More than 100 wineries can be found in the Yakima Valley. That said, with only four days to explore the region, we barely made a dent. However, many of them are in close proximity to one another, making overall logistics easy, particularly with a GPS-enabled smartphone! When scheduling a trip to this area, I recommend calling in advance as many of the wineries are only open on weekends and have different seasonal schedules.
Yakima Wine Community
The large barn-like structure that houses the Owen Roe tasting room creates a modern country-chic atmosphere and has an expansive view of the vineyards. Owen Roe definitely appears to get more foot traffic than the wineries we visited in Rattlesnake Hills, which may be due in part to the success it has already achieved in Willamette Valley, Oregon, where it has been making Pinot Noir since 1999. Owen Roe opened the Yakima facility in 2014, expanding its reach and offerings.
Of all the wineries we visited in Washington, Owen Roe was one of the largest in terms of case production, which is about 60,000. A large portion of that is their Sharecropper’s label (Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon), which you may see in your local retailers since it’s largely distributed. The winery produces practically any varietal or blend to please most palates, and we came to consensus that our favorite was the 2014 Rosa Mystica Cab Franc. It is a softer, more fruit forward Cab Franc than the typical herbal/vegetal variety.
Treveri was such a special surprise for us. Although several folks had recommended it and we do enjoy a good sparkler, we initially hesitated because it is a sparkling-only winery and we weren’t sure we wanted that limitation. However, after we left Owen Roe and were about ready to pass Treveri’s driveway, it was almost as if a magnetic force pulled us in, encouraging us to make a quick game-time decision to stop.
Once we arrived and were greeted by Bethany, we knew we made the right choice. She ushered us to a table by the windows, which overlook the valley, and handed us a tasting menu. Treveri’s tasting offered eight different sparkling wine selections, all within an affordable $15-25 price range. On the list were a few unique sparklers such as a Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Syrah. Bethany provided top-notch service and we thoroughly enjoyed tasting the differences between each one. We tend to like our sparklers on the dry side and favored the Rosé most, both for its beautiful pink color derived from Syrah and the crisp fruit notes from Chardonnay. The Blanc de Noir, made from 100% Pinot Noir, was a close second.
We wished we hadn’t eaten a late breakfast because Treveri offers a wonderful menu of food you can purchase to pair with the sparklers. The menu includes flatbreads, baked brie, charcuterie platters, and more. My recommendation is to definitely include Treveri on your tour, and to make sure you arrive hungry!
Gilbert Cellars was a priority on our list of Yakima wineries since one of our local restaurants carries the Malbec. We popped in on our first day to do some recon, and then returned again on our last day for a cheese plate and to revisit the wines.
We loved the 2015 Rosé, a Mourvèdre/Grenache blend that has a floral nose and bright fruit. The Allobroges, is an easy-drinking blend rated 92 points by Wine Spectator and is on the menu at the farm-to-table restaurant, Cowiche Canyon, in downtown Yakima. But our hands-down favorite was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is another reason we returned a second time. The fruit is from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Yakima that borders the Columbia River. It is an incredibly balanced and elegant Cab.
Everything paired well with the cheese plate, and one of the featured cheeses was Cougar Gold, a cheese made by students in the agricultural program at Washington State. We’ve been ordering that cheese for years, and it’s a must try if you encounter it.
Portteus is the state’s 14th winery, based on the planting of its first vines in 1982. The 74-acre winery has a decidedly rural feeling, with the final stretch to the winery being a gravel road that leads to the production area, tasting room and residence situated on the upward slopes of Rattlesnake Hills. Portteus offers the opportunity to truly experience the farming perspective of wine and appreciate the land from where it comes.
Owner Paul Portteus and his family make more than 20 different wines from 15 varietals planted onsite. That said, if you are looking for variety and value, Portteus is the place. Just be prepared to stay focused as it can get a bit overwhelming with so many options! The Rouge 66—a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec—is a gem at the price of $15, and the single varietal Petit Verdot is also a great value at $20.
Two Mountain is owned by brothers Pat and Matt Rawn. The tasting room has the same sort of comfortable feeling of a local coffee shop, with current releases written on a chalkboard suspended above the tasting bar. In warm summer months tasting outdoors overlooking the vineyards would be spectacular, but on this misty day we hunkered inside.
Two Mountain offered a tasting of five varietals, all made from estate fruit harvested from the property’s 70 acres. One of the varietals, a Lemberger, was new to us. It’s a red grape believed to have originated in Austria or Germany. It has the spiciness of a Zinfandel, but the body of a Pinot Noir. We enjoyed the Riesling, which has spicy fruit notes and is a solid representation of this popular varietal in the state. And, our favorite of the lineup was the bold, robust Merlot, another fantastic Washington varietal.
VanArnam is a small winery that planted its first grapes in 2009. Holly, who along with the owners of the winery, Kent and Allison VanArnam, are making full-bodied Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, in addition to Syrah. All fruit is harvested from the 40 acres on the estate. Like so many of the other wineries in the area, the estate vineyards are planted alongside other crops, in the case for VanArnam, this would be about 3.5 acres of cherries.
Van Arnam’s first vintage was 2010 (they currently are featuring their 2014 releases) so this is the place to visit to experience a new, growing winery that is making quality, ageworthy wines. The small, but elegant, tasting room has sweeping views of the vineyards and we enjoyed attentive and personalized service from Holly, who has a depth of knowledge of the state’s wine regions and the winemaking process. Our favorite of the lineup was the Syrah, which is velvety and full-bodied.
J Bell Cellars
When we arrived at J Bell Cellars, we walked through the beautiful lavender-lined patio that the winery uses during the warm season for outdoor events. The quaint, Tuscan looking tasting room feels like an extension of that patio, with the sweet aroma of lavender hanging in the air and wildflower-strewn farmhouse tables brightening an otherwise gray day.
Wes, the owner and winemaker was pouring the wines and, to our delight, he used a Coravin to ensure the wines in the tasting lineup are not oxidized and beyond their prime (way to go, Wes!). Though Wes doesn’t have his own vineyards, he sources fruit from some of the best Yakima farms and takes care in how he handcrafts his wine. Our favorite wine of the entire day—a Malbec—came from his collection. In fact, except for the Viognier, which just wasn’t our style, we loved the entire portfolio, which included Merlot, Cab, and our other favorite, the Cab Frank. And, no, that’s not a typo. Wes named his Cab Franc in homage to the first barrel he made in 2010, which he affectionately called Frankie. And, when you go, pick up one of the aromatic candles Wes’s daughter makes to raise money to buy a horse!
Frichette is a boutique winery with a riveting story rooted in fate. Owned by husband and wife team, Shae and Greg Frichette (pictured on either side of me), the winery was founded by the couple after they relocated from Southern California. As Shae explained, she and Greg wanted to move closer to family after having their son, but the dilemma was whether to go to Washington, where Greg grew up, or South Carolina, Shae’s home. So, they tossed a coin, it landed on heads, and they found themselves in Washington.
The couple literally knocked on doors in the Red Mountain area, asking if anyone was interested in selling, and persistence finally paid off. Greg and Shae opened the tasting room in 2013 and produce about 1,000 cases per year from their five-acre vineyards. They are completely in sync, expertly maneuvering around the spacious, bright tasting room, ensuring all guests receive top-notch service. Their professionalism comes across in all they do, including their superior Bordeaux-based varietals and blends. We loved the 2013 Scooteney Flats Cabernet Sauvignon, named for the gravelly Scooteney soil in the area.
Fidelitas was created by owner and winemaker Charlie Hoppes, who has an extensive winemaking background that includes Head Red Winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The tasting room in Red Mountain opened in 2007 and its contemporary, spacious design is simple and clean, allowing the views around it to take center stage.
Fidelitas specializes in Bordeaux varietals, and we tasted several from the Ciel du Cheval vineyard, which Hoppes calls one of the treasures of the Washington wine industry. Our favorite was the 2013 Ciel du Cheval Petit Verdot.
Col Solare is a collaboration between Washington state’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s famed winemaker, Marchese Piero Antinori. The winery produces two beautifully hand-crafted red blends, the flagship Col Solare, and a second label called Shining Hill (the English translation of Col Solare). The tasting lineup for the day included a small vertical of the Col Solare, featuring the 2012 and 2013 vintages, both of which are Cab-heavy blends, as well as the 2014 Shining Hill, which has a higher percentage of Merlot and Cab Franc in the blend. All three wines were outstanding, but because the Shining Hill is not in distribution, we took a bottle to go.
The serene, modern tasting room takes full advantage of the views of the 30-acre property and is a beautiful setting to showcase the wines. The winery also offers a Bottega within the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on the west side of the state, close to Seattle.
Located high up on Red Mountain with beautiful views of the vineyards, Hightower is owned by Tim and Kelly Hightower who are producing handcrafted wines from both the Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley appellations.
Architecturally, Hightower was one of the more unique wineries we encountered during our visit in this region. The Hightowers not only incorporate sustainable practices into their winemaking, but the winery itself is a beautiful expression of environmentally friendly construction. The walls consist of thick block made of recycled wood and concrete, and they incorporated staves from barrels into the back wall behind the tasting bar.
From the Walla Walla Valley, the Pepper Bridge Merlot is bold and aromatic, and we particularly enjoyed the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon made from 100% Red Mountain fruit.
After having had a bottle of Airfield Estate’s Cab to kick off our first night of our Washington State wine journey in Woodinville, we put Airfield as a must on our list, and we were definitely glad we did. Airfield’s vineyards are located on property once used as an airbase during WWII, hence its aeronautical name. Producing more than 40,000 cases per year, Airfield is one of the largest wineries in the Yakima AVA.
The lively, friendly team pouring wines on our visit, Kari, Joe, and Margie, made the experience complete, and if we lived nearby, this is a winery whose wine club we could have easily been convinced to join! The quality portfolio is varied and reasonably priced with the most expensive bottle we tasted being $30. Some of our favorites were the Aviator Red, Merlot, Barbera, and Cab Franc.
We closed our day in Prosser visiting 14 Hands, which was a relaxing way to end the afternoon before heading to Wine O’clock for dinner. Inspired by the wild horses of Washington state, 14 Hands offers a versatile wine portfolio that includes everyday drinking selections (some of which you have likely seen in local retailers) as well as a beautiful reserve collection that is sourced primarily from the acclaimed Horse Heaven Hills AVA. We had been encouraged by other wineries to visit 14 Hands not just for the wine, but for the beauty of the winery and its surroundings. We were not disappointed.
The tasting room plays off of the landscape of the Horse Heaven Hills, with colors, textures and motifs that exude an equestrian aura. The winery had already begun decorating for Christmas, and the brightly lit tree and fireplace provided a welcoming environment as dusk settled in on a chilly afternoon. Due to time limitations, we skipped the more widely distributed wines and went straight to the Reserve collection. The rosé of Grenache and the Merlot topped our list and, as with most Washington wineries, we were pleased with the value of the wines. Most of the reds from the Reserve collection are no more than $30 retail.