ZILLAH, Wash. – Each time Pepper Fewel learned of a horse facing a premature death, the Yakima Valley wine lover wanted to bring it to her ranch and give it a new lease on life.
“We rescue horses that are just about to go onto the slaughter truck,” she said. “At one point, my husband told me, ‘You can rescue as many as you want as long as you can find a way to pay for it.”
So in 2001, she created Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn in the Rattlesnake Hills.
“The basic purpose of the B&B is to rescue horses,” Pepper said. “It started off as just for fun, and then it turned into something way more meaningful.”
Next year will be the 15th anniversary of the family affair that is Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn. Pepper, the innkeeper, teams up with her trail boss/daughter Tiffany, and together, their corral of 30 or so trained and cared-for horses provides wine lovers with a unique, touching and fulfilling wine touring experience.
“We have done very well, and all the proceeds go directly to the rescue program,” Pepper said. “We don’t ask for donations, and we’re not a 501(c) (3), but we love what we do. And it makes a difference to each one of these horses. They all will live here and die here.”
Earlier this year, we visited with Pepper Fewel at her remarkable B&B in the Rattlesnake Hills. Here’s the interview:
Equine and Rattlesnake Hills wine
Three decades ago, Pepper and her friends on horseback didn’t know it, but they were blazing the trail for Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn when they would saddle up for rides to visit Yakima Valley pioneering winemakers Paul Portteus and Gail and Shirley Puryear.
“We only had two wineries back 30 years ago, and we could ride all day,” Pepper said. “We would go clear out to Portteus and Bonair. Shirley was great. She had apples for the horses.
“It was really a fun day, and it’s grown,” she said.
The popularity of her informal rides with friends prompted her to think beyond.
“At the last invitational, we had over 70 horses here,” Pepper said. “People started asking me, ‘Can you get a horse for my friend? We all want to do this.’ And that’s how I started the rescue.”
Sadly, it didn’t take much effort to fill the corral.
“I was a quarter horse snob at first, then I started watching all these old horses that people were discarding. So we started picking them up, and then we’d have a horse or two for somebody.
“And then it turned into this!” she said with a smile.
Riding tour takes in family-operated Cultura Winery
“There’s this mystique about horses and wine,” Pepper said. “We researched it, and nobody around here has ever done this, but it was just what we did every weekend with my cutting club and other friends.”
So she began to organize the trail and the rides.
“To watch this industry grow, it’s just amazing,” she said. “Here alone there were just two, and now I’m guessing there are about 25 within a 12-mile radius of my home. How fun! And it was needed, too.
“It’s innovative, and the land is perfect for it,” she added. “It’s a good thing. Farmers were going down right and left with the fruit industry.”
A good spell of the tour is spent at Cultura Winery, pronounced cull-TOUR-ah, which is owned and operated by Tad and Sarah Fewel — Pepper’s son and daughter-in-law. They celebrated the 10th anniversary of Cultura this past summer.
“They are just a mile and half down the road,” Pepper said. “It’s a nice boutique winery, and we have a hitching rail all the way down their barn. They make it very convenient for us to have our lunches there. It’s just really fun. You get to see your family every day.”
Deeply rooted in Yakima Valley
Pepper was born and raised in the Yakima Valley, and she and her accommodating husband, Terry, are farmers and ranchers by occupation, raising cherries and apples while operating two ranches.
“Our living is farming – not this business, which is for fun,” Pepper said.
Their children graduated from Zillah High School, and for years, Terry also knew the Yakima Valley as an insurance agent. Before that, he taught school in the Walla Walla Valley town of Touchet and remembers L’Ecole No. 41 when it was schoolhouse. That segment of its history ended in 1974. Three years later, Baker and Jean Ferguson bought the schoolhouse and re-opened it in 1983 as a winery for their daughter, Megan, and winemaking son-in-law from Texas – Marty Clubb.
“They’ve done such a fine job,” Pepper said. “It’s absolutely incredible to see it. We go about every other year just to see the new things and innovations.”
Along the way, the Fewels were raising a winemaker.
“Tad has made stuff – wine, booze or whatever – from the time he was in high school,” Pepper said. “He loved to experiment. We grow a lot of Rainier cherries, and he would make liqueur and it was just devine.
“And he has a heritage of that. His great-grandfather was a bootlegger, so he comes by that naturally,” she laughed.
Trail boss to Feldenkrais practitioner
The Fewels do much more than feed and provide horses with a home and a new lease on life. Tiffany’s vocation as a guild-certified Feldenkrais Method practitioner makes them feel better, too. For eight years, the former rodeo princess has been applying those skills and a trained sense of touch on horses, dogs, riders and anybody who needs help with chronic body pain or mobility issues.
“Feldenkrais helps create movement that we sometimes lose as we get older, and it helps you recover from injury as well,” Tiffany said. “It helps my mom get up on a horse, and it can help with your golf swing.”
Her practice, which she operates through TiffanyFewel.com, allows her to travel for corporate outings as well as sessions with men and women inside their homes or via streaming services such as Skype and FaceTime. The most relaxing results and top testimonials might come from outdoor sessions at Dineen Vineyards.
“I started practicing on horses, and I didn’t know the touch I had, but I kept seeing the improvement,” Tiffany said. “I can feel the fascia start to release on horses and people. It seems as if I was born to do this. I love it, and it’s a passion. It helps people improve their riding and helps horses move more freely.”
Cherry Wood rescue work goes beyond horses
The Fewels help not only equine get back on their feet and find a loving home. For the past seven years, Cherry Wood has played host to the Canine Wine and Walk, a fundraiser for Yakima Valley Pet Rescue on Mother’s Day weekend.
“The need is so great here in the valley with dogs and kitties, but I can only concentrate on a couple of things, so it’s dogs and horses,” Pepper said with a smile and a twinge of regret.
“We just started having this little walk. People can come, and they pay $10 and walk down through the orchards and visit the wineries,” she said. “We’ve been raising now about $3,000 a year for Yakima Valley Pet Rescue.”
And while many of her guests grew up with horses and are comfortable around them, Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn provides city slickers with a special opportunity.
“I want you to let you hair down here,” Pepper said. “Just be who you are and enjoy these horses, either by petting them or riding them or just talking to them.”
Out of respect for the animals, the Fewels only take the horses out on the trail by appointment.
“We’re not a park-and-ride,” she said. “We don’t have these horses saddled all day. You can come and just ride, you can come and stay or you can do both. We have the cowboy limo for those who can’t get on a horse or don’t want to.
From tents to teepees
Pepper readily admits she doesn’t sit down with a pencil and a book of lined paper when developing the concept for Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn.
“Everything kind of evolves,” she said. “I do not have a plan. It just seems to take us. We just go along for the ride.”
A classic example is the signature feature of Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn — the teepees.
“When my friends would come to ride all day, they would want to stay and they were pitching their sleeping bags,” she said. “Terry said, ‘Why don’t you put up a tent?’ And I said, ‘Why not a teepee? And we just laughed.
“So we put a teepee just for fun, and everyone was fighting over the teepee.”
These are well-appointed, 22-foot teepees with designer bedding, handy refrigerators and other conveniences, including barbecuing areas and secluded hot tubs.
“It does get really hot in the day because we are desert, but then it will cool off at night,” she said. “It makes for great sleeping in the teepees. You don’t want to be in them during the day, though. They are hot.”
For obvious reasons, Cherry Wood operates from March through October.
“As long as the weather stays good,” Pepper said. “We have indoor showers and baths now, so it’s a little more convenient for people. Before, you had to be pretty hardy to go out in 30-some degree weather and shower.”
And by the time it’s breakfast, folks come in all sorts of attire to dine either by the swimming pool or in the new bunkhouse.
“People kind of just wander around,” Pepper said. “They come in all stiff and fancy at first. By the second day, they come up in their robes and flip-flops. Then we feel like we’ve done our job.”
Winter research with cookbooks, Bobby Flay
Breakfast at Cherry Wood goes well beyond a campfire over wood with fried eggs, bacon and pot of percolated coffee. Pepper’s staff will serve you a sit-down morning feast featuring Yakima Valley ingredients, including local honey.
The meal opens with fresh-baked pastries, proceeds to protein and finishes with a fruit parfait. Her dishes are executed on par with award-winning metropolitan restaurants.
And yet, Pepper describes herself a “just a normal cook.”
“My mother was a great cook, but as this was growing, I thought, ‘I’m going to have to step up my game,” Pepper said. “I watched so many Bobby Flay segments. I’ve got a bazillion cookbooks and I try things. I gain 20 pounds in the winter and try to drop it in the summer. I experiment a lot.”
Pepper and Tiffany do have some help filling in the gaps.
“I didn’t realize I was going to be doing laundry or cooking when I started this. I was just thinking about rescuing horses,” Pepper said. “It’s like having a tiger by the tail. I’d like to quit, but I can’t.”
Instead, Pepper plans to slow down just a bit and take more time for herself, so individual bookings in 2016 will be slightly limited.
“For 14 years, we haven’t had a summer,” Pepper said without necessarily complaining. “I love my horses, but they are going to have to give a little, too. We’re going to do a few more (bigger) events, which makes us better horsemen and better for our guests.”
The window for lodging reservations, corporate retreats and other events opens Jan. 1.