The tour promotion that offers visitors a glimpse of the community through the eyes of local winemakers and viticulturists returns for the third year.
WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine, a collection of self-guided tour itineraries curated by wine industry professionals, highlights 78 local businesses this year.
Coordinated by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance in partnership with winemakers and grape growers, the program features favorite stops, including restaurants and attractions of the people behind one of the community’s most famous commodities.
“There is no better way to experience this town than ‘WWandering through it, finding gems unveiled by the recommendations made for you from those who know it intimately,” said wine alliance Executive Director Robert Hansen, in a prepared statement.
With growth in participation since its launch two years ago, the program this year includes eight itineraries offered Thursdays through Sundays in a window spanning Oct. 3 to Dec. 15.
Registration for the itinerary of choice launched this week and is now live.
“The Walla Walla Valley is a special place known for its small-town charm and world-class wine country experience,” Hansen said in the announcement. “Travelers love to do what the locals do and who better to recommend a weekend full of activities than the winemakers that call the Walla Walla Valley home? These unique itineraries offer a personal touch during one of the most beautiful times of year — fall. From the beauty of harvest to the intimacy of Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend, it is a wonderful time to wander the Walla Walla Valley.”
The program was first initiated in a move to help build visitor traffic during what is traditionally a slower time for tourism.
Wine alliance Marketing Assistant Shelby Prior said the organization last year implemented a self-check-in process at each itinerary host author’s winery in order to get more accurate counts on participation. Additional improvements for this year will help gather more quantitative information on its success in tourism, she said.
What they know from last year is that 750 people downloaded itineraries and identified a date they would travel to the Valley. That number represented a 28 percent increase in downloads from the inaugural year.
The vast majority — about 96 percent — of downloads last year were from people outside a 50-mile radius of Walla Walla. Half were from people out of state.
Meanwhile, the overall campaign in 2018 resulted in nearly 2 million impressions through social media and traditional media coverage.
A sample of one of this year’s itineraries includes a glimpse into the family history of sixth-generation Walla Wallan Cameron Kontos, winemaker at Kontos Cellars. That tour starts with a visit to Fort Walla Walla Museum to see a train engine from the Rawhide Railroad, founded by Kontos’ great-great-great-grandfather, Dorsey S. Baker.
Participants are encouraged to drop in at Kontos Cellars for a tasting of the winery’s Walla Walla Valley grown wines, including the Alatus Blend, named for a family story. The lunch recommendation includes a trip to Crossbuck Brewing in the more than century-old train depot where the original tiles and chalkboards are still part of the decor. From there, guests can stroll through downtown, passed the historic buildings on their way to the Whitman College campus.
A tour from viticulturist Sadie Drury, the Seven Hills Vineyard Manager whose grapes are used by L’Ecole No 41, begins with a stop at Coffee Perk for the Dyer Straits coffee roasted by Sadie’s parents. That’s followed by a walk at Bennington Lake before a visit to L’Ecole for wine tasting and a dinner at Whitehouse-Crawford in the historic planing mill where Drury’s own 100-year-old dining room table was crafted.
Participants register for these or the itinerary of choice. Registering gives access to the full itinerary and offers program “perks,” including special tasting fees and a 10 percent discount on the purchase of two or more bottles of wine. To access the perks, participants must check-in via mobile device at the itinerary author’s host winery.