a great wash of water over walla walla, wash.
Dec. 9, 2009 1:56 pm
Updated: Dec. 10, 2009 9:53 am
Seventeen-thousand years ago, had you been wandering
around in that field where I’m pictured below (beside the enormous “K”), you
would almost surely have benefitted from scuba gear, as well as from an
unusually large steel umbrella to keep the sizeable stones from raining down
upon your head.
Actually, scuba gear and steel umbrellas, as is so often
the case, probably would not have done you much good. The incredible force of
the water surging into that particular field would’ve spelled curtains for you.
It would have spelled curtains for anyone caught up in the relentless ancient
floods that rushed into the valley many thousands of years ago.
The deluge (or series of deluges, actually) came from the sudden and dramatic draining of
ancient Lake Missoula. As glaciers advanced and retreated during the end of the Ice Age,
huge chunks of ice would plug up the entrance to the valley near present-day Missoula, Montana;
the melting water would fill the valley (the ancient Lake Missoula) until the
pressure became too great, and the dam would burst, sending a wall of water
some 500-feet high surging violently toward the sea.
Over and over it happened, the dam bursting and the
waters scouring everything in their path, picking up bolders and stones and countless tons of soil, and
roiling them along across the open land of eastern Washington, until finally
the waters reached a funky little lip along the Columbia River (see my almost
completely useless map below), a point where the waters would have had to
funnel into a tight space before continuing on to the Pacific Ocean.
Here at the gap, with its forward momentum abruptly stopped, the
rushing floodwater crashed into itself, perhaps like something out of the Three
Stooges, and great waves were forced back into the Walla Walla Valley, where
the water eventually came to rest, momentarily, dropping its load of silt,
rocks, and sand before being funneled through the gap to continue its journey
to the sea.
To me, one of the many fascinating things about these incredible floods
is how they affected the soil of Washington wine country. It is unlike any place in
the world. Out here in Walla Walla, the soils are rocky in one spot, sandy in
another. The elevations differ depending on how much sand and silt settled in
one spot over another. Cold air settles into pockets here and is rushed away by winds there.
Sand, silt and rocks don’t sound like the ideal situation
for growing fruit. But unlike most crops, wine grapes actually like the tough
stuff; the grapes don’t want it too cushy -- unlike, it must be said, a lot of
us who drink their juice. The roots of the vine stretch out, seeking
nutrients deep in the soil. And it is believed that the stress induced by this
kind of hard existence results in exceptional wines. At any rate, this is one reason
that Walla Walla is a unique spot.
SLS and I were in Walla Walla over the weekend tasting some
wines. Some of my favorites were from Tamarack Cellars. They were probably the
best value of the wines we tasted. Really consistent quality and fairly priced.
I’ll blog some more about them in a bit. But for the moment, here are
some pics from the trip.
my illegible chalkmap of WA, showing the columbia river, the flood route, gap, and walla walla
Tasting a barrel of Cab at Tamarack Cellars
holding up a stone at K Vintner, Walla Walla, WA
The Bunkhouse, Abeja, Walla Walla, WA
SLS among the vines in walla walla
'04 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon
Viogner Vines, Abeja, Walla Walla, WA