With names like Grandview, Zillah and Moxie, the first AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Washington State might be better known as the place where the vast majority of hops from the U.S. are grown or as the number one apple-producing county in the nation. Given its fertile soil, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Yakima Valley Wine Country is also a winemaker’s paradise and a wine lover’s playground.
The charm of the Yakima Valley is a direct result of the tight-knit communities that dot this high-desert expanse. Diversity is not just found in the bottle but in lodging options from budget-friendly to boutique and food from renowned tamales to wood-fired pizzas to intimate French cuisine and everything in between.
Naches Heights Vineyard (NHV)is the result of a mid-life crisis; literally. In 2000 owner Phil Cline, looking for an escape from the apple business, dove deep into wine. His quest for a reboot is the wine industry’s gain. Between the unique terrain of the Naches Heights AVA (whose high elevation plateau had a bird’s eye view of the famed Missoula Floods) and two other AVAs, he sources 35 different grapes for their portfolio. Bright aromatics and lemon curd dominate Zeste, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne; apple and stone fruit set the tone for a lively dance with the off-dry white blend, Can Can; and the bold yet velvety tannins of the 2013 Cabernet Franc are a perfect example of the possibilities of the Yakima Valley.
Sharinga tasting room with NHV, the winemaker of WilRidge Winery, Paul Beveridge, is the proud owner of the 80 acre site planted to over 35 acres of vines. He sells to about two dozen winemakers but keeps back plenty of grapes to craft an impressive line-up including a couple of my favorite combinations—a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne-Viognier— and single varietals—Viognier and Semillon. From Nebbiolo to Syrah, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Malbec and Tempranillo, Beveridge is currently working with 21 different varietals and his dessert and port offerings continue to expand. Assistant winemaker, Dennis Grace, has to be one of the most humble and unassuming winemakers I’ve met to date and a private tour with him is a refreshing education.
Recent studies support that wine is good for you but Mill Lane Winery is introducing something that could prove even better than resveratrol; the Aronia berry. Touted as the healthiest known berry on the market today, the Aronia berry can make wine among other things and is higher in flavonoids and antioxidants than even blueberries. Ron and Christine Mehelich operate the Yakima tasting room and are excited to bring a line of fruit wines to the AVA. The tasting room experience allows visitors to sample from an extensive portfolio of truly unique wines—every one of them having a percentage of non-viniferous fruit and many being entirely fruit-based.
Looking for a setting that takes advantage of valley views? The 300 acre Gilbert Cellars’ Hackett Ranch does not disappoint and the wines crafted by Justin Neufeld celebrate the inspiration he finds in the great outdoors. Lavender in bloom, an outdoor summer music series and The Cave barrel room all come together to weave magic at this multi-generation homestead. Temperatures are a little cooler at the Sunrise Vineyard on Hackett Ranch so white grapes have a slightly livelier acidity. Their unoaked 2015 Chardonnay is the perfect summertime crab accompaniment. For red wine lovers, their fruit-forward 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (sourced from River Ridge Vineyard) has notes of tobacco and velvety tannins and the 2014 Left Bank–a Bordeaux blend –is decidedly floral yet masculine. Look for their smudge pots at The Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse Bar, reincarnated as urban chic lamps.
With an in-town tasting room and evening hours, Whisper Ridge Winery is a great spot for a bottle of wine with friends after work or a day of traipsing through area vineyards. Bill Mechem fell in love with the wine world at a young age when he traveled to the Czech Republican to visit family in 1989 and has been crafting his European-influenced wines since 2006. That intimate link is what drives his passion from vineyard to bottle. Standouts include his 2007 A Voix Basse (in a low voice)–an unfiltered, lighter, any time red; the 2013 Syrah–sourced from 1994 plantings at Crawford Vineyard in Prosser; and the 2010 Semillon ice wine–a perfect accompaniment to nuts, pecorino cheese or foie gras.
Brothers Matt and Pat are the faces (and the farmhands) behind Two Mountain Winery. Fourth-generation farmers, they were actively moving the land in a different direction with their uncle, Ron Schmidt, when his sudden passing put them at the forefront of their family’s legacy. It may have its challenges behind the scenes but visitors to this apple-packing-facility-turned-tasting-room will only notice the elegance, depth and complexity springing forth from their efforts. The tropical notes of their 2015 Riesling make it a quintessential summer sipper but the excitement Matt exuded during a recent side-by-side barrel tasting of their 2016 Chardonnay could sway a person to adopt one or the other as a current preference. Much of their fruit is sourced from their estate, Copeland Vineyard.
German-born Juergen Grieb is the original winemaker behind sparkling wine house, Treveri Cellars. Over the years he has also trained his son, Christian, in the traditional method of sparkling wines. This family-owned winery focuses on experience-based tastings with salon-style seating and a small bites menu that focuses on foods that pair best with bottle-fermented bubbly. A private tour affords visitors an in-depth look at their unique disgorging line which hails from Ėpernay, France and party trivia like how much pressure is contained in a sparkling wine bottle and how that corks gets in there in the first place. During the summer months, it’s hard to top a view from their patio and a bottle of locally-made bubbles.
David O’Reilly will tell you that their site at Owen Roe Winery is one of the warmest places in Eastern Washington in the wintertime. He’ll also tell you that Cabernet Franc is the grape that lured him to Washington State in the first place after sourcing more and more fruit for their Oregon winery. In O’Reilly’s experience, the weather is simply more dependable. A walk up the vineyard to its highest point is the best way to understand the geology that brings such depth and sense of place to their wines. The hillside is made up of alluvial deposits and old river rock, imparting layers of minerality while the winds at the higher elevation encourage beautiful aromatics and bright fruit notes.
From the outside Yakima Sports Center might look like a typical sports bar but seared ahi and a locally-sourced wine list is not typical pub grub. You want a plate of nachos and a burger? You can get that here but you’ll also find pear flatbread, grilled portabella sandwich, coconut curry and fish tacos.
Step inside Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House and you’d think there is no other restaurant in town; the place is typically packed and for good reason. The open kitchen engages diners as everything from in-season grilled asparagus to seared halibut to chicken and dumplings are prepared before their eyes; craft cocktails, Yakima wines and local beers dominate the adult beverage menu; and recycled materials can be found throughout the sleek and cozy “polished American tavern.”
Have you ever complained that you can’t get a decent meal while furniture shopping? The Yakima Valley has your covered. The Chophouse at the Old Warehouse serves up palate-pleasing creole chicken burgers, reubens, prime rib dip, crab cakes and country fried steak even during furniture auction hours. New owners, who hail from Nashville, have plans to turn the adjacent, former Perrin fruit company building into a concert space and 10-room inn while keeping the funky restaurant/auction house in the front.
Located in a non-descript white cement block building in Union Gap, Los Hernandez Tamales has a cult following. Visiting Seattleites drive home with coolers full of pork and chicken tamales and, during asparagus season, the asparagus and pepper jack tamales will make a believer out of any carnivore.
Hop Town Wood Fired Pizza went brick and mortar back in April and the entire Yakima Valley rejoiced. Pizzas like HopDaddyDo, Angry Za and Porky Pine Prosciutto, feature Italian sausage crumbles, angry hot sauce and pine nuts. The Hop Yard, a one-acre outdoor seating and game yard, is the place to catch all the rays that the East side is blessed with. Locally-owned by Carrie Wright and Lori Roy, these pizzas are topped with the freshest ingredients from the garden basket around them and every 9-inch pie is dusted with Yakima Valley hops.
The Hotel Maison is a boutique property from first glance to closer inspection. Originally built in 1911 by the Yakima Freemasons, it has undergone an extensive renovation while retaining the opulence of the sixth floor Lodge Hall. All rooms are outfitted with luxury bath products, beddings and robes as well as a Keurig coffee maker, microwave and fridge. There’s an on-site fitness center and adjacent spa, daily breakfast and local wines available for purchase. Once a month the hotel also hosts a wine tasting and small bite reception, allowing guests to unwind and mingle in the well-appointed lobby.
As a Best Western Plus property, Vintage Valley Inn is immediately cozy and inviting. The entire staff is friendly, the common spaces are welcoming and the rooms are the perfect spot to rest up after a day of wine tasting. In addition to a full hot breakfast buffet included in each night’s stay, an evening soup and bread snack is offered as well as 24-hour coffee, tea and hot cocoa. There’s also an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center and pet-friendly rooms. Bonus: Whisper Ridge Winery is located next door.