SEATTLE, July 6th, 2014 — At just over two hours away from Seattle is the “Gateway to Washington Wine Country” and its popularity has been climbing.
The city of Yakima is about 30 miles south of Interstate 90, you make turn in Ellensburg. It’s a quaint little township that is home to both agriculture and a near-by military installation.
The citizens of this somewhat rural community take pride in the local artisan wineries that have been cropping up here over the past 5-10 years or so.
The Yakima Valley is the oldest AVA (American Viticulture Area) within Washington State and is home to vineyards that have produced some of the highest-rated wines in the country.
Once you have the opportunity to tastes wines made from the fruit of this area, you’ll begin to understand its special place not only in the Washington wine industry but the greater wine industry at large. While there’s a sign proclaiming that Yakima is the “Palm Springs of Washington” and many have poked a great deal of jokes about that slogan, it does go to underscore the pride many in this fertile valley feel.
Even though it’s a far cry from being the resort town of Palm Springs, Yakima does have its own charm that many will find enduring if not satisfying. From its farmer markets, famous burger joins like “Miner’s”, it’s hard to mistake its “home-town” / “family town” vibe and perhaps that’s its greatest appeal and why it’s a great place to taste wine.
There are a few tasting rooms downtown and several just outside of town that are definitely worth a stop and spending quality time at:
Kana Winery: Started a number of years ago by Doctor Palmer Write, this is a winery with a good sense of “funk and vibe”. Besides being a physician, Palmer loves music and plays it as well which is a part of the inspiration behind the wine labels on each bottle.
His wit, charm and character come through and winemaker, Tony Lombardo helps to ensure that flavor profile and vision come to life.
The word, Kana is native for the “fire within a mountain” which is fitting seeing that the state of Washington is home to several volcanoes. Additionally, most of the soil in the Yakima Valley are heavily influenced by past volcanic activity. You’ll find its tasting room in the middle of downtown on 2nd street and open seven days a week. Parking is in the nearby available free parking lots and they have live music every Friday. A few wine favorites here are:
- Dark Star: This Syrah-dominate wine floods your tongue with dark fruits, nice character across the mid palate and has a lush finish.
- Tempranillo: A zesty red that’s a no-brainer with pizza, burgers or grilled vegetables. Nice combination of red and black fruits with hints of tobacco and dark chocolate.
- Old Vines: There aren’t many Lemberger wines being made in Washington and that’s unfortunate as it really can be a lovely wine as represented here.
Gilbert Cellars: The Gilbert family has been in the Yakima area for over 100 years and made a name for itself as local fruit growers – it continues that legacy now by making wine. Even though its winemaking facility is about 20 minutes south of town, you can taste all the goods in its downtown tasting room on Front Street. The family is still heavily involved with the winery and their passion comes through in the wine. They recently revamped their wine label to that of the “Gilbert Peak Label” and you should find these wines rather rewarding.
A couple favorites are:
- 2013 Rosé of Mourvedre: A beautiful rose that has the Provence-style color and dryness that so many long for as it means it goes well with food. Beautiful notes of strawberry, melon and angel food cake which culminate into a very clean-finishing wine.
- 2011 Left Bank: This “left bank” style, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blend entices you to pair it with grilled steaks, burgers or pot roast. Notes of raspberry, peppercorn, fig, boysenberries, pencil lead and smoke.
Wilridge Winery: Just outside of town, up on the Naches Heights plateau, is one of the few 100-percent biodynamic wineries you’ll find. Its founder, Paul Beveridge, is an extremely passionate individual who enjoys making wines from a vast array of varietals and has the oldest winery in Seattle proper as well.
The views from this vineyard/tasting room area are breathtaking. The winery often has live music and it’s really setup as a family-fun environment in which the whole family can enjoy. Additionally, there is a light food menu available and sometimes there’s also a food truck as well – call ahead to find out more details. A couple favorites are:
- 2012 Estate Zweigelt: Your initial reaction is spot-on. “Who the heck has ever heard of this grape”? Lord knows, this wine critic hadn’t. It’s a red grape that was developed in 1922 in Klosterneuburg, Austra by a dude named Fritz Zweigelt. It’s really a cross-breed of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch and the end-result is a lighter grape that seems to be destined to pair well with artisan pizza, burgers and even grilled sausages.
- 2010 Estate Nebbiolo: This noble grape that’s been largely cultivated in northern Italy, certainly seems to have a good place here in the Yakima Valley. A wine that exhibits good complexity of fruit, tannin, smoke, spice and finish. Pair this one with cured meats, meatballs, pasta with red-sauces and even pizza.
Naches Heights Vineyards: Right next door to the Wilridge tasting room is the one for Naches Heights Vineyards Winery. Owned by Phil Cline, this boutique winery makes small batches of quality vino that are priced to move. Phil seems to have a “wine should be fun” philosophy that carries itself into the branding and ultimately the wine itself. Phil can often be seen at numerous wine events around the Northwest and has a good following for his fun approach to wine.
A couple favorites are:
- 2013 Vuja De Rosé: A rose that exhibits a beautiful light-pink hue, is dry and rewards the drinker with gorgeous notes of watermelon, strawberry with white peach and red grapefruit. A no-brainer pick for picnicking or laying it down for Thanksgiving later this year.
- 2012 Grenache: Easily one of my favorite Rhone varietals is Grenache. This extremely food-friendly grape seems to be right at home in the Yakima Valley and rewards you with rosehips, cedar, smoke, white pepper, beef jerky, raspberries, leather and chocolate.
Treveri: A sparkling wine only producer, Treveri has quickly made a name for itself on a national scale thanks to being featured at the White House a few years ago. The owners couldn’t’ have possibly dreamed about the luck they’d be bestowed when the White House Chef happened to visit their winery back then and fall in love with their wines.
Longtime winemaker of Washington sparkling wine, Jeurgen Grieb and his wife Julie, established the winery a few years ago and have very good bubbly for under the $25 mark. Jeurgen learned the craft of Méthode Champenoise in Trier Germany at the Duhr Sektkellerei and hasn’t looked back. You’ll find these wines to be exceptional values and they do a great job of putting Washington bubbly on the map.
A couple favorites are:
- Blanc de Blancs: This non-vintage “White of the Whites” sparkler rewards the wine lover with beautiful notes of baked bread, pear, apricot, green apple and stellar acidity. This wine goes great with a cheese and fruit plate or alongside chicken salads and white fish.
- Sparkling Syrah Brut: A dry bottle of sparkling Syrah that may sound a bit funky when you first hear about it but make no mistake. This is a very good, refreshing red wine that would be stellar with cuts of game, cured meats and even meat-based pizzas. Its notes of blackberry, biscuits and spice help it play well in a variety of food arenas.
Two Mountain Winery: While not technically in Yakima, this winery is just a few minutes east of Treveri and has also risen to quite a bit of northwest fame. Started in 2000, this family-run winery produces quite a number of wines to choose from, 14 in all so they’re likely to have at least one you’ll love. The winery gets its name from the view of two mountains in the Cascades that are viewable from its vineyard on a clear day – Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. Their wines cover everything from a Rose to a Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon.
A couple favorites are:
- Reserve Cabernet Franc: It’s great to have the green bell pepper component rocking in this wine as it definitely speaks to the character of this varietal and is a nod to the Loire Valley in France. Good extraction and relatively light oak program help this wine really shine. Pair with cure meats, pot roast or veal chops.
- Yakima Valley Syrah: Bring on the notes of leather, blueberries, lightly burned toast, huckleberries and a lovely hint of shoe polish. This is your go-to wine for hearty meat dishes, lamb, herb-crusted chicken and even grilled mushrooms.
Make sure you stop in Yakima: It’s likely, that whatever kind of wine palate you have, you’re more than likely to find a few wines to fall in love with so it’s worth the stop into Yakima. The wineries mentioned here are all boutique by the loose definition in that they’re small production with a primary focus on quality first. While it can be easy to give Yakima a mental pass and keep driving past it on your way out to the Prosser/Red Mountain area, you’ll be rewarded with a fun, laid-back experience if you make the stop. The city is host to a variety of fun food and wine adventures if you make the time.
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