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Wines, Weeds, and Wheels in Washington State
A dispatch from the Evergreen State
Just flew in from Walla Walla and boy are my arms tired! 🥁
September really just snuck in then peaced out, didn’t it? Now here we are, on the verge of another Weed Witching season. I feel so unprepared, which I guess is fair considering we had an orange apocalypse over the summer and New York was just drowning. Next up: two solid weeks of fall foliage before the next Ice Age. Oy.
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Anyway, I’m sorry failed you all this September and will try to overcompensate before I peace out to Faaahhhrrrrraaannnceeeee (France) end of month. Which is why this issue is all about travel! It’s time to get on your broomsticks and hop off somewhere cool. Perhaps the great state of Washington?
Before we get into it, a quick plug: Check out the latest issue of Different Leaf, where I contributed to the cover feature on cannatourism in the Bay Area, and keep an eye out for the next issue of Red Bulletin Magazine where I help you plan an intentionally weird trip to Las Vegas.
For an easy autumn getaway, make sure to pick up my book, “Easy Weekend Getaways in the Hudson Valley & Catskills.” I made it so easy for you! Just between friends: my book is so underground that it wasn’t even ripped off by AI. I was a little offended at first, to be perfectly honest. Like, the tech industry doesn’t think my book matters enough to steal it and profit off of my work? How embarrassing. But then I realized that it inadvertently makes the book an essential read now because you can’t even rip it off. All the secrets are in there, which means you kind of have to buy it. Or just figure it out yourself—just don’t come complaining to me about it! I already saved you a few hours of getting lost and confused in the very first chapter. Either way, this travel book is certifiably too cool for its own good and only cool people need apply. Onwards!
Anyway, on that note: I began writing this during a quick pit stop at Seattle’s Volunteer Park, where I decided to carve out 20 minutes to hang out with some trees in the forest—breathing them in, smoking them out, reading them, writing on them, taking photos with them. It seems simple enough but traveling for business comes with the caveat of understanding that the majority of that time is not yours; it’s recon time. It’s hard, believe me. And I do this professionally.
While looking for Brandon and Bruce Lee’s graves, I found the perfect little nook just begging me to sit, draw a few doodles, and jot down some thoughts. Every once and awhile, I’d hear a loud thud echo throughout the canopy as a squirrel dropped its tree snack, shooting me a look that said, “Whaddya gonna do about it?” It inched closer and closer, trying to see how much it get away with, before I shot it a look that said “Try me.” Truly testing me. But this is why we travel: to decompress, reset, and feel re-inspired. And when you’re in Washington, the main attraction is nature.
Volunteer Park is a stunning greenspace nestled in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Created by famed landscape architect John Charles Olmstead—the same guy who designed about 100 iconic greenspaces across the country, including Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Jackson Park in Chicago—the jewels of the sprawling 48-acre park are the Volunteer Conservatory historic Victorian-style botanical greenhouse and Seattle Asian Art Museum housed in a gorgeous 1933 Art Deco building with a duck pond across the street.
Because I hadn’t been to Seattle since 2018, it was interesting to experience the city through a fresh set of eyes. Those eyes were stretched to exhaustion for a whole week, unfortunately, as I left my glasses while rushing out at 5 a.m. to catch a scheduled ride that never showed up, adding to the strain of arguing with the automated robots at Lyft and fielding the 300 emails assaulting me every 15 minutes across 8 different inboxes. I bought a pair of overpriced ugly readers at the airport that I despise and were completely useless, so that’s how I was literally experiencing everything: through squinted, tired eyes. But I made the best of it!
I found myself out West by invitation from car company Kia, who included me among a small group of media to drive their new fleet of electric vehicles through the new Napa of Washington (a term of comparison that I usually hate, but in this case actually makes sense) courtesy of a friend-of-a-friend introduction to wine educator and consultant Maryam Ahmed of Maryam and Company via Cara Patricia at DECANTsf. Because it takes longer to get to Walla Walla than Europe, I decided to tack on a couple more days in Seattle on the leg home thanks to the support of Visit Seattle that generously put together a solid itinerary I’m excited to share here.
Miraculously, I had a smooth flight on both legs of the trip to Walla Walla with Air Alaska—though somehow managed to get the one wine region flight without complimentary wine service because it was too short (still). I also discovered that Air Alaska has a Wine Flies Free program that allows you to check a case of wine on flights servicing wine regions without incurring a baggage check fee, which is nice because I barely check my luggage anymore unless I have to thanks to compression travel accessories. If this is something you do regularly or you plan to take part in beverage tourism, I always recommend slipping a few wine sleeves in your bag just in case.
Even though I had only been to the city one time, the Seattle-Tacoma airport made an impression. Why can’t every airport have a Sub-Pop record store with a DJ spinning Foo Fighters and metal in the middle of the terminal and a solid wine bar with a fantastic salmon rilettes salad? Then again, the Walla Walla airport is so small that it is essentially one gate, but they do have a “take a book, leave a book” nook that I found charming and if you have a layover for some reason, you’re not too terribly far from the Airport Wine Incubator to kill time.
Wine is one of those areas that I am both completely ignorant about but always surprised to learn that I know more than I think I do (surely from years of being negged). Working in the restaurant trade for nearly two decades provided the privilege of attending years and years of professional seminars, trainings, tastings, demos, university lectures, national symposiums, on-site tours, and interviews with experts. And yet, somehow I knew very little about Washington wines, even though I was heading there specifically for it.
The ignorance is forgivable as much like the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Finger Lakes and Long Island in New York, most of the good stuff doesn’t leave the region. While California gets all the fanfare for putting North American wines on the map, the Pacific Northwest is what made me rethink the potential of geological influences on soil composition and the future possibilities of wine production in other states (should you want to read a fascinating whitepaper on the geological influences of terroir of the Columbia basin, I’ve got you).
These regions aren’t bound to tradition like French AOCs, but they do have a history—one dating back to 1825 that proliferated in the 1850s when homesteaders on the Oregon Trail brought grape cuttings that they planted throughout the region. Stretching from southeastern Washington into northeastern Oregon, Walla Walla is among the smallest of the 20 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), but has the highest concentration of wineries in the state and some of the oldest. Producing mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and the much-maligned Merlot (a varietal I am convinced is entering its villain era with Zinfandel), the region is anchored by the incredibly small town of Walla Walla with a population of only 30,000 but boasting over 120 world-class wineries. Also, the band Chastity Belt is from there!
What was great about the Kia trip was the opportunity to get a first look at the up-and-coming varietals and blends being lead from a new guard of diverse female winemakers defining the future of wine in the region. Winemaker Devyani Isabel Gupta brings Roussane to Spanish-owned winery Valdemar Estates; Fiona S. Mak is putting rose on the map at SMAK Wines, an all-rose production winery; Kelsey Albro Itämeri of Ita Winery has an incredible Semillion in her portfolio, proving that Washington can do whites within a world of reds; Brooke Robertson of SJR Vineyard is challenging the elements to produce phenomenal Viogner and Grenache; and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler and Dan Wampfler at Abeja have a mostly sold-out selection worth getting your hands on whatever is left. And guess what? You can visit all of these wineries in a sustainable electric vehicle!
Admittedly, I have pretty conflicting personal opinions about electric vehicles. They are undeniably better for the environment, more cost efficient, and as they proliferate, that impact has yet to be seen. On the other hand, I also have a major distrust of the tech industry and the longevity of their products, particularly as I see my entire generation being thrown into a pit marked “Millennials and old iPhones.” Still, having recently taken a Tesla out on an upstate trip through the peaks and falls of Kerhonsken to Kingston a couple months ago, I had my first taste of the future of electric vehicles and liked it (particularly the unbeatable price of $19 for an electric charge covering two days of travel). And the Kia vehicles have an even better price point. I would also assume that the digitization may decrease the amount of car thefts, and in a perfect world, would increase rapid emergency response time, but realistically I doubt it—especially in rural areas.
That said, for a road trip excursion through an area whose delicate agriculture relies on the environment around it, I appreciated the option to be as a low-intervention as possible to reduce the carbon footprint. I’ve been purposefully and consciously trying to reduce that in all areas, especially travel, and will be interested in seeing how electric vehicles will make an impact. And the Kia cars were great. The EV6 has this green button that takes you from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds (apparently faster than a Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini), which was super fun on long stretches of country roads. There’s no shortage of bells and whistles, including a generous amount of charging stations, on-demand navigation, and who doesn’t love a moon roof? Also, Kia is the top ranked brand in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, so I guess if I’m going to put faith in a new piece of technology, it should hold up longer than an Apple product (10-year, 100,000 miles warranty, baby!).
If you do plan on doing an electric vehicle roadtrip, you’ll need to allow for up to 30 minutes of recharging. While charging stations are growing, they’re not exactly on every corner quite yet. Download the Better Route Planner app to map out your EV journey, which even allows you to choose your vehicle and remaining battery power to calculate how much juice you need to get there. Otherwise, the suspension was remarkably good, particularly to test drive it in such a mountainous area that requires pick up.
We stayed at the fabulous Eritage Resort, where each room had an fabulous view of the vineyards and Blue Mountains of Walla Walla, a working fireplace, deep basin tub (which I absolutely drank a glass of wine in), and L’Occitane products. The room was large enough to roll out my Mikkoa foldable carry-on travel yoga mat and do some virtual Pilates (I’m going to be starting them soon! Sign up here!).
Though, I didn’t get much time in downtown Walla Walla within everything packed into two days, I did take note that the weekdays are quite sleepy, the bar and shopping options along the main strip are robust (and charming!), and there was even a pretty cool record store. Because I consider GoodWill shops to be a local cultural attraction, I also managed to pick up an incredibly good leather jacket for only $10.
After that, it was on-the-go for the next 48-hours. Seattle took such good care of me, that I turned into a fussy bitch. I felt like Lady Gaga reciting her legendary “No sleep-bus-club-another club” running on empty. Even she just wants to take baths (and did a whole documentary about her own self-care), so I made sure to request one. Coming home from that, I was grateful to deprive myself of everything for Yom Kippur. My penance was doing nothing and apologizing to my own body.
Traveling on press trips is often very exhausting, even though it looks so exciting from the outside. After all, what you experience upon arrival may not be what you were sold, requiring pound the pavement, mingling with strangers, and taking risks. Even when accommodated in the best situation possible, it is still a very vulnerable thing entrusting your care to others, particularly in a post-COVID world (get your fall/winter vaccine). It’s a balance to submerse yourself in the magic realism of your own words while also taking note of what might rub someone the wrong way—including yourself. Even as a professional, I still find myself working through my emotional mindset and doing my best to maintain the kinds of practices and rituals that keep me functional. It sounds so unromantic, but travel does require an excessive amount of consumption and self-sacrifice in the pursuits of a good time. Still, for a motivated individual, it was a good challenge to see how much I could maximize in a short period of time and I fit in quite a bit!
I never made it to Bruce and Brandon’s graves, though I did find a small look out on a side street with the picture perfect botanical-framed view of Lake Union tucked away at Streissguth Gardens, and a great espresso soda at Espresso Vivace made by the eighth barista with long brown hair, bangs, and a nose ring, just like the ghost of my own punk rock past. I felt like a kid in a candy store at Elliott’s Oyster House, which had so many varieties of fresh oysters and the most gorgeous backdrop of the ferries rolling in and out of Elliott Bay. I suspect that Seattle may be lying to us about their notoriously depressing weather because I’ve only had the sunniest and nicest days on my visits here. Everyone is very nice here, and though I was a little surprised to see Dungeness crab as a year-round staple at Vendemmia, it was still stupidly good.
Later that evening, I rushed over to the Space Needle before it closed, which is probably the best time to visit. For whatever reason, I never realized the bottom is completely translucent, which is absolutely terrifying even though it is also very cool. If that’s not your speed, go to the Chihuly Gardens and Glass Bar that is safely close to the ground and also very cool. A little off the beaten trail is SODO Urbanworks, a multi-tenant property in South Seattle that’s home to nearly a dozen wine tasting rooms (including Sleight of Hand Cellars and Latta Wines), a seltzer tap room, and pizzeria. And if you’ve got an extra day, you can always throw in a trip to Woodinville Wine Country.
Seattle is a weed and craft beer city—albeit extremely quiet about the former. There aren’t any consumption lounges even though there are plenty of dispensaries. This is the official stance and rules about cannabis in Seattle and it should be the tourism board was not involved in this part of my independent research. Do with that what you will. Between past visits, I can co-sign Have a Heart, Lux Pot Shop, The Reef, and Dockside though I’d love to give a more dedicated spin next time around and think this deserves more attention. As for craft beer, there’s a lot of it. Everywhere, in fact. More than 70% of the nation’s hops grow in Yakima Valley. Stoup Brewing, Metier Brewing, and Reuben’s Brews are all stops worth adding to your list. The PNW does carbs very well, including beer, biscuits, and doughnuts.
Either way, it’s hard to have a bad time if you plan it right! I, for one, can’t wait to go back. Here are some of my choice picks below:
The Hit List
Wineries to try: SJR/Delmas Vineyard, Valdemar Estates, SMAK Wines, Ita Winery, Brook & Bull, Time & Direction, Grosgrain Vineyards, SJR Delmas Wine, Abeja Winery, Gramercy Cellars, Devona, Balboa Winery, Sonder Wines, Valdemar Estates, and Massican from Maryam + Company Collab
Where to hang: Pike Place Market, Volunteer Park, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Pinball Museum, Wing Luke Museum, Space Needle, Chihuly Glass + Garden, Museum of Pop Culture, Ballard Locks, Fremont Troll
Caffeine fix: Cherry Street, Pike Street Coffee, Victrola Coffee Roasters, Monorail Espresso, Seattle Coffee Works, Anchorhead, Caffe Ladro, Caffe Umbria, Espresso Vivace, Ghost Note, Fulcrum Coffee Roasters
To eat and drink: The Walrus and Carpenter, Elliott’s Oyster House, Ivar’s, Vendemmia, Autumn, Bar Sur Mer, FlintCreek Cattle Co., The Whale Wins, General Porpoise, Lady Yum’s, Fran’s Chocolates, Intrigue Chocolate Company, Sleight of Hand Cellars, Smith Tower Observatory Bar
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