year legacy doing just that. Walla Walla Vintners was the Walla Walla Valley’s 8th winery, and crafts wines with a true sense of place including traditional Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Sangiovese, Malbec and Syrah. Their Cut Bank Estate red wines are reserved for wine club members and sell out quickly, so consider a membership if you want to take advantage of all that this historic winery has to offer.
As a reminder of Ali’s FIRST tip: take it slow here! Leave yourself some time to enjoy a bottle of wine after your tasting, and relax in this picturesque setting surrounded by beautiful vineyards.
Lastly, heading back into town, you’ll pass by K Vintners and Abeja; both of which are worth a stop depending on the time of year.
K Vintners is winemaker Charles Smith’s first winemaking project, which started with 330 cases of 1990 K Syrah sold out of the back of Charles’ 1987 Astro van. Charles Smith went on to become one of only four Washington winemakers to receive a 100 point score (for the 2006 Royal City Syrah). He has created and sold several iconic wine labels (House Wines and Charles Smith Wines), and even launched one of the most ambitious plantings in Washington State with his Golden West Pinot Noir project. K Vintners is only open to the public in this location during the spring and summer, and they do require a reservation. Even if you aren’t able to get a reservation at K Vintners, make sure to stop for the photo op in front of the giant K that sits on the outskirts of Phil Lane Estate Vineyard, which you’ll drive right past on your way back into town. And if you’re dying to try these wines, the HOUSE OF SMITH downtown Walla Walla world headquarters is open year-round, where you can taste K Vintners releases as well as wines from the rest of the HOUSE OF SMITH lineup including Golden West Pinot Noir, ViNO CasaSmith, SIXTO Chardonnay, and more.
Abeja Winery produces iconic Washington wines and is located on a beautiful centuries-old historic farmhouse estate, about four miles east of Walla Walla. Visit Abeja for a seated tasting in the historic Small Barn for a selection of Beekeeper and Columbia Valley selections and a brief overview of Abeja. Or plan to enjoy the Abeja Estate Experience, which opens with a walking tour of Abeja’s winery and historic farmstead. Views of the scenic Mill Creek Estate vineyards, creeks, gardens, and panoramic views showcase the important role nature has to play in everything they do at Abeja. After the tour, your host will guide you through a seated tasting flight of single-vineyard wines from Abeja’s Mill Creek and Heather Hill estate vineyards, including a special selection from their library, all paired with a seasonal selection of artisan cheeses and charcuterie.
Abeja is also one of the only locations in Walla Walla to also offer luxury accommodations. The Inn at Abeja provides year-round Walla Walla lodging for a truly one-of-a-kind wine country experience. The property’s original outbuildings have been meticulously restored with an emphasis on craftsmanship, and an Abeja wine tasting and gourmet breakfast are included with each stay.
To book a stay: – https://www.abeja.net/accommodations.php
To make a wine tasting reservation: – https://www.abeja.net/tastings.php
Visiting Wine Country
As you can see, having a guided experience with a company like The Touring Co is a great way to kickstart any length of stay in Walla Walla. Consider booking a tour for every day of your tasting adventures so that you can sip safely while also getting the insider’s view of where to go and when. A touring company can also connect you to experiences you may not be able to access on your own, whether it be a wine tasting experience or another local opportunity during your visit. If you’re on a budget, or prefer to do some self-guided exploration, book your tour for the first day of wine tasting. Your tour guide will be able to give you recommendations for other spots to visit based on what you enjoyed during the tour they curated for you.
Time spent in the East Side Wine District is always time well-spent, whether you choose to visit only one or two spots, finish a day of tasting out on the East Side, or try to squeeze in all four standouts we highlighted in today’s showcase. To get the most out of your Walla Walla wine country adventure, consider one of the area’s wine tour and transportation options. And regardless of where you visit, take Ali from The Touring Co’s tips into consideration.