The price gouging was bad across the board, alas. Glen Fiona, who once made the state's best syrah, raised prices at least 20% on the exact same wine they were selling last year and took away case discounts. As a result, I just shook my head and left. It's important to remember that a wine that was awesome at $18 a bottle can be a ripoff at $25 - especially when there are better alternatives [think Clonakilla shiraz or a good quality Crozes-Hermitage] for about $20.
Most egregious ripoff goes to Va Piano winery. They demanded $5 before you could enter the winery... and then told you that your $5 only got you two tiny sips of their "ultra premium" wines. Sorry, guys, but a $12 Argentine cabernet or $12 Barossa shiraz is much higher quality than your $40 "estate grown" crap. You are kindly invited to fuck off.
Northstar no longer gave you a glass to take home but still charged you $5. At least they had good cheese. Their wine is still pretty good, but their sense of pricing vis-á-vis reality is still wacky. $41 at the tasting room? Uh, no way. It's $29 here in Seattle... and it can't hold a candle to the Ch. Grange Neuve Pomerol they sell at Costco for $25. Nice try.
L'Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon: I have to give these guys credit for being friendly, honest, and welcoming - and not charging any money to try what they make. Woodward Canyon's riesling is still a big mistake in my book: guys, please stop fucking it up by adding muscat. Muscat is fun and should cost ten bucks. Your "riesling" just tastes like a dry muscat and costs twenty bucks. That's a shame. Your sauvignon blanc is okay but why bother when South African sauvignon blanc is more elegant and costs half as much? Finally, I know your old vines cabernet is very good and very prototypically Washington, but there's no reason in the world it should cost $75. Charge $25 and I'll buy some.
L'Ecole still has mostly crappy wines [although their chenin blanc is worth every penny of the $12 they ask for it]. The sémillons tasted like they were filtered through sawdust - yeccch. The free cheese and salmon mousse, though - yum! Of course, what with the crowd being almost all Americans, every cheese wound up having that tell-tale ∩ shape. Folks, eating the rind won't kill you. In fact, it tastes pretty darned good. No matter; I stayed back for a while and enjoyed some of the best, stinkiest blue cheese I've eaten in years. Yum!
The one wine both Eric and I bought was this one. Beautiful packaging, label design by an artist you've actually heard of before, and (most importantly) unique and delicious wine inside. Worth every penny at $30. Sadly, the Hawaiian shirt wearing, trophy wife toting Walla Walla crowd didn't seem to be able to find the place or even remotely enjoy the art [Jim Dine had a huge sculpture outside of King Kong holding a Barbie doll; it's going to Oslo this summer]. Ah well. Some folks - heck, most folks - just don't get it.
Other stuff I learned:
The brew pub in Walla Walla is heinous. Bad beer, terrible hamburgers. However, every waitress was barely older than 21 and had a really cute butt barely covered by jeans skirts or shorts. Yowza!
Best line I didn't use because I didn't think of it until after we left: Help a sister out? [We tried to get a table at an Italian restaurant, but the screaming queen maitre d' insisted that he could not possibly seat us without a reservation. He was a dead ringer for Robin Williams in The Birdcage, although his tan was more orange-y.]
The Howard Johnson's bridal suite is decrepit and sad. If you got pregnant there on your wedding night, I swear you'd get an abortion just so you wouldn't have to look at your child and think of that room. The wallpaper is still seared into my retinas. It made Richard's sofa look tasteful.
The park ranger who sits at the desk of the Whitman Mission is the creepiest man in Washington. Attention LA casting directors: This man is the next Jeffrey Coombs combined with vintage Anthony Perkins. You heard it here first.