Wine Country Escapes: Yakima Valley

Find Fall's Harvest in the Syrah-Drenched Hills of the Yakima Valley

Agritourism, from wine to fruit and hops, is transforming a once-sleepy corner of Washington.

By Ramona DeNies September 13, 2017 Published in the October 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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The Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn’s resident rescue horses on the winery trail near Zillah, just east of Yakima

From September’s hop harvest through the October grape crush, the working-class city of Yakima, population around 90,000, transforms each fall into a hub of international commerce. As the valley produces 75 percent of the nation’s hops, craft brewers fly in to evaluate strains. Apples—Yakima’s top crop—begin their journey to countries all over the world. And from Woodinville to Walla Walla, the winemakers come, to walk the vines, sample fruit, and toast the new vintage.

Agencies like Yakima Valley Tourism have noticed, and hope to grow this happy trend among gourmands in general. Witness new campaigns like “Come to the Source” that market DIY foodie field trips to area farms. Wine Yakima Valley makes it even easier, with a viticultural touring guide broken down by subregions like Rattlesnake Hills. (Slogan: “No Snakes, Just Great Wines.”)

Accept the help. Washington’s first AVA (established in 1983) is huge—more than 900 square miles encompassing 10,000-plus vineyard acres and scores of wineries—so careful trip-planning is needed to maximize your merlot time. Think of the valley’s subregions as a west-to-east wine flight: from the cool bedrock plateaus of Naches Heights to hotter-than-Hades Red Mountain, 75 miles up the Yakima River. Savor these distinct areas one at a time, kicked off with a day trip (and optional hike) around Yakima itself.

Your One-Day Wine Trek

Caffeinate at downtown Yakima’s North Town Coffeehouse, which brews Stumptown beans in a renovated train depot. Over lattes, peruse area wineries and farm stands courtesy of Visit Yakima Valley’s online maps. Your morning constitutional starts at the Cowiche Canyon East Trailhead, eight miles northwest in the shrub steppes of Naches Heights. From here, follow Cowiche Creek about two miles to connect with the Winery Trail, which delivers you—after a heart-pounding climb of nearly a mile—to the Wilridge Vineyard tasting room. (You can also skip the hike and drive straight there.) Head back to town for hot tamales at Los Hernández before resuming your wine tasting four miles south at neighboring wineries Owen Roe and Treveri Cellars. (The latter, all bubbles.) From here, continue along the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail, or return to downtown Yakima, where a cluster of tasting rooms—AntoLin, Gilbert, and Kana—are within stumbling distance of dinner, followed by a low-key nightcap at the Yakima Sports Center.

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Clockwise from top: the Yakima Farmers’ Market runs through the end of October; North Town Coffeehouse; the 1931 art deco A. E. Larson building towers over downtown.

Food/Lodging in Yakima

Local wines (and beers) are proudly front and center at both Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse (home of the International Harvester burger) and Crafted Gastropub, a pristine farm-to-table eatery three blocks away.

The upscale Hotel Maison (formerly a Masonic temple) is a newer lodging option for the city’s influx of fall visitors. Bonus: complimentary wine vouchers!

Fall Festivals in Yakima

Harvest celebration is the raison d’être for Yakima’s Fresh Hop Ale Festival Beer Week (Sept 29, 2018) and Catch the Crush (Oct 13–14 at wineries from Yakima to the Tri-Cities). Or, bag the valley’s bounteous produce at the Yakima Farmers’ Market on Sundays through Oct 28. (Arrive before 10 a.m. for the market’s $5 pancake breakfast.)

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