Portland, Oregon Taste Walla Walla event. Image by Richard Duval.

Starting next week, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance will be conducting its annual tasting events. These events have long included Seattle and Portland. For the second year running, there is a third city involved: Boise.

“We wanted to make sure we were heading east with Walla Walla Valley wine instead of just keeping our sights set on the west,” says Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance executive director Liz Knapke. “It’s been a market and region that’s been really important to us for some time.”

The Alliance had events in Boise over a decade ago but then took a long pause. Last year, the group, a non-profit, membership organization charged with promoting the area’s wines, returned to Boise with great success. The event was the first of the three to sell out, though in part due to a smaller venue.

To accommodate the interest, the Alliance added a second night in Boise this year, with the events taking place March 3rd and 4th. Overall, Walla Walla Valley wineries are gaining significant traction in the Gem State.

“We’re getting more and more wineries hooked into distribution in Idaho, so we’ve got better representation in the market,” Knapke says. “The trade in Boise, we’re their closest ally in many ways. We’re their neighbor wine region.”

Boise, along with neighboring Garden City, is home to over a dozen wineries and is approximately four hours from Walla Walla. This makes it about the same driving distance as Portland and Seattle. While Walla Walla has long seen a steady stream of visitors from Boise, the town has surely benefitted from the recent growth of Boise and its surrounding areas.

“It’s the third most significant part of our wine club behind the Puget Sound and Portland,” says Chad Johnson, co-founder of Dusted Valley in Walla Walla. “It’s always been a great market for us.”

John Blair, general manager at Dunham Cellars, which was founded in 1995, agrees. “We’ve always had a really strong Boise following,” he says. “(Founding winemaker) Eric Dunham spent a lot of time in the early years of our winery developing relationships and meeting key buyers there.”

Boise also offers Walla Walla something Seattle can’t: year-round visitors. Wine tourism from the Puget Sound area surges in April and wanes in November. Snoqualmie Pass highway conditions greatly impact whether people in western Washington travel to the area during the winter months. That is less the case with people from Boise.

“They’re willing to drive in crappy weather,” says Johnson. “They don’t care if it’s snowing on the pass.”

The Walla Walla Wine Alliance’s Seattle event, meanwhile, is next week on January 29th. The Portland event takes place February 26th. There will be 50 wineries represented at each event. Walla Walla Valley, which celebrates its 40th anniversary as an appellation next month, is home to over 130 wineries and tasting rooms.

There are other changes in addition to a second night in Boise. The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is adding bottle sales to the event.

“It will be a limited selection,” says Knapke. “Usually wineries bring four SKUS, and we’re introducing the opportunity to sell one of the SKUs.”

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