If you haven’t been to Yakima recently then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised. The valley has really upped its game, with great new restaurants and all manner of stylish new wineries and tasting rooms opening. Go for Spring Barrel weekend, where the winemakers offer tastings of their newest vintages straight from the barrel, and you’ll see the valley at its most beautiful too, veiled in spring green and snuggled under a quilt of blossoming orchards.
Where to Taste
This two-day itinerary offers an interesting mix of different wine styles and wineries, interspersed with some truly breathtaking views.
The following wineries make for a great tour closer to Yakima.
- Naches Heights Vineyard and Wilridge Winery have converted a craftsman house into a cute shared tasting room with pretty views out over Naches Heights, our state’s newest American Viticultural Area. The somewhat higher elevation means that both wineries can grow some more unusual varietals – I particularly enjoyed their tempranillo and sangiovese blends.
- Mill Lane Winery’s unique fruit wines are a total revelation. The blending of fruit with the grapes adds an extra dimension of complexity and flavor, without being overly sweet, while their single fruit wines would make an intriguing addition to your cocktail cabinet. The cabernet/merlot blend with antioxidant Aronia berries is fascinating.
- The Hackett Ranch is Gilbert Cellars' destination winery. Originally a cattle ranch, this family-owned winery and barrel room hosts tastings by appointment. In summer it is the venue for the Music in the Vines Friday night concerts in the Amphitheater, their stunning lakeside venue, while the wonderful views make for a perfect wedding location.
The following wineries make for a great tour closer to Zillah.
- By day winemaker Bill Mechem crafts wines for some of Washington’s most notable wineries, but in his spare time he gets to follow his own taste preferences for his own Whisper Ridge Winery. His A Voix Basse cabernet franc blend is an easy-drinking but still interesting red, while his ice wine really does taste 'like honey made by happy bees’.
- The third generation to farm on this land, brothers Patrick and Matthew Rawn of Two Mountain Winery grow the grapes and make the wines respectively and offer tastings in their huge and beautiful winery in the Rattlesnake Hills, complete with happy dogs, outside tables, and views of Mounts Adams and Rainier. Their subtly oaked 2016 Chardonnay from the barrel made me wish that it had already been bottled.
- Head to Windy Point Vineyards for their comprehensive range of red wines, including lesser-known varietals such as barbera, nebbiolo and graciano, as well as a sampling of their delicious port. The view from the winery out over the fruit orchards, vineyards and river valley below is nothing short of stupendous.
- Father and son Jürgen and Christian Grieb produce a range of single-varietal sparkling wines at Treveri Cellars, named for Jürgen’s native Trier in Germany. These all-too-drinkable and very reasonably-priced wines are served at the US State Department and can also be enjoyed on the patio outside Treveri''s Wapato tasting room, with a view of the Yakima hills. The blanc de noirs and the sparkling rosé in particular are going to make my summer very pleasant indeed.
- Winemaker David O’Reilly has vineyards on both sides of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, but following the completion of the stunning new Owen Roe Winery and tasting room he is now residing permanently in the valley. Come as the sun is starting to go down and you can understand why, as the evening views from the estate are glorious. The wine is rather good too – O’Reilly does interesting things with cabernet franc, malbec and syrah and his riesling dessert wine The Parting Glass tastes like melted apricots.
Where to Eat
Try the contemporary American classics in the beautiful bustling Cowiche Canyon, which makes the most of fresh local produce or sample the extensive list of beers on tap and excellent burger-centric menu at Yakima Sports Center, both in the heart of downtown Yakima. For your coffee fix, head to the lovely North Town Coffee House located in the what was once the elegant waiting room of the train station.
In Zillah, The Chophouse, located in a crazy vintage furniture warehouse, also serves good burgers and is being redeveloped as a venue by its new musician-owners.
Just outside Zillah, local favorites HopTown have opened their first permanent pizzeria with a wood-fired pizza oven. The crust on these babies is perfection.
Where to Stay
There is still a dearth of places to stay in and near Yakima (someone get on that please) but Hotel Maison in downtown Yakima is elegant, friendly and super comfortable. The Vintage Valley Inn in Zillah has just been rebranded as a Best Western Plus, with upgraded amenities, very comfortable beds and charming owners and staff.