Explore the Washington Fruit Basket and taste wine by horse or by hayride
written by Lauren Kramer
On a recent evening in Zillah, a small town 20 miles southeast of Yakima, I sat outside absorbing the quiet serenity of a valley bathed in so light. Before me orchards filled with neat rows of cherry, apple and peach trees stretched for miles, their lush fruit ripening as one hot day rolled into the next. Mount Adams and Mount Rainier were still heavily snowcapped, their peaks like ghosts in the far-off distance. Behind me, the door of my teepee flapped in the breeze, revealing a king bed decked in white linens, a sanctuary for the night and a place where I would wake to the sounds of horses grazing in the early morning. The Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast & Barn, run by Pepper Fewel on her family’s working fruit farm, was my home for the night. A woman with a deep love of horses, Fewel runs the B, B & B to finance the care of twenty-six horses she’s rescued from the feedlot. She brings them to Cherry Wood to live out their final years grazing peacefully in her meadows and escorting guests on horseback wine-tasting tours through the orchards.
Under her stewardship they receive love from both Fewel and her daughter, Tiffany, a Feldenkrais practitioner whose healing touch reduces both equestrian and human pain. On my first visit to Cherry Wood several years back, I ventured out on a horseback ride with Tiffany, stopping to admire the fruit hanging heavily from the tree boughs in the heat of summer. This time, I board Fewel’s alternative mode of transportation, a “cowboy limo” composed of a Jeep pulling a hay-filled wagon. Guests sit on cow hides in the wagon as they’re pulled through the orchards, stopping to sample wine at a handful of Zillah’s many wineries. Fewel launched the cowboy limo after a group of guests from the East Coast found themselves physically unable to get astride the horses. “ They also wanted to tour through the orchards,” she recalled. “I had to find another way for them to get there. I tell my guests they’re welcome to board the limo—as long as they can stay on the wagon!” Staying on the wagon can be tougher than it sounds when you’re tasting wine.
photos courtesy of Yakima Valley Tourism
We drove slowly through the orchards, sampling cherries from trees whose fruit is just weeks away from being picked. Over the course of three hours we visited four wineries for tastings, and while all produced different wines, the experiences had one thing in common—each visit was filled with a personal touch. We met owners and winemakers eager to chat and share their stories, describing how their winery came to be and what it means to them. At Two Mountain Winery, Patrick and Matthew Rawn toil on farmland first planted by their grandfather in 1951. “With five generations of Yakima Valley farming pulsing through our veins, we are predisposed to have dirty fingernails and an inherent love of the land,” Patrick said. “We live, breathe and drink our work.” Today one brother grows grapes on 26 acres of vineyards while the other makes estate wine sold across nineteen states. Back on the limo, we rode the dusty back roads to Cultura, a winery owned and operated by Fewel’s son and daughter-in-law, Tad and Sarah. The couple purchased their first fruit in 2005 and replanted a section of family farmland with zinfandel and cabernet franc before opening the tasting room in 2008. “We’re still learning,” he said.
At Dineen Family Vineyards, we stopped to admire immaculately groomed gardens and the rows of healthy vineyards outside the tasting room. “We make just 600 cases of wine a year, so we’re mostly grape sellers,” spokesman David Rodriguez said as he walked us through the vineyards. One of the interesting details at the vineyard is the falconer it has hired, whose raptors control the populations of birds and sage rats that feed on the grapes. It’s also a sacred place for community gatherings. Saturdays in summer, local chef Chris Guerra helms the outdoor pizza oven steps from the Dineen tasting room, and valley locals flock to the vineyard for picnics on the lush lawns. That sense of warmth, family connection and close-knit community is a common thread wherever we ventured in the Yakima Valley. Visitors come to this arid corner, the veritable fruit basket of Washington, to relish the great wines, but leave touched by the stories, the lineage and the warm heart that beats a steady welcome.
photography by Lauren Kramer
BEST BETS WHERE TO EAT:
Don’t miss the incredible pizzas at Hoptown Wood Fired Pizza.
2560 Donald Wapato Rd.,
Provisions Restaurant & Market is a locavore’s haven with healthy comfort fare served in a classy setting.
2710 Terrace Heights Dr.
WHERE TO SLEEP:
Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast & Barn delivers a soft adventure with no sacrifice to comfort, luxury or fine breakfast foods.
Rates start at $185 per person per night.
WHAT TO DO:
You’ll never look at fruit the same way once you’ve toured the orchards where it’s grown and seen it ripening on the tree.
Take a horseback tour of the vineyards or hop on the cowboy limo if riding is not your forte.
Both deliver a mellow, enjoyable, safe tour of the wineries.