Living in wine country – there are magazines published, books written and even entire furniture lines targeted to the “lifestyle” – but what does it really mean?
We are fortunate enough to live within a couple of miles from some of Washington’s most prestigious wineries and tasting rooms so I decided that I want to get a first hand look at what the average visitor to Walla Walla experiences when they enter a tasting room here in the valley. And I want find out how they decide where to go during each visit to our “wine country.”
My first stop on this quest is Dunham Cellars. Dunham is known for their busy tasting room, their great wine club parties, a knock-out line-up of single vineyard reserve wines and of course the dogs!
I went tasting on a Thursday afternoon last week; not their busiest day of the week but what Jordan Fitzgerald, my guide during my time at Dunham, tells me is a steady day. She can expect to see about 15-20 visitors on an average weekday, but during harvest season weekends the small tasting room bursts at the seams seeing over 100 people on a given Saturday. Dunham Cellars does charge a $5 tasting fee but the day I was there they were pouring 10 wines and they offered the tasting fee back towards my purchase.
During my tasting experience, a couple small groups came through. Both happened to be ladies’ groups that were in town from the Seattle area having a “girls weekend.” They had assigned a fearless leader to chart the entire tasting weekend. And she was armed with maps, visitor guides and a legal pad full of notes. Every place they went, she said, everyone told them to make sure Dunham was on their list.
One of the misconceptions about Walla Walla wines is that we only do reds but I found that not to be the case, at least not at my first stop. Dunham Cellars provided quite the range for my tasting from a dry lightly oaked chardonnay to a full bodied, jammy single vineyard Lewis syrah. I even got a little dessert in a glass with a 2008 late harvest Riesling.
The Dunham’s have capitalized on their own family talent. Their winemaker, Eric Dunham, not only provides the artwork to decorate the World War II hanger attached to the tasting room but also designs the artwork on their single vineyard selections as well. If bringing in 18 tons of fruit on a given day in October isn’t enough Eric doubles or triples as it were as the chef at harvest lunches and occasionally for a winemaker dinner hosted at the winery.
Dunham Cellars tasting room is open daily from 11-4. They have been hosting harvest lunches earlier in the fall and will continue their Winemaker Dinner series throughout the winter. Check out their website for more information on Winemaker Dinners and area events that Dunham participates in: www.dunhamcellars.com
Dunham Cellars 2004 Syrah is featured in the Wall Street Journal video with Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher of the WSJ “Tasting” column.