After a long, pandemic-related pause, Cayuse Weekend – also referred to as Spring Kickoff – returns to Walla Walla Valley April 7th through 9th. It’s a chance for list members to visit the valley, pick up their new wines, and sample future releases. (Cayuse allowed members to pick up wines in 2022 but did not hold its customary tasting event.) It is also an opportunity to visit with old friends and seek out new ones.
For those looking to explore new producers, here are 10 recommended wineries and tasting rooms that have opened in the valley in the last five years. Wineries are listed alphabetically. I expect most, if not all, would appreciate if not require reservations on what will surely be an extremely busy weekend. Plan ahead if you are interested in visiting one or more of the wineries listed.
Many know winemaker Peter Devison from his time as white winemaker at Precept, winemaker at Woodinville’s EFESTE, and, most recently, winemaker at Cadaretta. Devison is his own project, started with his wife Kelsey.
Devison has always been one of the top white winemakers in the state. His racy, acid-drenched Sauvignon Blanc and top-of-the-class rosé back that up. The reds are also not to be missed, from a thrilling GSM from Boushey Vineyard to a profound Malbec from Southwind – the best I’ve had from Washington. For old timers, the tasting room is located in the former Hence Cellars building. Read about recent releases here.
If you’re looking to take a walk on the wild side, check out Devium, a project by Keith Johnson who also serves as production winemaker at Sleight of Hand. Where else could you find a winery working with Malbec grown at 3,000 feet? Wines with no added sulfur?
Some offerings are more successful than others, but, at minimum, they are always palate-challenging and interesting. At their best, they are transcendent and some of the most exciting wines being produced in the state. Read a profile of the winery here.
If you like wine, your ears should perk up when one of the world’s few MS/MWs decides to venture into the production world. At Echolands, Doug Frost, MS/MW, his business partner Brad Bergman, and winemaker Taylor Oswald focus on wines that bring freshness and go well at the dinner table.
All of the wines are impressive, from the Rubrum, a superb blend of Bordeaux varieties, to a glug-able Grenache from the Rocks District. A winery is under construction in Upper Mill Creek, but the tasting room is up and running downtown. Read a profile of the winery here. Look for reviews of current releases next week.
At Grosgrain (pronounced grow-grain), Matt and Kelly Austin champion “underdog varieties.” A sparkling Red Mountain Lemberger Pet-Nat? Yup. They’ve got that. Windrow Charbono? They’ve got that too (though the current vintage is sold out).
Overall, Grosgrain focuses on lighter-styled wines, meant for earlier enjoyment. The wines are fresh, approachable, and straight-up delicious. The tasting room is also beautifully designed and boasts appealing outdoor spaces. Read a profile of the winery here. Read a recent update with reviews.
I have profiled winemaker Kelsey Itämeri previously. The winery is located in the incubator buildings by the Walla Walla airport.
Itä has a style all its own, focusing on restraint and purity, with fruit coming from the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Their nouveau-style wine beautifully captures the style. The Merlot is unlike anything else in the state.
Winemaker Kendall Mix takes a unique approach at Lawrelin. He gives the wines extended – and I mean extended – time in bottle prior to release. The result is wines that are in full bloom. That said, they have plenty of life ahead of them. If you’re looking for an introduction to the joys of aged wine or just simply want a great glass to enjoy, Lawrelin has done the work for you. Read a profile of the winery here.
Mongata is a new winery focusing exclusively on fruit from its estate vineyard, Resurgent. This is a cobblestone vineyard, albeit one that is outside of the Rocks District. The winery’s Syrah in particular is a standout. Read recent reviews here.
Jay Krutulis and Matt Reilly met as students at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. At Prospice, the pair have been producing high quality wines to date, including one of the state’s best rosés. Some of their new offerings, however, take things to the next level. Read recent reviews here and here.
Pursued by Bear
Actor Kyle MacLachlan has long had his Pursued by Bear brand, but it wasn’t until this year that the winery had its own tasting room. The space is located downtown. Wines are made by Dan Wampfler (Abeja). Though the tasting room will be open Spring Kickoff weekend, it will also have a grand opening event April 14-16. Tickets for this event can be purchased at the winery’s website.
Many who frequent the valley have likely already been to Valdemar. The winery made a huge splash when its multi-million dollar winery opened in the spring of 2019. For those unfamiliar, Valdemar is a fifth generation Spanish winemaking family. In addition to exceptional wines from Washington and Spain, the winery offers top-flight tapas and balcony views of the Blue Mountains. It is a singular experience.