Yakima Valley thrives as historical heart of Washington wine
Otis Harlan was a pioneer in the early Washington wine industry, running Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and selling top-quality grapes to the likes of David Lake of Columbia Winery. Today, Harlan is retired and living in Yakima, Wash. He sold his vineyard a couple of years ago. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)
The Yakima Valley is where the Washington wine industry got its start, as we like to say, “the cradle of the industry.”
There’s a ton of history in this valley, including:
- Walter Clore, “the father of Washington Wine,” lived and did much of his research here. His life is now celebrated at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.
- William Bridgman, two-time mayor of Sunnyside, planted grapes here in 1914. He started Upland Winery after repeal of Prohibition, and it operated into the 1960s. If you know where to look, you can find his concrete fermentation tanks.
- In 1986, the first Syrah, planted in Washington went in the ground at Red Willow Vineyard.
- The oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Pacific Northwest are at Otis Vineyard north of Grandview, planted in 1956.
- Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s largest and oldest winery, established its original winemaking facility in the town of Grandview.
- The Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area was the Yakima Valley, approved by the federal government in 1983.
Since then, several new AVAs have been carved out of the Yakima Valley, including:
- Red Mountain was approved in 2001.
- Rattlesnake Hills was approved in 2008.
- Snipes Mountain was approved in 2009.
The Yakima Valley is home to more 13,000 acres of vineyards and 60 wineries.
Here are a dozen wines made from Yakima Valley grapes. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
Cairdeas Winery 2014 Counoise, Yakima Valley, $36
This year, we’ve given our highest rating of Outstanding! to five Rhône-inspired wines by Charlie Lybecker, a list that includes this 2014 Counoise. Meek Vineyard near Red Mountain in the Yakima Valley American Viticultural Area is responsible for the Counoise (85%) and the Cinsault (8%), while the Alicante Bouschet (10%) hails from nearby Inland Desert. The bright red fruit aromas of cranberry and lingonberry include cinnamon oil and white pepper. It’s a juicy drink of boysenberry and cherry, backed by soft golden raspberry tannins and finished with cherry cola and more pepper. While it was released as a wine-club offering, inquire at the tasting room.
Production: 88 cases
Airfield Estates 2015 Moscato, Yakima Valley, $15
Best Buy! This year, Marcus Miller continues to toast the 50th anniversary of his grandfather, Don, establishing Airfield Estates near the base of the Rattlesnake Mountain. The delightful and light expression with Muscat Canelli, one of the seven white varieties planted across their 830 acres, is nicely done without any fizz. Classic aromas of jasmine and rosewater include peaches and apricots. There’s follow through to the palate as pleasing acidity and a nibble of peach skin balance the 4% residual sugar. Suggested pairings include Massaman Chicken, roasted duck breast, Stone-Fruit Panzanella, savory cheesecake and slightly aged goat’s cheese or Cougar Gold.
Production: 365 cases
Cloudlift Cellars 2015 Lucy Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $14
Best Buy! There are more than 20 wineries among the Seattle Urban Wineries group, and furniture craftsman Tom Stangeland beat most of them, setting up shop in Georgetown well in advance of his debut commercial vintage in 2009. Cabernet Franc has been a signature variety for him, and Stangeland continues to work with Wise Brothers Vineyard for his rosé, which he designs for serving with salmon. It begins with a salmon orange color and follows with aromas of grilled peach, apricot and butterscotch. There’s more peach on the palate, followed by rewarding acidity akin to tangerine and cherry juice. A nibble of peach skin in the finish also should play well with a ham sandwich.
Production: 140 cases
Lone Birch 2014 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $13
Best Buy! The flagship Airfield Estates brand for the Miller family already represents value for consumers, and all of the releases under their young Lone Birch label also fit within this Best Buy! price range. The latest bottling of Syrah, which spent a year in oak, represents a cool-climate approach with complex aromas of blueberry, elderberry and boysenberry, with touches of vanilla, lilac, graphite and gun metal. The fruit notes come through on the palate, backed by pink peppercorns, chalky tannins and rewarding acidity.
Production: 1,550 cases
Isenhower Cellars 2015 Extra Brut, Yakima Valley, $39
It was nearly 20 years ago when pharmacists Brett and Denise Isenhower left Colorado for Walla Walla to make wine. This summer, they have plans to open their third Washington tasting room, and no doubt they will raise a toast in Leavenworth with this sparkling project featuring Olsen Ranch Vineyard Roussanne. While other winemakers are producing stunning results with Chardonnay from this site near Prosser, the Isenhowers first chose Roussanne over Chardonnay for bubbles in 2012 to be distinctively different. And this is, starting with light toast and almond aromas that play well with dried pineapple, apricot, starfruit and lemon notes. There’s pleasing texture to the mousse that allows for a voluptuous midpalate and rewarding flavors of Golden Delicious apple, Asian pear, starfruit and apricot, which are backed by refreshing acidity and a bone-dry finish.
Production: 262 cases
Pomum Cellars 2013 Shya Red Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $42
Spanish-born winemaker Javier Alfonso named this brand for the Latin word for fruit, and he began working with Yakima Valley grapes in 2000. The sources for this bottling are dominated by Morrison Vineyard, a planting dating to 1968, and he also blends in Merlot (13%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Malbec (2%) from Konnowac Vineyard – another venerable Rattlesnake Hills site. He’s developed a nose of sweet tobacco, cherry candy and violet with lavender, backed by dark purple fruit flavors of plum and blackberry. Its structure shows polish as currant-skin tannins are joined by juicy acidity, toast and a dark chocolate finish.
Production: 318 cases
Armstrong Family Winery 2015 Dineen Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley, $18
Pat Dineen grows his Riesling in caliche, and Walla Walla winemaker Tim Armstrong takes advantage of that soil type in the cooler Rattlesnake Hills to produce a bone-dry Riesling in a rather fascinating style reminiscent of some from Australia’s Clare Valley. Its steely approach opens with white peach, tangerine and gooseberry aromas followed by clean and crisp flavors of Asian pear, lime and slate. The Armstrongs suggest serving this with Asian or Mexican fare, grilled chicken or seafood.
Production: 128 cases
Sparkman Cellars 2013 Darkness Syrah, Yakima Valley, $62
Christian Sparkman shines here with cool-climate Syrah, once again reaching into two of the state’s top sites for seemingly any variety – Boushey and Olsen Brothers. Perhaps no other winemaker shares as much insight into his winemaking practices, going well beyond the blending breakdown (70/30), harvest dates (Oct. 15/Oct. 16) and oak program (50% new) of Dargaud and Jaegle. Boushey leads the way and reaches nearly 1,400 feet in elevation, helping to create the platform for a bright purple rather than dark plum approach. Blueberry and pomegranate tones, along with milk chocolate and vanilla barrel notes, gives it a dusty and racy profile that opens the door to lamb or Eggplant Parmesan.
Production: 234 cases
Côte Bonneville 2016 DuBrul Vineyard Estate Riesling, Yakima Valley, $22
The Shiels family continues to burnish its reputation for producing delicious Riesling in a Spätlese style via DuBrul Vineyard, established in 1992 overlooking the Yakima Valley from the Rattlesnake Hills. Flinty minerality, nectarine and pear aromas lead into lip-smacking flavors of peach nectar and clementine acidity to adroitly balance the residual sugar of 3.5%. Minimal alcohol also lends it easy drinking alongside suggested pairings that include an Asian-inspired chicken wrap or a lemon bar. Second-generation vintner Kerry Shiels – a longtime supporter of the Riesling Rendezvous – turned this into a gold medal at the 2017 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Production: 320 cases
Daven Lore Winery 2014 The Apprentice Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $45
Founding winemaker/owner Gordon Taylor gives full credit to Sonya Simmons — his apprentice of more than two years — for the production of these two barrels of Cabernet Franc from Gary Groves’ Cordon Grove Vineyard nearby in Prosser, Wash. Enticing aromas of salted chocolate, black cherry and minerality includes pinches of lavender and rose petal. Inside, it is velvety and luscious as Bing cherry and plum flavors are met by tannins that offer only finesse. Sweet herbs and dark boysenberry make for a delicious finish. Suggested pairings include baked brie with caramelized onion, Beef Medallions with Port sauce, roasted pork with dried cherry compote or Chukar Cherries.
Production: 53 cases
Balboa Winery 2016 Bloxom Slope Vineyard Grüner Veltliner, Yakima Valley, $30
Work in the U.S. with this Austrian white grape began with Stephen Reustle in Southern Oregon, and his success with it has inspired others to follow his lead. Walla Walla producers Tom Glase and Tyler Grennan returned to Bloxom Slope near the Yakima Valley community of Moxee, and their latest bottling seems on par with the stellar 2015, which earned a gold medal at last year’s Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition. Aromas of creamy lemon, dusty Bosc pear and white peach are reminiscent of a dry Riesling. There’s a match on the palate with delicious structure from front to back. Mouthwatering lime pith and Granny Smith apple tartness help describe the finish that doesn’t miss any pockets.
Production: 126 cases
Wind Rose Cellars 2016 Rosato, Yakima Valley, $17
Olympic Peninsula winemaker David Volmut, a product of Yakima Valley College’s winemaking program, stays true to his Italian-themed program with this rosé of Dolcetto from the Yakima Valley. The whole-cluster press and six-week ferment captures red cherry and rose petal aromatics, followed by watermelon, Montmorency cherry and cranberry flavors, making for an acid-driven drink.
Production: 130 cases
Noviello Vineyards 2015 French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, $28
Bellevue plastic surgeon Fredric Stern and his wife, Ana, have planted Chardonnay at their young Noviello Estate Vineyard above the Columbia River near Chelan, but in the meantime, they continue their relationship with Damon LaLonde’s French Creek Vineyard near the Yakima River. And yet their latest barrel-fermented Chardonnay, with 20% new French oak, is replete with fruit that hints at Wenatchee Valley orchard with apple blossom, Bosc pear and Gala apple. The crisp finish offers a touch of jasmine for finesse. While the goal is to open their Chelan tasting room in time for the 2017 crush, these wines are available at the QFC in downtown Bellevue, El Gaucho Bellevue, Assaggio Ristorante Seattle and Lone Pine Fruit in Orondo.
Production: 275 cases