13,000 – 15,000 years ago, the Missoula Floods, a series of cataclysmic glacial floods, deposit nutrients across Eastern Washington up to 1,200 feet above sea level.
1860’s FIRST PLANTINGS
Immigrants are among the first to plant grapes in the Walla Walla Valley, along with other fruit crops.
A few hard winters, the Temperance Movement and eventually, Prohibition, leads to the sharp decline of wine production in the Walla Walla Valley in the early 1900’s.
Gary Figgins plants grape vines at his family homestead and establishes Leonetti Cellar as Walla Walla’s first commercial winery in 1977. Four years later, Wine & Spirits Magazine recognizes the very first Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon (from the 1978 vintage) as best in the nation.
Woodward Canyon is established as the second commercial winery in Walla Walla in 1981. Neighboring L’Ecole N°41 becomes number three during 1983. One year later in 1984, the federal government designates the Walla Walla Valley as the second official American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Washington State.
Dozens of now-famous names follow in the footsteps of the local wine industry’s founding fathers to establish new labels. By 1998, 16 wineries call the Walla Walla Valley home.
THE NEW CENTURY
In 2001, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is established and by 2002 more than 50 wineries are licensed in the Walla Walla Valley. The Walla Walla Community College recognizes a need for training the upcoming wine industry workforce and the Institute for Enology and Viticulture welcomes its inaugural class in 2003.
Due to growth, the words Walla Walla start appearing prominently on restaurant and retail wine lists across the country and then internationally. Wine & Spirits Magazine announces its respected Top 100 Wineries of the World list for 2012, five of which hail from the Walla Walla Valley.
The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, nestled within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, is approved in early 2015. The distinguishing feature of The Rocks District is its soil, which consists primarily of cobbled soils. Syrah accounts for almost half of the planted vineyards in the sub-AVA and Cabernet Sauvignon is second. The Rocks District is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries (96%) are fixed by a single soil series (Freewater Series) and a single land form (alluvial fan).
The Walla Walla Valley AVA continues to grow as more vines and wineries put down roots. The Walla Walla Valley is home to roughly 120 wineries, making it the most concentrated location of wineries in Washington State. In 2018, Walla Walla is renowned as a wine region to watch by Vogue, USA Today, Travel + Leisure and more.
In addition, the Walla Walla Valley AVA is now home to 2,933 acres of vineyards – a number which grows year-over-year. Top planted varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Syrah (18%) and Merlot (16%). Currently, 57% of vineyard plantings reside in Washington, with the remaining 43% lying on the Oregon side of the Valley. The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater makes up roughly 10% of the vineyard plantings in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.
THE FUTURE OF THE WALLA WALLA VALLEY
The future is bright in the Walla Walla Valley. Come back yearly and you’ll witness updated business models, new ventures and investment in the area. Rooted in collaborative and deep cultural camaraderie, the great people of the Walla Walla Valley wine industry look forward to sharing their special wine growing region with you.