The land of hops is also Washington’s first AVA
written by Viki Eierdam
With names like Grandview, Zillah and Moxie, the first American Viticultural Area in Washington might be better known as the place where the vast majority of hops are grown in the U.S., or the top apple-producing county in the nation. Given its fertile soil, it should come as no surprise that the Yakima Valley is also a winemaker’s paradise and a wine lover’s playground. The charm of the valley is a direct result of the tight-knit communities that dot this high-desert expanse. Three hundred sunny days a year translates to about eighty wineries spread across 17,000 acres of vines in the Yakima Valley AVA and that doesn’t even touch the bounty of fruits and vegetables available at seasonal produce stands. Irrigation is mandatory to transform sagebrush into lush expanses of green space and provide a balanced water supply for rootstock to precisely suffer—bringing forth dense clusters of premium juice known the world over.
Day 1 – Yakima Valley
WINE • ANTIOXIDANTS • SMUDGE POTS
The Hotel Maison is a well-appointed boutique property originally built in 1911 by the Yakima Freemasons. It has undergone an extensive renovation while retaining the opulence of the sixth-floor Lodge Hall. Wine tastings in the lobby are scheduled regularly and its downtown location makes a handful of breweries, wine tasting rooms and restaurants walkable. In fact, in less than ten minutes a hungry traveler can arrive at Yakima Sports Center. From the outside, it 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, a grilled portobello sandwich, coconut curry and fish tacos.
When it’s time to visit vines, Naches Heights Vineyard and Wilridge Winery are two stops in one since the on-site tasting room pours the lineup for both. Naches Heights Vineyard is the result of a midlife crisis, according to owner and winemaker Phil Cline. In 2000, looking for an escape from the apple business, he dove deep into wine. Cline’s quest for a reboot is the wine industry’s gain. Sharing a tasting room with Naches Heights Vineyard, the winemaker of Wilridge Winery, Paul Beveridge, is the proud owner of the 80-acre site planted to more than 35 acres of vines. He sells to about two dozen winemakers, but keeps back plenty of grapes to craft an impressive lineup, including a couple of my favorite combinations—semillon-sauvignon blanc and roussanne-viognier—and single varietals—viognier and semillon. It’s not viniferous, 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 and is even higher in flavonoids and antioxidants than blueberries. At this Yakima tasting room, sample from an extensive portfolio of wines such as rhubarb, peach cobbler and blackberry truffle.
Yakima Valley has some incredible valley views and the 300- acre Gilbert Cellars’ Hackett Ranch is a magical place to drink them in. Lavender in bloom, an outdoor summer music series and The Cave barrel room all come together at this multi-generation homestead. While tasting there, we were told to look for their smudge pots at The Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House, reincarnated as urban chic lamps.
As promised, dinner awaits at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen, 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 your 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” (including those smudge pots).
Day 2 – Yakima Valley
FURNITURE • SPARKLING WINE • PIZZA
Hotel Maison sets up a satisfying breakfast bar, but for those who enjoy a morning stroll, Essencia Artisan Bakery is nearby, and its morning offerings are ooh la la. Since our travels took us closer to the Zillah-Wapato area on our second day, we decided to say goodbye to Hotel Maison and hello to Vintage Valley Inn, a cozy and inviting Best Western Plus property. In addition to breakfast included in each night’s stay, an evening soup and bread snack is offered. Bonus: there are pet- friendly rooms, and Whisper Ridge Winery is located next door. 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 Republic to visit family in 1989, and has been crafting his European- influenced wines since 2006.
Looking for a lunch spot that’s a little different? The Chophouse at the Old Warehouse serves up palate-pleasing Creole chicken burgers, reubens, prime rib dip, crab cakes and country fried steak in the midst of a furniture auction house. New owners have turned the adjacent former Perham Fruit Company building into an intimate concert venue called Perham Hall and use their Nashville connections to bring CMA award-winning singer-songwriters to the stage on weekends. It’s like a mullet reboot—funky restaurant and auction house in the front, party in the back.
Getting back out to the “land,” we met brothers Matt Rawn and Pat Rawn, the faces 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. Visitors to this apple-packing facility turned tasting room will notice the elegance, depth and complexity springing forth from their efforts.
A few power wine tastings behind me, I was happy to slow it down a bit at Treveri Cellars, the first sparkling wine house in Washington. Treveri’s affordable bubbles and ample small bites menu are nirvana for sparkling wine fans. During the summer months, this family-owned winery has the best view in the valley from their meticulously landscaped patio. So you’re in hop country and haven’t knocked back a cold one yet? Time to head to HopTown Wood Fired Pizza. Pizzas like HopDaddy, Angry Za and Porky Pine Prosciutto feature Italian sausage crumbles, hot sauce and pine nuts. Locally owned by Carrie Wright and Lori Roy, HopTown’s pizzas are topped with the freshest ingredients from the garden basket around them, and every 9-inch pie is dusted with Yakima Valley hops.
Day 3 – Yakima Valley
TAMALES • WINE BUCKET LIST
Just because it’s time to head back doesn’t mean it can’t be a casual exit. Two not-to-be-missed stops have to be Los Hernandez Tamales and the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. Located in a nondescript white cement block building in Union Gap, Los Hernandez Tamales has a cult following. Visiting Seattleites drive home with coolers of pork and chicken tamales and, during asparagus season, the asparagus and pepper jack tamales will make a believer out of any carnivore. Walter Clore was the father of Washington wine, and the center that bears his name is a Northwest bucket-list wine stop. Featured tastings, a chef-driven small bites menu and a passionate staff overdeliver at this stunning setting along the Columbia River.
Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House
The Chophouse at the Old Warehouse
Los Hernandez Tamales
HopTown Wood Fired Pizza
Yakima Sports Center
Essencia Artisan Bakery
Carousel Restaurant and Bistro
Bon Vino’s Bistro and Bakery
Wine O’Clock Wine Bar and Bistro
Horse Heaven Saloon
Naches Heights Vineyard
Mill Lane Winery
Gilbert Cellars’ Hackett Ranch
Whisper Ridge Winery
Two Mountain Winery
Owen Roe Winery
Cherry Wood Cowboy Limo or Horseback Winery Tours
Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center