Having a designated driver is always the preferred mode of transportation for would-be wine tasters. And in Walla Walla, the Pacific Northwest region that straddles Washington and Oregon, the best DD comes in the form of Chris Wood and his white Tesla X 90D. It’s the most high-tech vehicle on the planet, with full autopilot capability and even the ability to perform a dance.
The Seattle native and self-proclaimed “car guy” launched Tesla Winery Tours three years ago, and it remains the only company that offers this service in the region. The eco-friendly tours are billed at US$99 (€89) per hour for up to six guests, with a four-hour touring minimum. A typical itinerary will include a stop in at least three different regions of the Walla Walla wine region, with four to six visits at wineries (and breweries and cideries, if that’s your penchant.) Wood says his mission is to showcase hidden gems and spectacular views.
"To truly appreciate what Walla Walla has to offer, it's imperative to have a good grasp of winemaking principles and a friendly guide to discover what you could not on your own,” Wood says. “Our goal is to be more than just a driver and to elevate your touring experience!"
Of course, stepping out of the Tesla after the Falcon Wing doors open dramatically is decidedly more attention-grabbing than walking down the steps of a shuttle bus or (gasp!) parking your own car in the tasting room lot. But you get much more than just a luxury jaunt around the area; Wood has a background in the wine industry and is knowledgeable about everything including how the oft-mentioned Missoula Floods affect Walla Walla’s terroir to which producers are dabbling in bubbly.
Wood is happy to customize an itinerary based on guests’ interests. One idea is to start with a tour of Seven Hills Vineyards on the Oregon Side of the Walla Walla Valley, one of the area’s first commercially-planted vineyards and now focuses on sustainability, soil biology and vine health.
Next try Fysalides, a chardonnay- and pinot noir-based traditional method sparkling wine at Kontos Cellars, one of the most inviting tasting rooms in town; sip it on a sofa in their cozy second-floor loft or outside at a table or hanging porch swing on the patio. Lunch on smoked brisket, prime rib, pastrami or tacos at the buzz-worthy Andrae’s Kitchen, chef Andrae Bopp’s restaurant housed in a former gas station.
Spend some time chatting with the affable Chad Johnson, owner and winemaker at Dusted Valley, while tasting through his portfolio including 2015 BFM, a grippy yet balanced merlot-heavy blend. Finally, end the afternoon on the sweeping balcony at Valdemar Estates, a joint venture between Rioja and Washington, where you can sample barrel-fermented Viura and Gran Reserva Rioja from Spain and Blue Mountain Syrah from Washington while nibbling on rosemary-scented marcona almonds and jamon Iberico.
Go ahead, have that extra glass: your DD and his state-of-the-art vehicle have you covered.