Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rural Walla Walla County, Washington, has reinvented itself as a wine and food mecca

Map from County Maps of Washington
Walla Walla County, Washington, has been reinvented as a wine and food mecca, Mike Seely reports for The New York Times. Walla Walla County, with more than 130 wineries and all manners of restaurants, "can aptly be described as Napa in bluejeans. Thirty years ago, only the denim part of that description would have applied. In the region, an agricultural powerhouse, it hadn’t yet dawned on farmers to grow grapes."

Mike Spring, a former fire chief who owns a brewpub in Dayton, Wash., told Seely, “Back in the ’80s, downtown was dying—truly falling apart. The wine industry has brought Walla Walla back to life.”

Several fine restaurants and "charmingly off-kilter wineries" have made Walla Walla "a destination for gastronomes and oenophiles alike," Seely writes. "But as a local brewer, Court Ruppenthal, puts it, 'People drink wine all day and say, ‘Now what I really need is a beer.’ For that, pulled-pork pizza, hush puppies and an unexpected dollop of top-notch French cuisine, the Touchet Valley towns of Waitsburg and Dayton beckon."

In Waitsburg, "a Rockwellian town of some 1,200 citizens at the eastern edge of Walla Walla County, a beloved Italian restaurant is across the street from a cafe whose hush puppies and upscale-Dixie aesthetic attract "loyalists from an hour in every direction," Seely writes. Local restaurant owner Ross Stevenson told Seely, “I guess we’re pretty lucky. ... These smaller towns are boom and bust. We’ve seen plenty of businesses come and go in Waitsburg since we’ve been here.”

About 10 miles down US 12 "is the Columbia County seat, Dayton (population, 2,500)," Seely writes. "With a main boulevard wide enough to host an Old West gunfight, the municipality’s economic heart stopped in 2005 when the Green Giant cannery moved to Peru. For decades, the company’s cartoonish Hulk-meets-Tarzan icon was carved into a hillside. It has faded considerably now, replaced by the cheese-yielding goatherd of Monteillet Fromagerie, which produces small-batch chèvre and brebis with a Francophile’s flair." (Read more)

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