Why Walla Walla for wine?

When I was new to Walla Walla, 16-odd years ago, a visitor to the tasting room I was managing, told me he was a geologist from Napa and he wanted to buy vineyard land here.

I was curious as to why someone from Napa wanted vineyard land outside of California. After all, Napa was the mecca for American wine viticulture and while I was a strong advocate for Washington wine, I still thought we had a lot of work to do to reach a broader audience of wine-consuming fans.

“You see your scores?” he said as he pointed to our display of 90+ scores from the various wine publications. “You get these scores at these prices (all under $50 then). That’s unheard of in Napa.”

Fast forward and vineyard land in California is out of reach of many aspiring wineries. Coupled with mounting land use restrictions in many areas and the growing concern about the consistent supply of irrigation water, the time for Washington and specifically, Walla Walla has arrived.

That’s not to say, growing grapes in Washington is without its challenges. Winter freeze both coming in at the end of harvest or before the grapes have had a chance to shut down for winter and in the spring during bud break are constant worries.

“Every vineyard in the Columbia Basin is subject to frost and freezes,” says Kevin Pogue, professor of geology at Whitman College in Walla Walla and an expert on wine grape production.

Apart from shaky weather, starting a vineyard is also a considerable investment. Pogue said it takes as much as $20,000 to $30,000 per acre just to get started, including the cost of planting and installing irrigation systems.

From there, the first grapes won’t be harvested for three years. It could take up to a decade before a farmer sees any profit, Pogue said.

“You look into the economics of it, and it’s a daunting challenge,” he said. “You aren’t going to be making money for a long time.”  1

Despite the challenges, owning a vineyard is a powerful magnet for many, primarily because of the lifestyle associated with it.

That lifestyle? You get to live in a beautiful part of the country, with plenty of sunshine and warm summers. You connectwith the amazing people both in the industry ranging from winery owners, winemakers and winery staff, to the people who are attracted because of the industry such as artists and restaurateurs. And you feel the satisfaction of building something natural, using your hands, brain and resources that results in a product that enhances people’s lives.

For many of us, it remains a deeply fulfilling endeavor.



  1. Pendleton poses challenges for growing grapevines, By GEORGE PLAVEN
    EO Media Group 10/03/2016


Washington establishes Winery Wastewater Policies

A few years ago, noise was made that the Dept of Ecology was considering large scale changes to the way wineries handle their waster water. This news was met with alarm and concern to many smaller producers. 

After meeting with the industry, the new policies proposed will only impact 19% of the state’s wineries by providing exceptions for wineries producing less than 7,500 cases annually. 

Read more: https://greatnorthwestwine.com/2017/04/12/most-washington-wineries-wont-need-new-wastewater-permits/

November Walla Walla Insider


It's been awhile since we've been in touch. All I can say is "it has been a busy year!" However, it is always great to put what's happening on paper (?) and to stay in touch with all of you. 

So here's what's happened this year that you absolutely need to know:

Eritage Resort has opened. The ten-suite luxury resort and restaurant, managed by Fire & Vine Team (El Gaucho group), opened in July and has received stunning reviews. Now work has started on the cottages around the pond. By the way, the pond is not only a fire-suppression requirement but also is used for swimming, paddle boarding etc. 

Hats off to Justin Wylie of Va Piano and his ten-year pursuit of this vision. He has created a game changer. 

On your next visit to Walla Walla, you need to take a drive out to the resort for a cocktail or dinner and make future plans to stay in this amazing resort. Just before you get to Eritage Resort, you'll see signage for ten estate lots with stunning views of the Blues. Lots range from 1.2 - 1.92 acres and start at $155K with thoughtful CCRs. 

In time for Fall Release Weekend (Nov 1-4) is the much-anticipated opening of Walla Walla Steak Co and its casual partner, Crossbuck Brewery on 2nd and Pine at the train depot. 

We were invited to their pre-opening party and right out of the gate, we were dazzled by the level of culinary perfection and outstanding service that Chef Dan Thiessen is passionate about and the Fire & Vine Team are known for. Besides their wood-fired steaks, they make a Smoked Manhattan that is awesome and have a great list of wines by the glass as well as a well-curated wine list. 

Tip: If you enjoy the various lodging and dining options by the El Gaucho group (Eritage, WW Steak Co, El Gaucho, Miller's Guild, The Inn at El Gaucho, The Lakehouse,Civility's Unrest, AQUA) join their Revelers Club for benefits, perks and discounts. No cost to enroll. I joined today! 

Walla Walla continues to attract exciting chefs to our destination. Earlier this summer, Hattaways on Alder opened in the space that formerly housed Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen (we love their new space on 5th & Main Street). 

We knew that Hattaways had large shoes to fill and I can report that they have surpassed any expectations that the space may have bestowed on them. Here's how the owners, Lindsay and Chef Richard Hattaways describe their food philisophy: Inspired by the local ingredients of the Pacific Northwest, Hattaway's on Alder brings the cooking traditions of the Southeast and rural American to downtown Walla Walla. Honest food with the charm of Southern hospitality. Be sure to check out this new and important addition to Walla Walla!

Look for a large project for T.Macs in 2019. Tommy is moving to the corner in a creative new space that will capitalize on his popularity as Walla Walla’s home-grown cool guy!

I could keep going on the food scene and tell you about two great new pizza purveyors, one in a restaurant and the second in a wood-fired pizza truck, however, I'll leave that for the next installment. If you can’t wait, then reach out by email and I’ll fill you in.

Walla Walla Valley grows to 3000 acres

Elevation Vineyard, a source of estate fruit for Tertulia Cellars, is among the young plantings on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area. (Richard Duval Images/Courtesy of Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance)

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – There reportedly are more than 140 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, and a fresh survey determined the region is closing in on 3,000 acres of vineyards.

The study orchestrated by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance showed a 4.3 percent increase in plantings in the past two years, giving the bi-state growing region a total of 2,932 acres under vine. And 43 percent of those vineyards are established on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area.

“The continued growth of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley is a testament to the unique and diversified soils and growing conditions present here,” Jason Magnaghi, viticulturist for Leonetti Cellar and Figgins Family Wine Estates stated in a news release. “Growers and vintners work together to plant varieties where the wines will best express the qualities of the growing site; it’s an exciting time in our industry as we learn and grow together.”

Leonetti founding winemaker Gary Figgins helped make Washington state, Cabernet Sauvignon and Walla Walla famous when Food & Wine magazine named his 1978 Cab as the publication’s top wine for 1981. Cab remains king in the Walla Walla Valley, accounting for 36 percent of all varieties planted in the AVA.

However, the study showed that Syrah now stands at No. 2 in the valley at 18 percent, moving ahead of Merlot (16%), with Cabernet Franc (7 percent) and Malbec (4 percent).

Where Should You Live in Retirement? First, Ask Yourself these Questions?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asks nine question about how to determine where to live in retirement.

1) What do you want to do in retirement?

2) How close do you want to be to grown children and their children? 

3) Are you open to renting?

4) Will your doctor accept Medicare?

5) How are you going to get an ice-cream cone? 

6) How are you going to change lightbulbs as you age?

7) Who will you have lunch with?

8) How busy is this place going to get? 

9) What's wrong with where I live now? 


Forbes 25 Best Places to Retire 2016

We did it again. And we won't make you go through all 25 to get to Walla Walla on this alphabetical list. Here's the text:

Walla Walla, Washington

60,000-population capital of wine country and college town (Whitman College, Walla Walla University) in southeastern Washington State. PROS: Strong economy, median home price $210,000. Above-average doctors per capita, low serious crime rate. Good weather and air quality. Somewhat walkable. CONS: Poor state tax climate for retirees. NOTED: More than 100 wineries in area. Cost of living 3% above national average. TRIVIA: City name was that of local tribe.

Link to complete Forbes article with criteria and methodology

Posted on April 7, 2016 at 1:12 pm  
Michele Rennie | Posted in Why Walla Walla?  | Tagged Best places to retireForbeshistoric downtownWalla Walla UniversityWhitman Collegewineries

Getting your Home Ready to Sell

We are definitely in a Seller's Market, defined by three months or less of houses to sell. When you remove the Pending Listings (132) from the most recent stats and the Home Sales (76) from the Active Listings (293), we have very little inventory to show prospective home buyers.

Active listings, typically fall into two camps: 1) on market today and under contract quickly or 2) properties that linger, waiting for a price drop or a condition change. 

I just learned this new term for properties with high days on market (DOM) or worst – high cumulative days on market (CDOM) and for properties that do not sell during their contract term, they should be called "market rejected."

Why? In a Seller's market, properties not selling in 90-120 days – the length of time for an offer and offer process to be completed – are clearly not resonating with buyers.

For most properties it may be one or more of the following reasons:
1) Not price-positioned properly for the current market.
2) House is not selling-ready.
3) House has been under contract, deal collasped and is now back on market. However, the perception lingers that the property is somehow flawed.

If you are planning on selling your home, first step is getting your home in ready condition. A big part of this is knowing exactly what shape your home is in. We always advocate having your home inspected before listing. This will cost $350-$400, but this one step could save you thousands of dollars during the contract period.

Pre-listing inspection helps you:

1) to correct any flaws that will be important to any buyer, from safety items such as earthquake straps on your hot water heater, installing C02 detectors or getting deferred maintenance completed.

When was the last time you cleaned your gutters or changed the filter in your HVAC? 

2) to price your home properly as you now know what needs to be corrected either before listing or by openly acknowledging what work should be done by the new owner. Armed with this information, you can price your home properly for the Walla Walla market.

In addition, this pre-inspection process will save you both time and the dreaded post-buyer inspection re-negotiation of price with fewer walk-away contingencies.

Care to know what else I offer above and beyond the typical 4 P's? If you don't know the standard four P's every ordinary agent will give you, drop me a note.

Posted on August 4, 2016 at 11:23 am  
Michele Rennie | Posted in Uncategorized

Walla Walla Insider ~ Restaurant Moves (11/17)


November ushers in a change of format and name for The Ox & Cart Restaurant on First Street. The new name will be the Saint & the Sinner envisioned as a hip Latin American cantina. Open everyday, 11am. 

"With price points from $7 to $18, the new spot is designed as a come-as-you-are casual dining place that explores everything from flavors to art in Latin American cooking and culture."

In July, Salumerie Cesario (also known as Walla Walla Gourmet) closed their doors at 12 E Main Street. In its place is Walla Walla Indian Cuisine, a welcome addition that brings much needed culinary diversity. The brothers-in-law are from Vancouver BC and Calgary respectively and the seven cooks in the kitchen are all from Mumbai. Excellent food and an ambitious menu. Lunch 11-2PM. Dinner 5-10pm. Full bar. 

Jacobi's closed their doors last week. In time for Cayuse Weekend 2018, a new steakhouse and brew restaurant will open - operated by two well-known names in the Seattle restaurant sphere: Paul MacKay, involved with numerous restaurants such as El Gaucho and The Metropolitan Grill and Chef Dan Thiessen. 

Thiessen has spent the last six years running the WWCC Culinary program, where under his leadership, the program became re-energized and elevated both the range of student experiences and in their knowledge of visual presentation. 

Now through December 16, check out the indoor farmer's market at Whitehouse Crawford. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 16. 

Holiday Barrel, Dec. 1-3 is the next big weekend and the last wine event for 2017.


City of Walla Walla bans new non-owner occupied VRBOs (11/17)

Vacation Rentals by Owner and Airbnb have been an important part of the Walla Walla visitor experience. In addition, they provide revenue and equity to property owners who rent out their houses as short-term transient accommodations. 

The City of Walla Walla has been wrestling with what to do about short-term rentals and finally after two years of research, workshops and resident feedback, they made their decision. On November 1, Walla Walla City Council voted in a 5-2 decision to ban any new non-occupied VRBOs, AirBnBs or the like, known in the industry collectively as short-term lodging.

What does this mean for the real estate market? 

The city estimates that 160 of the 190 plus properties currently operating as short-term lodging are non-owner occupied. These can be grandfathered IF they apply for business registration by Nov. 9 and obtain a short-term lodging permit (available after 11/20) by showing that they have been active and they have been paying the taxes. 

Going forward, they will be subject to inspections and will need to reapply annually, showing that they are collecting and remitting both sales and lodging tax to the state.  

There was a concern that with the sale of the property, it would be required to revert to its original use, however, after the city consulted with lawyers, a new owner may continue to operate it as short term lodging if desired. 

There is no ban on new owner-occupied short term lodging properties, that is, traditional bed & breakfast or a home owner offering a portion of the home for overnight stays, as long as the owner uses it as their principal residence for minimum nine months of the year. These, though, are the minority of properties, and they attracted little of the animus that residents of Palouse, Catherine and several other streets voiced during the open mike sessions with the city councillors. 

It was the concentration of properties in certain neighborhoods, especially those within walking distance to downtown and the increasing numbers of residents turning up at each meeting that finally tipped the debate to the ban. 

The irony is, of course, that short-term lodging properties are typically improved and kept up - usually above neighborhood standards. Some opponents argued that these rental properties raised housing prices out of reach of the local denizens. However, there are real concerns of safety (lack of egress, fire safety) and annoyance through noise and lack of parking available to residents that became the focal point of the complaints. 

Regulation would help with those concerns. However, council could not find a way to legally enforce density restrictions in popular neighborhoods, so instead they took the step of banning new ones. 

Some have suggested that this may become a legal issue. Perhaps - however, there appears to be sufficient precedence from other municipalities. 

For anyone considering real estate in the city of Walla Walla and thought about purchasing a future-retirement home now (while affordable), renting it out for weekend stays for a few years until actually moving here full time, this option is now off the table. 

For others, it shuts off what has been a way to purchase a second home here, use it for several weeks a year and have it carry itself by renting it out the rest of the time.  

However, it is possible to purchase these properties when they come on the market. I believe the smaller ones (3-4 bedrooms) will be in most demand. The larger properties will need a buyer with a large family or a large vision. 

Also, while this has been a contentious issue for the city of Walla Walla, the County government sees no reason to regulate these ventures. Much of the county is already in parcels large enough to prevent annoyance issues.

However, if you are buying in a developed or clustered neighborhood in the county, check to see if they have excluded short-term lodging in their CC&Rs.

For my hot sheet on properties that would make a great second home and/or legal short-term lodging property, send me a note. I update my list weekly, so you will always know what is new on market. 

Read the 11/02 Union Bulletin article here

Read 11/07 update here




Reboot in Wine Country

Long before Money Magazine named Walla Walla in its 2006 "Best Places to Retire," our town has been a magnet for people wanting to reboot their lives. 

"This southeastern Washington town has become a destination for wine connoisseurs, urban refugees and roving retirees, despite its out-of-the-way location. 19th century Italianate-style commercial buildings are being revamped to house art galleries, bookstores and restaurants. Three colleges are hubs of activity offering classical music, lectures or lifelong learning classes. Walla Walla home prices, are still affordable by big-city standards."  

Money Magazine, 2006

Naturally, our Mediterranean climate (warm dry summers, cold rainy winters) with 300 days of sunshine is huge attraction for our wet coast fans. However, my short list of what makes a great place to live also includes these necessary elements:

1) College Town:

College towns have an unmistakable vibe and Walla Walla has a triple dose; Whitman College, a highly-acclaimed small private college, made 2014 Forbes "best" list, Walla Walla University, an Adventist school open to everyone and Walla Walla Community College has the nation's first two-year winemaking and viticulture program, an exciting culinary program as well as a multitude of other core and specialty courses, took home the prized Aspen Institute award in 2013.

2) Handy Airport:

Our small airport connects only with Seattle with two flights in and out a day. Yes, the early morning flight is an uncomfortable 6:05 am departure time, however, once at SEA you have a myriad of connecting flights. The even better news is that starting March 2016, there will be three flights in and out daily (except Tuesdays).
To have an airport at all servicing a county population of 60,000 people is becoming a rarity. Free parking is a bonus. If you need to fly south or east directly, PSC (Pasco) is 50 miles away and for a short hop to PDX, the nine-seater SeaPort Airlines out of Pendleton can be no-stress and quick jump to my favorite out-of-the-valley getaway for a few days of shopping and cutting-edge dining.

3) High-caliber Health Care:

With two hospitals (Providence St. Mary's and VA) and several clinics, Walla Walla has attracted quality physicians and specialists. In fact, the wine culture is a big part of the recruitment package. It seems that doctors not only like wine but also enjoy our local golf courses including the #2 Best Course You Can Play, Wine Valley Golf Course.

4) Level of Sophistication:

While Walla Walla was a rocking hub 150 years ago, modern WW belongs to the wine industry. It was all here, yet the explosion of the wine industry brought it all together; the rejuvenated downtown, independent speciality retailers, celebrity chefs, gourmet food, arts and events. From James Beard-recognized restaurants to soul-satisfying food trucks, residents bump shoulders with visitors at wine tasting events and restaurants. At times, this town can feel too small, but you get quickly get used to not having to fight traffic at the big box stores (big box stores = 0) and soon your UPS driver knows how quickly you want your Nordstrom shipment.

If these criteria are also important to you and you are looking for an exciting smaller town with a vibe, then Walla Walla could be the place to reboot your life. If I can assist in that change, please give me a call.

What's ahead for STRs (VRBOs, AirBnB, etc) in Walla Walla part 1

Vacation Rentals by Owner and Airbnb have been an important part of the Walla Walla visitor experience. In addition, they provide revenue and equity to property owners who rent their houses for short-term transient accommodations.

Earlier this summer, the City of Walla Walla staff presented various options to City Council to address short-term lodging (UB 06/26/2016).

"In a special report on the topic, city Development Services Director Elizabeth Chamberlain noted several regulation options officials could enact. Among them:

Prohibition of STRs (short-term rentals) in residential zones, which the Washington cities of Leavenworth, Friday Harbor and Ocean Shores have done.

  •         Sufficient parking, with a possible requirement of one parking space per bedroom rental.
  •         24-hour management contact.
  •         Inspections and business licenses.
  •         Application fees to cover city costs.
  •         Prohibition of RVs, travel trailers and tents.
  •         Verification that lodging taxes have been paid.
  •         High fines for violations or infractions.

In her report, Chamberlain estimated somewhere between 107 to 133 short-term rentals operate in the area through websites like VRBO, HomeAway and Airbnb."

Voices from both sides of the issue, opponents and supporters alike attended the packed session (UB 06/26/2016).

Council instructed city staff to come back in 60 days with their recommendations in a second public session. That late August session will be announced and open to the public.



Posted on August 4, 2016 at 11:28 am 

Michele Rennie | Category: VRBOs | Tagged AirBnB, guest houses, investment properties, vrbo


Living the Good Life (08/16)

Since we closed our doors at Girasol Vineyard & Inn in late spring, life continues and it has been a glorious, albeit hot summer here. 

Do we miss not getting up to serve breakfast? Not a bit! However, what I do miss are those late afternoons on the patio with a glass of wine and hearing about everyone's day. However, as we have not skipped a beat picking up our lives, it seems that we were ready for this change. 

Edward is getting to the golf course more often. We did break ground on our new house so he is on site daily checking it out. 

We hope to be in the new Walla Walla home before we head to Arizona in late December however, until then we are still at Girasol and savoring our last few months here. 

I am enjoying real estate. The market is brisk here with a Seller's market of less three months of inventory. 

At the end of July, I was in Bellevue for a real estate course and heard first-hand how crazy the market is in both Seattle and Portland metro areas. Agents are talking about writing offer after offer for their clients and getting beaten out on every house. Seller agents talk of multiple offers that far exceed appraisals with no end in sight.

However, the most interesting comment was that the Pacific west coast, specifically Seattle and Portland will continue to see an influx of real estate dollars, driving up property values. 

So this raises a question, if all these people are moving into these metro-areas, where are the current residents going to move to? It's a Catch-22. You can make beaucoup on your current home, but where will you buy next? 

Some of you will think of Walla Walla as a possible destination. Yes, we don't have a Nordstrom or even a Trader Joe's. However, the traffic is a breeze and we just added several new restaurants and some new places to shop on Main Street. I guarantee that you'll get out more here than you are probably doing now with great winery events such as Castillo de Feliciana's Salsa Under the Stars on Saturday, September 3 or Food Truck Night at the Incubator Wineries on Monday, Sept. 5.

Something to think about. Be sure to let me know if you decide that you want to get some info on slowing down (ha!) or just more about living the good life here in Walla Walla.