Straight from the Barrel in Yakima, Yo.

A few weeks ago, I detailed the first day of my visit to Yakima Valley Spring Barrel Tasting with every intention of part 2 following within a few days. Well, it didn't, and there was much sadness in the universe. Wipe those tears away, friends, because your wait is over.

I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning after a very restful sleep in the lovely Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites in Pasco with a belly rumbling from hunger, a head in need of some coffee, and a palate salivating in anticipation of some awesome wine. I made my way down to the breakfast bar at the hotel, very pleased to find a full breakfast buffet for all guests - complimentary, my friends, meaning it is included in your rate! After grabbing a healthy serving of cinnamon rolls, bacon, oatmeal, and coffee, I sat down to focus on the logistics of the day. I was to meet my brother Chris in an hour in Richland, ready to hit the wine trail. Chris, being a relative newcomer in the world of oenological goodness, was depending on me to lead the way. I faced the eternal debate: go to wineries I knew and loved, or, take a little more of a risk and hit some newbies. Wanting a new experience to share with you, I made the decision to focus on wineries I had not been to yet. I sketched out a map, picked up Chris, and to Red Mountain we went.

Behold, a chronicle of our journey and the wine that deserves a place on your rack:
  • Hightower Cellars:A winery that sources fruit from Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla, Hightower opened on Red Mountain in 2002 and their vineyards are beginning to produce estate fruit. Boasting a female winemaker, Hightower makes some tasty big reds true to their appellations. We sampled a Petit Verdot straight out of the barrel, and both Chris and I agreed that we would have bought a bottle had it been available. Unfortunately, it was indeed still in the barrel so we'll have to wait.
  • Tapteil Estate: Planted in 1985, Tapteil's vines are grandfathers in the Red Mountain family. Producing estate big reds, Tapteil was the biggest surprise of the weekend for me - in a phenomenal way. After barrel tasting two different Syrah's (and loving both), we proceeded to the tasting room to try the rest of their lineup. I walked away with a Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and a Yakima Valley Syrah, and am waiting with baited breath for the release of the next vintage. They're for real.
  • Terra Blanca: Sharing the amazingness of TB with my brother was a must, and we found probably the best organized tasting process of the weekend. Staff and wine was spread among 10 tasting stations, taking customers through a progression to please the palate. The Barrel Select Syrah resonated with my brother, and I walked away with one of my favorite wines ever - the Pantheon.
  • Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard and Winery: Off the Red Mountain path, Goose Ridge was the final stop for the day as we headed back towards Richland. With Charlie Hoppes as the winemaker, you can't go wrong with any of their juice. I particularly enjoyed the Estate Merlot and my brother enjoyed most everything he tried.
As I drove up I-82 towards Prosser the first night, I took a moment to reflect on just how special of a place the Columbia and Yakima Valleys are. Spring being the best time of year in the area, I felt a sense of place that was much more laid back and at-home than my trip to Sonoma and Napa a month before. I hope the Red Mountain and Prosser area never lose that atmosphere, strongly rooted in a down-to-earth agricultural history. World class wine up a dirt road, in the middle of some sagebrush, rattle snakes, and great people.  Oh, and the sunsets...

All in all, Spring Barrel Tasting provided a wonderful opportunity to taste upcoming new releases and visit wineries not typically open to the public. As the day went on, crowds grew and I had to remind myself that it wasn't a race to try as many wines as possible - that trying the wine was the experience, versus completing a checklist. The nature of this type of weekend doesn't leave a lot of time to chat with winery staff or winemakers, but it definitely was well organized and resonates with many consumers. I'd recommend Friday if you'd like to avoid some crowds. Oh, and be safe.


Chris said...

Nice write up Josh. We hit a few wineries on Red Mountain late on Sunday afternoon of Spring Barrel. By that time everything in the Yak was even more laid back than normal.

I absolutely agree with you the laid back, friendly atmosphere of the area is one of its most attractive features.