Monday, September 26, 2016


Learning on the Land with Blue Mountain Land Trust

Driving east along Highway 12 from the Tri-Cities (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland), the speed limit slows to 40 MPH as you approach the unincorporated community of Lowden, named for a local farmer and rancher, Francis M. Lowden. Along with many family farm operations, Lowden is also the home of three businesses--Dunning Irrigation, L'Ecole Winery, and Woodward Canyon Winery.

On Saturday, September 24, Woodward Canyon was the site of another BMLT Learning on the Land event, a summer educational series designed to spotlight the ways human experience interacts with the Blue Mountain landscape. The tasting room, the front porch of which is seen below, along with the wine production facility are situated inconspicuously behind a grove of large old trees just off the highway in a restored 1870s farmhouse and several aluminum-sided sheds. But what comes out of this 35+ year-old family owned operation is anything but inconspicuous. 

Initially, the group of 20+ eager participants met on the lawn where Darcey Fugman-Small and Rick Small gave a brief history of Woodward Canyon which they started in the early 1980s. As an interesting anecdote, Rick related that the house, which has been moved twice and now serves as the tasting room, was originally the teacher's house for the nearby two-room Lowden School which he attended as a young boy. He also vividly recalled watching a 1957 World Series baseball game in the front room of this house. 

Since winemaking is all about the grapes, a drive to the nearby vineyard was part of the tour. The vineyard is located several miles up Woodward Canyon Road in what most would consider hot, dry hills, quite unsuitable for grape-growing. In fact, this is the most western vineyard in the Walla Walla appellation. But that's why Rick is the farmer and grape-grower and I'm not. Being at an elevation of 8-900 feet is important for drainage and the ability to use wind machines to keep cold air moving. Whereas, in the lowlands the frost and cold settles which can cause serious damage to grape plants. 

Being up high also gives Rick and his vineyard workers a one-of-a-kind "office," complete with spectacular views of the surrounding Walla Walla Valley. 
Talk about a corner office!

With the 2016 harvest of red wine grapes completed, the vines begin to lose their leaves and harden off in the shortening days of autumn. The Smalls are committed to following sustainable agricultural practices in order to produce their high quality grapes and wine that is sold and appreciated by consumers as far away as Japan, Switzerland and Germany as well as their neighbors right here in the Walla Walla Valley.

Driving up the dirt road to the vineyard, random glints of light could be seen amongst the rows reminiscent of the pop-pop of old-time flash cameras at a rock concert. Upon closer look, it was only hundreds of shiny aluminum strips used to scare off hungry birds. In addition, Rick related how he uses these strips as telltales to see the direction of the breeze that often sweeps through the rows and blocks of grape vines.

The hillside vineyard is planted in blocks which are irrigated with extensive drip lines. According to Rick, the plants don't need as much water as one might think, and with this system the valuable liquid resource gets right where it's needed most with little to no waste.

These are the water storage tanks that supply the irrigation water from a well on the property. As one system pumps water from the well into the tanks, another computerized system directs it to the rows of grapes.

As part of their sustainable agricultural practice, Rick avoids the use of chemicals and sprays. Instead, several years ago he planted a grove of junipers along with other native plant species to give natural predators a place to live. The trees and flowers also add a certain aesthetic pleasure to the vineyard.

Much of the plant stock in the vineyard is decades old despite the visible thinness of the original stalk. That's because occasional prolonged hard freezes kill everything above the ground and must be cut back. After that it takes a year for the plant to regrow with fruit production following in the second year.

For more information about Woodward Canyon Winery, simply follow this link:

Thursday, September 22, 2016


The Pastime Cafe . . . Ten Years Later

In January 2006, Walla Walla's venerable Italian eatery, The Pastime Cafe, closed its doors after 80+ years of serving the "best Italian food in the Walla Walla Valley." Four generations of the Fazzari family owned and operated this iconic restaurant at 215 W. Main Street. Since its closure, the building sat vacant until early last spring when a consortium of a corporate attorney, a mixologist, a local winemaker, a Seattle restauranteur, and a local architect came together with a vision for a new restaurant and companion winery. 

And today, September 22, 2016, The Walls tasting room and its "sister" restaurant Passatempo Taverna will turn the lights on the sign and officially open for business.

As you can see by the comparative photos, the front has been reimagined for the 21 century yet still pays homage to the history of the old Pastime Cafe. However, a peek inside will have to wait until the official opening this afternoon. But there is every reason to believe it will be stunning.

Immediately next door in what was once an empty lot littered with dirt, bricks, rocks, and "whatever," the clean, exterior space of The Walls beckons you in. But again, no peeks of the interior were allowed as per the architect who I met as I was taking pictures this morning. In fact, judging by the number of service trucks parked outside and shadows of bodies inside, I'd say everyone is scurrying to meet the 5 PM deadline for the lighting of the sign.

I was unaware that Walla Walla had a sister city in Italy, but apparently we do as seen by this sign on the front window of the restaurant. Cannara is a small town in central Umbria and is known as the onion capital of Italy. I would imagine that is the common connection as Walla Walla is also famous for its WW Sweet Onions, the seeds of which originated in Italy. Clearly, more research is needed on my part to verify that assumption.

One last nostalgic look at the old Pastime Cafe and its menu which obviously dates back to mid last century. And while the past is nice to remember, now it's time to look ahead to many more years of good food at wine at the new Passatempo Taverna and The Walls winery. 

Ben venuto! Welcome!

To read what the son of a member of the fourth generation of the Fazzari  family says about the new iteration of the old Pastime Cafe follow this link: 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


East Meets West

It was a momentous day on Monday, September 19, when veteran City Daily Photo blogger Versaillaise de Quimper breezed through Spokane, Washington, USA, stopping long enough to enjoy lunch and conversation with this Walla Walla Daily Photo Blogger. VdQ aka Ciel de Quimper prefers to maintain a stealthy profile on social media, but I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice in-person--once in Paris in May of 2014 and then again on Monday as she neared the end of her 14-day road trip of the American West. 

Here VdQ can be seen in the rear window of her rented blue Camry along with her faithful traveling companion Charlotte Adelaide, posing temporarily as a hood ornament. 

In keeping with the furtive mode, I present our Stealthy Selfie take in front of Frank's Diner as evidence of our meet-up.

To learn more about Spokane's famous train car diner, and to see and hear the actual waitress, Gage Lee, who we had, be sure to follow this link:

Friday, September 9, 2016


Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days

One of the perks of living in a small town in Eastern Washington is the local fair and rodeo that happens every Labor Day weekend. In fact, this year was the 150th anniversary of the Fair and Frontier Days. Once described as "the cultural event of Southeast Washington," it does attract tens of thousands of people to the 5-day event beginning with a big-name country music concert on Wednesday night, the Demolition Derby on Thursday night, and three performances of the PRCA approved rodeo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday along with a carnival and exhibits of local farm animals, produce, photography and home crafts.

Having lived in Walla Walla for 29 years and raised two sons here, I've been to the fair more times than I can count. Yet it always brings mixed feelings. During the years that I was teaching school, it meant the start of a new school year. Unlike many school districts that always begin school after Labor Day, the tradition in Walla Walla has been to start school a week or even two before the fair. That meant that during the week of the fair, many students would be absent for whole or partial days as they cared for and showed their 4-H or FFA farm animals. Now as a retired teacher, the fair signifies the end of summer which even though I am retired, brings with it a sadness and melancholy of shorter and darker days not far off.

The Davis Show carnival is a big draw for kids and families, and there is always no school on Friday which is dubbed "Kids' Day at the Fair." As for the carnival rides, I have never been a big fan since I don't enjoy the feeling of my stomach in my throat; but I must be the exception as the rides are as popular as ever, at least with the younger set. And now, in my "mature adult" stage, I much prefer taking pictures of the bright lights, gaudy colors and others enjoying themselves.

The one exception to my "no fair rides" is the Ferris wheel, which I love. I have fond memories of riding a smaller version in the "Kiddie Section" of the fair, the kind that had single, front-facing seats which just held my two young sons and me. We'd always ride at night so we'd have a magical view of the lights of the carnival along with the twinkling lights of the town and the distant countryside. The warm summer air was tinged with a hint of coolness especially as the wheel went round and round, so we'd huddle together to keep warm while the sweet smell of cotton candy and the pungent hot oil of elephant ears and corn dogs tickled our noses. Those were the best times of the fair for me!

Nowadays, the draw to the fair as an adult is my once-a-year chance to eat "fair food." The choices are pretty standard and are always over-priced, but what the heck! You only live once!

Chickens and pigs and sheep, oh my! Once you've had enough of the bright lights and pulsating rock music of the carnival scene, step into one of several barns to see the farm animals. At night, the barns are a peaceful refuge for the animals and fair-goers alike, whereas during the day the comings and goings of kids and livestock preparing to show their animals can be a bit hectic.

This is an example of what these kids work for during the rest of the year--ribbons and certificates--and the chance to sell their livestock at a "fair" price.

"Behind the Scenes" --a parting shot.