When I say the Palm Springs of Washington, many of you know of course that I'm talking about an oasis in the desert of the Columbia Valley -- Yakima! The first AVA created in the State of Washington in 1983, the Yakima Valley AVA produces not only 40% of Washington's wine grapes but also 80% of the nation's production of hops and a cornucopia of other fruits and produce.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to revisit Yakima after nearly a 10-year hiatus. You see, I spent my formative years in the Tri-Cities...but left before wine was a "big deal" in the area and in fact before I was able to legally enjoy the fruits of the vineyard's labor. I had been to Yakima dozens of times, but never had embraced the culinary and wine scene in the area.
Upon learning of the trip, I knew immediately that there was a whole wonderful world of wine waiting for me in Yakima, however, it isn't all rainbows and ponies here at The Oregon Wine Blog. That's right - I actually had to work while I was there, and I'm not talking work for the blog. No, the job that actually pays me enough to buy more wine (hey, if we could get rich off this thing we would, in the meantime we do it for the love of wine). Not only did I have 2.5 days wherein most of the time was jam-packed with meetings, but I also was transportationally-challenged: feet only. Thankfully, the friendly folks (Katie) who work with Wine Yakima Valley were able to provide some great recommendations within walking distance of my hotel. These suggestions were validated by Clive, our Washington Correspondent, who had arrived in town the day before I did and scoped out the scene. In terms of wineries which are conveniently located near the convention center, I found two gems:
Gilbert Cellars: Boasting a trendy yet comfortable tasting room with a selection of food and music on weekends, Gilbert Cellars exemplifies its family story through the at-home feel of the facility and kindness of the staff. While there, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Sean Gilbert, the brains behind the operation. Turns out, Sean and I graduated from rival high schools the same year. He shared some of his passion for wine, and of course, shared some tastes in the process. I walked away with a bottle of the 2006 Allobroges (60% Syrah, 22% Grenache, and 18% Mourvedre) and a 2006 Estate Syrah. Those were probably my favorites, but I enjoyed every wine I tasted.
Kana Winery: Just down the street from Gilbert Cellars, Kana was packed when I walked through the door. Turns out, a large tour group was in the area and Kana was one of their first stops. Despite having nearly a line out the door, the service I got made me feel like the only customer and as the wine tasting commenced, it became evident that Kana sources from some outstanding vineyards. One notable wine that I purchased while there was the 2007 Masterpiece (62% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 12% Marsanne), one of the most complex whites I've experienced. I also got a Ciel du Cheval Red blend; I'm a sucker for anything from that vineyard.
The wine experiences were two for two in excellence, and I'd highly recommend both as destinations next time you are in the area. I was pretty buzzed by that point in the evening, and unfortunately, my dinner experience was frankly disappointing after great wine. Katie with Wine Yakima Valley as well as Sean at Gilbert provided probably what were some great suggestions, and being me, I threw that advice out the window when I met a server from Carousel French Cuisine who asked me to come to dinner there. I checked out their menu and saw some potentially delicious selections, so off I went. I ordered duck and a glass of wine, and while the service was great, the food left a lot to be desired. The duck was done in a style that didn't resonate with me, and to my horror the side dish was very obviously a frozen vegetable medley. A $30/plate order of duck in the middle of agriculture country, and they were serving frozen vegetables. I was a little horrified.
All in all, it was a great (albiet short) trip to Yakima. Fortunately, Rick, Clive, and myself will be back in February for a little bit longer and Gilbert and Kana will definitely be on the list. We'll plan on broadening out a bit, too, and getting away from downtown. Santiago's is also on the list, I've heard their mole is to die for.
So, with that...what's your favorite Yakima Valley winery?