Fresh back from a trip to Walla Walla Valley for Spring Release weekend. As always, the trip was a mixture of visits to wineries I had been to before and wineries that were new/new to me. Also as always, despite visiting numerous wineries over the course of the weekend, there were many more that I hoped to visit but was unable to. The valley is currently home to more than one hundred wineries. This is part of what makes the area so exciting to visit.

A few quick impressions from the weekend. The Walla Walla Valley continues to be branded in various ways as a tourist destination. While I noted in my Fall Release report the Charles Smith billboard in downtown Walla Walla, two additional Smith billboards now line the highways on the drive out from Seattle – one 45 miles away from Walla Walla and one 15 miles away. I had brief visions of Wall Drug as I drove along.

Despite the poor economy, numerous new wineries were still opening their doors for the first time this weekend or opening new tasting rooms. I often equate running a winery to steering the Titanic. Things move extremely slowly. Many of these wineries were in progress long before the economy took such a terrible turn. Still, it is always a thrill to visit a winery during their opening days.

At least to the eye, there seemed to be more people in the area than on recent visits. Business seemed quite brisk over the course of the weekend. People also seemed to be buying good amounts of wine with many people leaving wineries with cases under their arms. Despite these positive indications, I did note several ‘Winery For Sale’ signs around town.

Perhaps more so than on any other visit, I was impressed by the consistently high quality of the wine being produced in the Walla Walla Valley. It seems as if every year the quality bar gets raised higher and higher. Coming off several extremely high quality vintages certainly helps as well.

I was also impressed by the reminder of the sometimes violent forces that continue to shape the valley in particular and Washington State more generally. Winds on the drive home today reached sixty-plus miles per hour. Dust storms billowed high into the sky, at times obscuring most of the highway. By the time I reached Snoqualmie Pass, snow had been added to the high winds. Who says spring is here?

Look for a full writeup of the weekend in the coming weeks.