Yakima Valley’s Thanksgiving in Wine Country a family affair

By on November 27, 2013
Susan Bunnell of Wine O'Clock in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser, Washington.

Susan Bunnell owns Bunnell Family Cellar and Wine O’Clock restaurant in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

The three-day weekend after Thanksgiving can be filled with a lot of craziness, especially for those going to stores and malls for Black Friday sales.

But a more sublime crowd will be heading to the wineries of the Yakima Valley, enjoying a more leisurely activity that will bring out families who can even get in a bit of holiday shopping.

The annual Thanksgiving in Wine Country weekend starts Friday and concludes Sunday. More than 60 wineries up and down the Yakima Valley will be participating.

“The thing that’s nice about Thanksgiving weekend is it’s a little calmer,” said Susan Bunnell, who runs Bunnell Family Cellar and Wine O’Clock restaurant in Prosser. “Everybody is in a good mood. Spring Barrel Tasting is so busy that you don’t have time to visit with people. But Thanksgiving is busy enough to be exciting and interesting but not crazy.”

Different crowds for various Yakima Valley events

Barb Glover, executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, said the Thanksgiving wine visitors are much different than those who come out for Red Wine & Chocolate in February and Spring Barrel Tasting in April.

“It draws people who are already here for Thanksgiving,” she said. “Red Wine & Chocolate tends to draw couples. And groups of friends come out for Spring Barrel Tasting. But for Thanksgiving, it’s mostly people who have family here for the holiday.”

Glover said that while a large number of patrons are from the west side of the state, most of them already are here to join family for Thanksgiving rather than coming east specifically to visit wineries.

“That mountain pass is a pretty mysterious thing to people,” Glover said, “particularly to people who aren’t used to driving in colder seasons.”

She said the somewhat smaller crowds make for a more festive atmosphere.

“Guests all get the VIP treatment that the wineries offer,” she said. “But you have a lot more room to mingle in the tasting room and talk to the winemakers.”

Yakima Valley wineries help feed hungry

This year, the Yakima Valley wineries are teaming up with Northwest Harvest to help feed the hungry. Participating wineries are offering special events and packages for those who purchase a $30 “Taste to Fight Hunger” tickets. All of the proceeds will be donated to Northwest Harvest.

“The wineries are really excited and feel good about the philanthropic approach,” Glover said. “It’s that give-back time of the year, so it all fits.”

For the second straight year, Milbrandt Vineyards in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village will collect food and cash donations for the Jubilee Ministry Food Bank. Donations of non-perishable food items or $5 in lieu of regular tasting fees will begin Friday and conclude Dec. 30. Last year, Milbrandt Vineyards collected more than $1,000 and 100 pounds of food.

A stone’s throw away from Milbrandt, Bunnell will be feeding bouillabaisse to her Wine O’Clock guests, as well as mulled wine and whatever they want to order off the menu. She said her 36-seat restaurant will welcome 150 guests between lunch and dinner Saturday — and probably turn away at least another 100 who don’t have reservations.

“Saturday is pretty crazy,” she said. “Someone planning to do anything anywhere in the valley definitely should have reservations no matter where they’re going.”

Treveri Cellars in Wapato said the sparkling wine producer also is gearing up for the big weekend.

“I just had a lady call and order six cases of wine from us,” said Julie Grieb, whose husband, Juergen, is the winemaker at Treveri. “There are a lot of people calling for their holiday wines.”

Holidays busy for sparkling wine producer

Treveri Cellars is in the Yakima Valley town of Wapato, Washington.

Treveri Cellars near Wapato, Wash., is dedicated to sparkling wines. The holidays are its busiest time of the year. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Because its focus is sparkling wine, the holidays are always busy for Treveri, Grieb said, but Thanksgiving weekend is especially bustling because wine lovers want to get out of the house and away from the shopping malls. Because many visitors also are looking for Christmas presents, Grieb offers gift-wrapping services.

Treveri just celebrated its third anniversary. It began in Yakima and moved to the former Sagelands Vineyard tasting room and production facility in April 2012. The Griebs produce eight different sparkling wines, including a festive red bubbly made with Syrah.

“People like the Syrah,” she said. “That’s the most popular wine in the tasting room.”

At the other end of the valley on Red Mountain, Keith Pilgrim of Terra Blanca Vintners is expecting a good crowd at his Italian-inspired winery.

“It’s always been a great event to entertain guests who are in town,” said Pilgrim, the owner and winemaker. “We see those who don’t want to go shopping on Black Friday.”

He said up to half of his visitors are from out of town, visiting family in the Tri-Cities or Yakima Valley.

“This is a much more casual event than Spring Barrel Tasting or Red Wine & Chocolate,” he said.

One of the most popular activities at Terra Blanca is a tour of Pilgrim’s caves, where he stores and ages his red wines.

“Just about all of the tours go down in the caves,” he said. “Our tours have become more involved, more integrated with wine, food and cheese.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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