Washington Wine Country Feature
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Yakima River Valley Wineries
As part of a maturing and successful wine industry in the region, this area now produces a third of the state's wines and has more than 12,000 acres of wine vineyards.
Horse-drawn plows first started breaking ground in the Yakima Valley more than 150 years ago. While there are still native sagebrush and grasses on the driest and rockiest slopes in the region, much of the Valley and the foothills are now covered with corn and wheat fields, hop yards, orchards, and vineyards. Support for local wineries took a long time to build when the apple growers reigned supreme, but after a quarter-century of serious wine-making, the valley has embraced the wine industry as a tourism attraction and an economic generator.
The Yakima Valley produces excellent reds, among them Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Syrah. Whites also do well here: Chardonnay, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Viognier, and, in cooler vineyards, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling.
Apples and Grapes
Yakima Valley is at an agricultural crossroads. Apples are still the main crop of the region, but wine vineyards continue to multiply. Among the mistakes of the pioneering grape growers of the 1960s and '70s was overplanting Riesling and Chenin Blanc, which proved hard to market. They compensated by grafting over their vines to more desirable varieties or by replanting. Today Yakima Valley Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Syrah are ranked among the world's best.
Yakima's Best Wineries
Stop at the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center (Exit 34 off I-82) to pick up a wine-tour brochure and map of more than 30 wineries. Most are within a few miles of the freeway and directional signs will help get you to them. Nearly all of Yakima's wineries are worth a visit, but here are three of our favorites.
Hyatt Vineyards. Big in a physical as well as an enological sense, Hyatt comprises 97 acres of estate vineyards. Established in 1985, the winery, owned by Leland and Linda Hyatt, has always been well respected locally for its merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but lately those wines have been attracting national attention. The late-harvest Riesling here is also worth tasting. The tasting room is well appointed and the staff has wide knowledge of local viniculture. The winery also has spacious well manicured grounds for picnicking. On clear days there are spectacular views of the Yakima Valley, Mt. Adams, and the Cascade Mountains. 2020 Gilbert Rd., off I-82 Exit 52, Zillah, WA, 98953. 509/829–6333. www.hyattvineyards.com. Daily 11–5 (closes 4:30 in winter).
Tucker Cellars. The Tucker family came to the Yakima Valley as sharecroppers during the Great Depression. They became successful farmers and were among the first to grow vinifera grapes on a commercial scale. Dean and Rose Tucker founded the winery in 1981; both it and the estate vineyards are family operations involving their four children. Tucker plantings include Riesling, pinot noir, gewürztraminer, chenin blanc, chardonnay, and Muscat canelli. Attached to the Tucker Cellars tasting room is the family's produce stand, which sells, in season, some of the Yakima Valley's best fruits and vegetables. There's a picnic area. 70 Ray Rd., Sunnyside, WA, 98944. 509/837–8701. www.tuckercellars.net. Daily 10–5.
Kestrel Vintners. This is established as one of the Yakima Valley's premium wineries. Although visiting the winery, in the Port of Benton's Prosser Wine and Food Park, doesn't necessarily rank as a great sensory pleasure, tasting the wines does. Kestrel makes mainly reds (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah), as well as some white (chardonnay, viognier), from grapes—some of them estate-grown—that are deliberately stressed to increase the intensity of their flavors. The tasting room sells cheeses and deli items to go with the wines. 2890 Lee Rd., in Prosser Wine and Food Park, Prosser, WA, 99350. 509/786–2675. www.kestrelwines.com. Daily noon–5.
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