The Sapolil Cellars winery in Walla Walla

La Dolce Vita: The happiest place in the world

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“So is this better than wheat farming?” I shouted into Bill Schwerin’s ear. The room was packed with people enjoying wine and food, walls were pulsing to the sounds of a four-piece blues band and Schwerin’s face held a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

“Absolutely,” he yelled. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Bill Schwerin’s story was my favourite of many I heard during a recent visit to Walla Walla, Washington.

Our experience began soon after we arrived in town. Before heading to our hotel to check in, we stopped downtown to pick up a winery map at the tourist information centre. I looked across Main Street and saw a sign — Sapolil Cellars — that reminded me that there was music in the offing. Preparing for our visit, I had come across the Sapolil web site and learned that two music groups would be performing that night, both playing the blues.

We crossed the street, entered the quiet room and were quickly greeted by a smiling young woman who offered a wine tasting. First, I said, we want information about the music. Could we reserve seats? Would the place be too full to just walk in?

We were quickly joined by a sixty-ish man who encouraged the young woman to offer us a specific table that would provide a great view of the stage. We chose to book the spot by making dinner reservations for 7:30, the same time the opening act would start. As we tasted the wines, we were joined by another young woman, who turned out to be Abigail, daughter of Bill, the owner of Sapolil and the man who wanted to make sure we got that good table.

Later, Bill would explain that both of his daughters had left for California after graduating from high school. They felt there was nothing in Walla Walla to hold them there. But when Bill retired from farming he went into the wine business, opened the tasting room/bistro/music hotspot and Abigail returned, helping in all aspects of the business, including winemaking. He was clearly very pleased.

Our evening at Sapolil was memorable. We ordered a bottle of Gandy Dancer, a Syrah with Sangiovese and Malbec blended in, and sat back to enjoy the music. Our very tasty dinners arrived and we were quickly immersed — great music, very nice wine, good food and very happy people.

It turned out that it was Abigail’s birthday and soon the entire room was being served with cotton candy to help celebrate the event. She and her father were clearly in their element. Angela and I felt like we were special guests as both spent time sitting with us.

By the time Son Jack Jr. and the Delta Hothouse Band began to play at 9 p.m. the bistro was packed — guests and staff even took advantage of a grand piano to sit at. Son Jack is a masterful guitarist with a great voice and front man Michael Wilde tears it up on the harmonica and has a voice that equals his partner. With superb backup on bass guitar and drums, the pair delivered Delta blues classics and little known pieces like they were born on the Bayou.

At the end of the set we settled our bill and headed for the door. But not before I went over to give Abigail a happy birthday hug and a thank you for a wonderful evening.

“I’m so happy you could be here for this,” she exclaimed.

“I think this might just be the happiest place in the world,” I laughed.

“I think you might just be right,” she replied.

I should add that all of the wines we sampled were as good as the Sapolil hospitality, food and entertainment — superb.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.