Meet Walla Walla Jim
My name is Jim Wright, or as my tour guests have dubbed me, Walla Walla Jim. As the owner of Tesla Winery Tours in Walla Walla, Washington, I have local, personal knowledge and experience in all things deliciously liquid and temptingly tasty and I plan to share that with you here at Discover the Pacific Northwest.
I travel the Walla Walla Valley in an all-electric Tesla Model X with up to six guests so I will also be writing about our various tasting adventures and the incredibly interesting people who travel to and live in the friendly and scenic Walla Walla wine country. In this, my first Discover the Pacific Northwest article, I will letting you know how to find one of Walla Walla’s lesser known boutique wineries.
My most often asked question is, “What is your favorite winery?”
I can never answer that because every winery in the Walla Walla Valley is unique in their wines, staff, service, location and tasting room experience. Honestly, I like them all for different reasons. However, when I get asked where my secret “hole-in-the-wall” favorites are, I love it because I get to show off the lesser known, yet outstanding, wineries hidden in the valley.
One of those wineries is Elegante Cellars Winery in the Walla Walla Airport District. Did I say airport? Yes, I did. During WWII, the War Department created a heavy bomber training base in Walla Walla and sent 594 crews to receive their training there. In 1989, the Port of Walla Walla took over the airport and created a business park. Today, our airport district serves Alaska Airlines and has almost 80 businesses including wineries, a brewery and distilleries spread out over 2000 acres, some of which are covered in wheat fields and vineyards.
The Story of Elegante Cellars Winery
Doug Simmons, a native Walla Wallan, is the owner/winemaker at Elegante Cellars Winery. One reason I love taking people to Elegante is that Doug essentially runs a one man show, seven days a week, along with his faithful Boston Terrier wine dog Buddy. When you enter the tasting room, you are talking to the winemaker himself standing behind the counter pouring wine, which is rare in the wine business. Any questions you have about winemaking are answered by Doug, a very welcoming, friendly and interesting man.
I love the stories behind how people became winemakers, from people with local family winemaking ties, to a former manager of a Swedish rock band and everyone in between. Doug had 30 years of teaching chemistry in the local school district and asked himself, “What do I do now?” With a background in farming, dirt in his veins and a chemist’s intellect, he knew winemaking was his answer. So he went back to school (as if 30 years wasn’t enough) to get his A.A. degree in Enology and Viticulture from the pioneering wine program at Walla Walla Community College.
In 2007, Doug was about to start the winery and wanted a name that had an Old World/Euro feel to it. He recalled a fellow school teacher who always said “elegant” when asked how his day was going. Doug added an “e” to the end to get the feeling he wanted and Elegante was born.
Today, Doug specializes only in single varietals, no blends, which is also unique to the Valley. His current flight of wines (in alphabetical order, a throwback to his teacher training) are all award winning, including a Gold Medal for his Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2016 Seattle Wine Awards and even a Bronze Medal for his strawberry wine which is the only such wine made in the Valley. When I’ve asked Doug why he doesn’t mention all of his 25+ medals, he told me, “I’m a bit embarrassed by it.” That’s the kind of humble guy Doug is even though his wines are worth shouting about.
So stop in and tell Doug that Walla Walla Jim sent you. If he’s not very busy, you might even get a tour of the “backroom” and walk away with a new found respect for how much work goes into winemaking and how Doug pours his heart and soul into every bottle.
Look for Walla Walla Jim
If you’re interested in hearing more stories of Walla Walla and the wineries, breweries, distilleries and related food and events check back with Discover the Pacific Northwest the first Tuesday of every month. Walla Walla Jim will be here sharing his Tesla Winery Tour adventures.
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