Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine Muses About Merlot

Whether you are sommelier or an aspiring oenophile (a lover of wine), there’s only one place you should be June 14-16: In Walla Walla, Washington for Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine – The World of Merlot.

The sixth annual Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine event features over 60 Walla Walla Valley wineries, winemakers, as well as internationally-renowned winemakers, master sommeliers and chefs.

I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive —it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks —like your ‘61 —and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so f__king good.” Maya, Sideways (2004)

Organized by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. “Celebrate” focuses on a different wine varietal each year (a rotation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot), comparing the similarities and differences of the Walla Walla Valley with the world’s leading wine regions. This year’s star is The World of Merlot.

Merlot, which in French means The Little Blackbird, is the second most popular red grape in America (after Cabernet Sauvignon). Known for being soft, ripe and elegant, most Merlots are easy drinking reds that go well both with food as well as on their own. This classic red wine varietal is well known for its rich personality and taste.

Merlot grapes produce a red wine with flavors and aromas of black cherry, berries, plum, chocolate, and some herbs. Merlot wine is popular with people trying to get accustomed to drier, more complex red wines because of its other characteristics, like low tannins which make it easier to drink than other reds wines. The softer characteristics of Merlot with the fruity flavors make it a red wine that’s well-suited to lighter foods that won’t overwhelm the flavors of the wine.

celebrate walla walla merlot on equality365.comIn the 1980s, Merlot helped put the Washington wine industry on the world’s wine map. Prior to this period there was a general perception that the climate of Washington State was too cold to produce red wine varietals. Today it is the second most widely grown red wine grape in the state (after Cabernet Sauvignon), following many years of being the most widely planted variety, and accounts for nearly one fifth of the state’s entire production.

Washington Merlots are noted for their deep color and balanced acidity. The state’s climate lends itself towards long days and hours of sunshine with cool nights that contributes to a significant diurnal temperature variation and produces wines with New World fruitiness and Old World structure.

At Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine, you can taste and compare wines from the Walla Walla Valley with wines from around the world during a captivating winemaker panel; participate in special tastings of rare vintage wines and intimate winemaker dinners; mix and mingle with acclaimed winemakers and chefs; meet Rex Pickett, who wrote the novel Sideways; and taste wines from up-and coming Walla Walla wineries.

The Celebrate Wine Panel Presentation and Tastings, moderated by local winemaker Ashley Trout, will demonstrate how wines can vary among the world’s leading regions resulting from different growing conditions, winemaking styles, and vineyards through the educational seminar and tasting. Winemakers from Bordeaux, Sonoma and Napa Valley join Walla Walla winemakers and wine grape growers for a rare opportunity to taste Merlots from the wide-range of producers.

Attendees will get to taste Merlot from all six producers: For many, the Celebrate Wine Panel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to taste wines and hear directly from these premium producers

Winemakers on Celebrate Wine Panel

  • Jean-François Pellet, Winemaker and Partner | Pepper Bridge Winery, Walla Walla Valley
  • Sadie Drury, Viticulture Manager | SeVein/Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
  • Jason Magnaghi, Vineyard Manager | Leonetti Cellar, Walla Walla Valley
  • Emmanuelle d’Aligny-Fulchi, Enologist/Technical Manager | Château Angélus & Château Bellevue, Bordeaux, France
  • Sally Johnson, Winemaker | Pride Mountain Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
  • Jeff Bundschu, President | Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma, CA
rex pickett joins celebrate walla walla valley wine

Rex Pickett author of “Sideways” (courtesy photo)

The grand finale of Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine is always the Collaborative Winemaker Dinner Series. Ticket holders will experience an exclusive and extraordinary evening in the Walla Walla Valley. Wineries and their winemakers will come together alongside local and guest chefs to delight your taste buds during the Celebrate Walla Walla Wine weekend winemaker dinner series. A limited number of seats are offered at the dinner tables of seven locations throughout the Walla Walla Valley:

With the exception of the kick-off event on June 15th, all of the events require paid tickets, which vary in cost. The tickets are sold a la carte. The VIP SuperPass is $300, but that price DOES NOT include Dinner with Rex Pickett, or the Collaborative Winemakers Dinner Series on the 16th. If you also want to include those two events, the total cost of all events would be $600.

All Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine events are for persons of ages 21 and over.  Although wines are not available for sale at “Celebrate” events, you can visit winery tasting rooms and purchase your favorites. And remember the 4-S’s—See it, swirl it, smell it, sip it.  And clear your palate between wines. Let’s add a 5th –savor it. Or as a somm—short for sommelier– might say. “You had me at Merlot.”

Schedule of Events

Thursday, June 14, 2018
4:30pm – 6:30 pm Vintage Pour ($100 per person)
Complimentary shuttle service provided from the Marcus Whitman Hotel & the Courtyard Marriott to Doubleback Winery: Shuttles will load at 4:00 pm to depart at 4:15 pm. Return service will begin at 6:30 pm

Friday, June 15, 2018
9:00 – 10:30 am World of Merlot Kick-Off (free, but must sign up for a complimentary ticket) The Gesa Power House Theatre is a short, six-minute walk west of the Marcus Whitman Hotel and a short, two-minute walk East of the Courtyard by Marriott.

1:30 – 3:30pm Merlot Grand Tasting ($75 per person)
There will be a complimentary shuttle service available from the Courtyard Marriott to the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Shuttles will load at 1:00 p.m. to depart at 1:15 p.m. Return service will begin at 3:30 p.m.

6:00- 7:00 pm The Previews: Taste & Talk with Rex Pickett, featuring up-and-coming Walla Walla wineries. ($75 per person)
The Gesa Power House Theatre is a short, six-minute walk west of the Marcus Whitman Hotel and a short, two-minute walk east of the Courtyard by Marriott.

7:15 – 9:30 pm – Movie Screening – Sideways (free but need to sign up for the complimentary ticket)
Shuttle service not provided to the screening but will be provided after the screening to the Marcus Whitman Hotel. The Gesa Power House Theatre is a short, six-minute walk west of the Marcus Whitman Hotel and a short, two-minute walk east of the Courtyard by Marriott.

7:30 – 10:00 pm The Author’s Table: Dinner with Rex ($175.00 per person, exclusive event with only 20 seats available)
Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant is a short, two-minute walk north of the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Please contact (509) 526-3117 no later than June 1st at for special transportation needs.

Saturday, June 16,  2018
10:00am-12:00pm Wine Panel Presentations & Tastings- Saturday, June 16 ($65 per person)
There will be a complimentary shuttle service available from the Courtyard Marriott to the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Shuttles will load at 9:30 am and depart at 9:45 am Return service to depart after the event

6pm-9pm Collaborative Winemaker Dinner Series – ($125 per person)
|A limited number of seats will be offered at the dinner tables of multiple winery locations throughout the Walla Walla Valley. Please contact (509) 526-3117 no later than June 1st to reserve transportation.

There are seven Dinner Series choices.

  • Join Lagana Cellars, Otis Kenyon Wine and DAMA Wines in beautiful Downtown Walla Walla for the Downtown Progressive Dinner. As guests progress down Main Street, they will taste a variety of wines paired with bites from some of Walla Walla’s finest chefs. Dine & sip with winemakers Jason Fox, Muriel Kenyon and Mary Derby, while enjoying appetizers crafted by Paul Vandervort of Il Forno and dinner prepared by Michael Kline of Walla Walla Bread Company.
  • It’s been over 16 years since the premiere of Sideways, but here in Washington we never stopped believing in that noble grape – Merlot. Celebrate Walla Walla with the winemakers from Northstar, Solemn Cellars and Gifford Hirlinger for a fantastic five-course, gourmet dinner prepared by Chef Adam Hegsted of Eat Good Group paired with Walla Walla wines, including some amazing Merlots. Dinner hosted by Northstar.
  • SOLD OUT: Winemakers from Sleight of Hand Cellars, Va Piano Vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards of Napa Valley and Gundlach Bundschu of Sonoma Valley will revel guests with a multi-course, wine-paired extravaganza crafted by Chef Andrae Bopp of Andrae’s Kitchen and featuring wines from Walla Walla, Sonoma and Napa Valley. Experience a rockin’ dinner hosted at Sleight of Hand Cellars.
  • Join Tempus Cellars along with neighbors Tamarack Cellars and Five Star Cellars at their brand-new C Street location. Cugini Italian Market will delight dinner guests with a wonderful, multi-course meal  paired perfectly with outstanding, award-winning wines.
  • SOLD OUT: Winemakers Mike Sharon (L’Ecole N° 41) and Kevin Mott (Woodward Canyon) will share their wines as guests enjoy a preview of the menu from the new Walla Walla Steak Co. scheduled to open at the old train depot in downtown Walla Walla this summer. For generations, the train depot has served as Walla Walla’s front door. Walla Walla Steak Co. honors that legacy and looks forward to welcoming guests to a warm and authentic hometown steakhouse featuring locally-sourced ingredients and Washington wines. Woodward Canyon is hosting this special evening with appetizers in their garden followed by a beautifully paired multi-course meal in their Reserve House as the sun sets across the fields.
  • Armstrong Family Winery, Kontos Cellars, Eternal Wines and Foundry Vineyards team up with Executive Chef Grant Hinderliter and his Culinary Team to pair a diverse, four -course dinner at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel.
  • Walla Walla Vintners, Aluvé Winery, Seven Hills Winery and Watermill Winery create an intimate evening not to be missed! Guests can take in the picturesque views from the Cut Bank Estate vineyard at Walla Walla Vintners while pairing classic wines with exciting food by Candace Navarre of Forage Walla Walla. The farm-to-table menu will focus on locally sourced and organically grown ingredients and accompanied by an exquisite selection of wines from some of the Valley’s most revered wineries. Outdoor dining if weather permits.

More Info On Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine:

Website (here)
Facebook (here) Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance
Twitter (here)
Instagram (here)
Website (here) Visit Walla Walla

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Starla Smith

Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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