Otis Kenyon – A History in Flames…


After leaving Va Piano, and getting some recommendations from the server there, we headed back into downtown Walla Walla to check out some of the wineries in the City Center.  After parking the car, we headed down the street and were intrigued by a logo of a man in a bowler hat.  We stopped inside.  Otis Kenyon is located in a long and narrow space in one of Walla Walla’s historic buildings on Main Street.  The space has hardwood floors and beautiful high ceilings.  I’m not sure if they have just recently relocated to the space, but it seemed like the space isn’t finished yet; their tasting bar seemed to be a 6 foot folding table with a tablecloth.

Our server guided us through one of the fasting tastings I’ve ever been through!  Sadly, she didn’t tell us anything about the wines, or the history of the winery, or even talk to us at all.  So, what I can tell you has been gleaned from other sources.  We tasted three wines – their 2008 Matchless Red, the 2009 Merlot and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Matchless Red was balanced and approachable with medium tannins and lots of fruit.  It is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot.  The Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon weren’t my style though – they both had very heavy tannins and strong smoke flavors.

After leaving Otis Kenyon, I looked up a bit more about them.  I was curious about the man in the bowler hat and the interesting name of the red blend wine.  As it turns out, there is a story there.  In the early 1900s, James Otis Kenyon was working as a dentist in nearby Milton-Freewater.  He had a wife and kids, and was struggling to make ends meet.  And then another dentist set up shop – Competition!  For some reason, James got the idea to burn down his competitor’s office and he got caught.  While he was serving time in jail, his wife left him with the kids and moved to Walla Walla, and planted the idea that he was dead.

Almost 50 years later, James Otis Kenyon’s grandson Stephen discovered that his grandfather was still alive and living on the Oregon Coast – and happily the two met and formed a relationship that lasted until James’ death at the age of 101.  Stephen owns Otis Kenyon Wine and wanted to pay tribute to his grandfather – the man in the bowler hat is a silhouette of James Otis Kenyon, and Matchless Red is a nod to his criminal past.

Being the history nerd that I am, I wish our server would have shared that story with us!

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5 thoughts on “Otis Kenyon – A History in Flames…

  1. Very interesting story! It is really too bad when you only get the wines poured at a winery and no story – but it is great that you were able to look it up.

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