Friday, December 19, 2008

Yakima - Alaska's Napa

Driving down I82 on our way to Zillah, I looked at my wife. "Was that you?"
"Not me. Did you?"
"No... there's some funk in the air."
"I guess we're in farm country."

Eastern Washington in primarily agricultural and despite becoming known as a premier wine growing area, it is still got a core of good 'ol farmland. As you drive through the area you see fields of orchards (apple, cherry, etc) as well as crops like hops and of course, vineyards.

We arrived late in the evening and made our way up to Zillah, home of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, where several wineries were having holiday open houses. Each winery is located down gravel roads and past barns and other farm homes. Make a wrong turn and you'll find your headlights shining on a couple mules and a horse looking at you and wondering what city-folk are doing out and about in this area.

Evening one we went to Bonair winery-a family run winery that had great clam chowder and wonderful hospitality; and, Silver Lake - one of the larger WA wine producers. Then we decided to make our way to our B&B.

The Orchard Inn is run by Karen and Henner. Henner makes the wonderful breakfasts and Karen makes sure you feel at home and are well taken care of. We were the only guests in the 4 room B&B so we got special attention and plenty of room to stretch out. They provide wonderful hospitality and we enjoyed several relaxing mornings drinking coffee and talking. They also are well connected and provide lots of recommendations of things to do in the Yakima area.

Day two we went to Prosser, home of the Horse Heaven AVA. In Prosser they have set up more of a Vintner's Village with a planned community of tasting rooms. Some were just opening and we made it to Apex, Thurston Wolfe, and Airfield. I loved the theme of Airfield and they are a growing, young, ambitious group.

Note: we had a Wolfe Primitivo (the Italian version of Zinfandel)after arriving home and it was great - rich but not syrupy, nicely balanced, and confident tannins. It is aged 13 months in American Oak and you certainly can tell. But, it doesn't ruin the wine even though I'd have liked to seen a little less barrel influence.

That evening we headed to the Tasting Room. There is one of these in downtown Seattle, that we've visited, and like the wines they serve - Wildridge, Harlequin, and the latest NHV. The couple that runs the tasting room (which sits at about 1800') lives in a room above the store. They are perfect hosts and provide colorful service while tasting their wines. He recommended a couple Zillah wineries to us, which is where we headed the next day.

Two Mountain is a Zillah winery run by a couple brothers. We showed up right as a bunch of family did and, though we felt we were intruding, they didn't seem to mind. They were preparing for their annual holiday party and we'd have loved to stay. The tasting room is in the middle of their warehouse. The wines are full of sediment and brother 1 described them as elegant and refined. I think they are doing a fabulous job and it is a winery I'll keep an eye on. They have a style they are developing, a desire to produce great wines but not become pretentious - themselves or their wine.

Wineglass Cellars, home of Capizimo, one of our favorite Washington wines. Their tasting room wasn't open but we set up a private appointment with Linda and got a tour of their production facilities. They are a small producer, about 2000 cases, of some great wines from small vineyards. In talking to her I understood more completely the life and challenges of a family vineyard - how to make the transition, how many cases to produce, and what some of the limitations are unless you want to go big time.

We also made it to Portteus. If you're here in Alaska you may have had their Rattlesnake Red. They produce about 9000 cases a year and have been in the area 20+ years. We had a wonderful visit with the owner/winemaker while we tasted some of their wines.

Visiting in the off-season is highly recommended. Sure, the weather isn't great... we got hit with a snowstorm. But, the people of Yakima are wonderful and when they don't have the crowds to deal with you get the time to sit, talk to them, learn about life their, and appreciate wine at its orgin. It may not be Napa, but Alaskans will like the relaxed, friendly style of the area, the slow pace, and of course, the lower costs. Alaska Grape Nuts will really appreciate the great wines coming from the area.