Owen Roe’s Union Gap Vineyard – A tour with David O’Reilly

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington

Glasses were clinking, wines were being poured, great conversations were happening, the weather was perfect and Flavor Camp was about to begin.

Wine Yakima Valley treated those of us who attended the WBC Pre Conference tour to 2 incredible days exploring the Yakima Valley. (You can catch our overview here). This first evening was spent at Owen Roe Winery.  We managed an impromptu winery tour with Co-Owner David O’Reilly and now we were on to Flavor Camp. 

The Yakima Valley is an agricultural region and in addition to grapes for wine, they also produce apples for cider and hops for beer.  We were treated to an in-depth look at these with Flavor Camp.

You will get to hear about the Cider and Hops also, but we are about wine here, so….

David O'Reilly with Owen Roe Vineyard explained that we are about as far West in the Yakima Valley as you can go.
David O’Reilly With Owen Roe Vineyard

Vineyard Tour with David O’Reilly

We are at the Owen Roe Union Gap Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.  As we climb into the back of the all-terrain vehicle with about a dozen wine writers, David explained that we are about as far West in the Yakima Valley as you can go.

“From east to west there is not a big temperature difference.”  David tells us, but Walla Walla, where we would be going the following day, was at 30 degrees the night before, where as Yakima was at 40.  The cold air rushes down the valley.

For a bit of perspective, take a look at this Wine map of Washington State, Courtesy of Washingtonwine.org you can see Yakima about at center east/west in the state, with the cascades to the west, compared to Walla Walla to the east.

Washington AVA Photo Courtesy of washingtonwine.org
Washington AVAs Photo Courtesy of washingtonwine.org

Here on this map of the Yakima Valley courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org you can see the Union Gap Vineyard all the way west.

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

This tour would take us through 3 of the distinct soil types on the vineyard and we would taste the flavor profile from each.

Missoula Flood Loess and Bordeaux varieties

We drove up the hill and stepped out at the top, into soft loose dusty soil that immediately covered my shoes. As people walked, little puffs of dust erupted in their footsteps. “Loose soil” is your clue here. This is loess.

Loess soil at Owen Roe's Union Gap Vineyard.
Loess soil at Owen Roe’s Union Gap Vineyard.

David pulls out his altimeter app to check the altitude (we all scrambled to find this app).  We were standing at 1199 feet.

Remember those Missoula Floods?

Now it’s time to talk a little soil history.  If you read our piece on Montinore, you may have some of this history! If not, you can find it here, where Rudy Marchesi explains the Missoula Floods.

This property sits at the convergence of Glacial Lake Missoula.  We would pass the Wallula Gap tomorrow as we headed to Walla Walla.  This is where the Ice dam backed up the water, eventually lifting and flooding the valley, creating the Columbia River Gorge and impacting the land and soil all the way into Oregon.

The water here in Yakima came up to about 1150 feet, so the soil we were standing on was above the glacial flood.  The soil here are silts (really fine). David pointed out the hillside where you could see the sub soils of basalt and ancient rock that are about 22 million years old.

Owen Roe 2014 Bordeaux Blend.
Owen Roe 2014 Bordeaux Blend in the vineyard

Soils here on top are shallow making it good for Bordeaux varieties.  At the top of the hill where we are standing, they grow their Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is clone 47, David tells us, a clone with small berries, this wine retains it’s fruit and has beautiful acid.  We are tasting the 2014 bordeaux Blend with is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Malbec blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard block.

In the summers, up here, the sun is up at 6 am and the soils tend to stay warm overnight.  They have less of a diurnal (day to night temperature) shift then Red Mountain.  Photosynthesis is maximized when the soil is warm so the grapes here ripen earlier and the wine is less tannic and more textural.

We strolled down the hill, creating little dust storms and ending at the block of Cabernet Franc.

Elevation, terroir and matching varieties

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington
Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

David explained the planting method.   The soils that are most shallow are planted to the latest ripening grape varieties (cabernet sauvignon), the deeper soils toward the bottom of the hill are planted to merlot, which has big clusters that ripen early.  Here in the middle is where the cab franc grows, ripening later than merlot and before the cabernet sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc at Owen Roe

Owen Roe Winery, in Washington State
Owen Roe Winery, in Washington State

Cabernet Franc is a favorite of mine and of David’s it seemed.  He spoke of this ancient grape, father to cabernet sauvignon and how it likes cooler temperatures.  In hotter years it gets finicky.  This end of the Yakima Valley is about 4 degrees cooler than other sites in the valley during the day, but it stays warmer at night.  This gives the cabernet franc “gorgeous texture and keeps that perfume in the grape”.

We taste the 2015 Cabernet Franc.  This year was warmer and the cabernet franc was finicky.  They had to pluck out the green berries by hand from the bunches.  The first major heat will shut photosynthesis down.  The 2014 by comparison was very Bordeaux in style and was chunky and tannic.

Irrigation in the Yakima Valley

We noticed the irrigation drip.  Washington is extremely dry and they must irrigate here to keep the vineyard growing.  The water here comes from wells from the Ellensberg Formation Aquifer.  Due to the soil type, it tends to be slightly acidic.  The soils are basic and low in nitrogen so this is one of the nutrients they will add in the winery.  (We talk about that in our winery tour)

Drip Irrigation, a necessity when growing in the high desert conditions in the Yakima Valley
Drip Irrigation, a necessity when growing in the high desert conditions in the Yakima Valley

In so many wine regions we are trained to think of irrigation as bad and dry farming is good. That would be to stress the vines and keep those roots digging deep.  Here, with the lack of rain fall, it is necessary.

The region gets only 7 to 8 inches of precipitation each year, and the definition of a true desert is anything less than 10.

http://wineyakimavalley.org/climate/

The cherries in the valley, David tells us, use 10 times the amount of water as the vines here.

Into the glacial soils & Rhône varieties

Calcium Carbonate in the rocks at Owen Roe Vineyard.
Calcium Carbonate in the rocks at Owen Roe Vineyard.

Further down the hill we get into the glacial soils where you find calcium carbonate, the white substance we had seen above.  These glacial silts have a little deeper soil and give you rock and minerality, the wines are finer than if they were grown in loess & deeper soils, that present as more aromatic and textural.The Oldest soil type here is the Ellensburg Formation, which is old Columbia Riverbed.  This predates the Yakima River & the basalt activity.  These are actually “anti-clines” that formed through earth movement.  The upthrust that we were standing on at this point was at almost 1200 feet.  This is not glacial.  Anything lower than this was not upthrust, it was just washed away.

Ellensburg is found in high elevations.  In Walla Walla the famous Rocks AVA is all on riverbeds at the Valley Floor.

What makes this great for Grenache is that Grenache is cold sensitive, so you want it high in the vineyard so the cold air rushes down.  Sounds counter intuitive, it’s at one of the highest elevations & yet it ripens early. 

Okay…all this talk about soils and wine, are you thirsty now? Search out a bottle of Washington wine, Owen Roe if you can find it, and enjoy our video tour with David O’Reilly.

Washington Tasting room

Open Daily from 11-4 in the Yakima Valley, they do require reservations for more than 8 guests.

They also offer Barrel Room Tastings on the weekends started each day at noon. You can reserve this for a fee on their reservation page. It includes a tour, private tasting, an expanded flight and a cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Union Gap Vineyard and tasting room can be found at 309 Gangl Rd in Wapato WA 98951. 509-877-0454

Oregon Tasting Room

Again open daily from 11-4 their tasting room off Hwy 219 outside of Newberg requires reservations for more than 6 guests. You can bring snacks, or contact them ahead of time and they can have a snack plate ready.

Here they have a Cellar Table Experience that you can reserve to do a more private tasting geared toward your palate. Contact them ahead of time to set this up.

The Willamette Valley tasting room is located at 2761 E 9th St. Newberg OR 97132. 503-538-7778

More to come!

Watch for more on Yakima Valley Wine, coming out soon!

And visit our Yakima Valley Wine page on our site for more details on this great region.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Full fermentation bins! A walk inside Owen Roe Winery at Harvest.

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

While we were in the Yakima Valley for #WBC18, we had the opportunity to go to Owen Roe Winery with the Pre-Conference Tour with Wine Yakima Valley.  You can read all about Day 1 of our adventure in the Yakima Valley here at Yakima Valley Wine and Beyond with Wine Yakima Valley’s Flavor Camp

While enjoying our afternoon, tasting the wines and getting set for Flavor Camp, I peeked around the side of the winery, where work continued.  We were deep into harvest and cleanup was happening outside the winery, behind where the tables were set out for dinner and wine was being poured.  I always lean toward the backstage (I am a Stage Manager after all), so I snuck around the side and found a couple fellow wine writers peeking as well.  As luck would have it, David O’Reilly, owner of Owen Roe, had spied us, and offered to give us a tour inside the busy working winery.

Full Fermentation Bins!

The Winery was full of bins filled with fruit that was fermenting.  Pulling back the tarp, that was spring clamped on as a lid, we looked in at the berries (grapes) that looked remarkably like blueberries (as someone noted). 

Whole berries in a fermentation bin at Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley
Whole berries in a fermentation bin at Owen Roe Winery in the Yakima Valley

David informed us that this was a whole berry ferment.  They don’t use a crusher to crush the berries, the weight of the berries pressing down on each other does that work for them. 

The room was filled with these white bins full of berries fermenting.  Someone asked if this was like a carbonic ferment.  Well….carbonic fermentation (as David explained) is a whole berry fermentation like this, but….it is done in an enclosed system with CO2. They do this with the Cinsault that goes into their Sinister Hand Blend. He pointed out the room in the corner, their cold room. The carbonic masceration, does with the Cinsault, what is does with Beaujolais Nouveau, it give the wine a fresh fruit note.

So many Stories

You know I love a good story. While David O’Reilly told us the tales of the winery and the vineyard, I dug a little deeper to find the inspiration for the name of the Winery and beyond that, of the Sinister Hand wine that David mentioned to us and that I got to taste later.

Behind the Name Owen Roe:

Owen Roe O’Neill was a seventeenth century Irish Patriot, who dedicated his life to upholding the highest principles of political equality and freedom. His commitment to great things makes him an ideal model for us at Owen Roe, for we share his dedication to principle in our work to produce the wines of Owen Roe. At Owen Roe we do not compromise: only the best is good enough.

Courtesy Owen Roe Winery

I reached out to Taylor at Owen Roe and she told me that David O’Reilly had spent his first 14 years of life on a farm in Ireland. His family then moved to British Columbia and he fished and raised vegetables and grew up living off of the land.

The name on the Label

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washignton
Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washignton

A letter written in 1649 by O’Neill was found in David O’Reilly’s family castle, but because the letter was written in Spanish, O’Neill penned the signature with his Spanish name. David cut out the letters from the document to create Owen O’Neill’s signature. O’Reilly is related to O’Neill through marriage.

Courtesy of Taylor Boyle Wine Club Manager at Owen Roe

The story of the Sinister Hand

Sinister Hand Label from Owen Roe Winery (courtesy of Owen Roe WInery)
Sinister Hand Label from Owen Roe Winery (courtesey of Owen Roe WInery)

THE STORY BEHIND THE LABEL: Long ago, pre-dating the 11th century, the families that became modern day O’Neills and O’Reillys were feuding over the land that became their ancestral home. To settle the dispute, a competition was organized and several rowing teams agreed that the first to touch the land, after rowing across the lake, would become ruler of the land. O’Neill’s boat was falling behind so a member of the crew grabbed his own sword, cut off his hand and threw it ashore, and touching first, winning the title to rule the land.  The island fortress on this land can still be visited on Lough Oughter in County Cavan.

From OwenRoe.com

Dipping into fermentation

Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins
Owen Roe Winery, Grapes in Fermentation Bins

David opened up a bin that was about half way through its ferment.  You could feel the heat.  The bin was sitting at about 32 ° C that would be about 85 ° F.  David explained that with Interns in the winery from all over the world, they use celsius temperature and metrics here (easier than teaching another language!). 

We looked in another bin and you could see some skin separation. The color was also leaching out of the skins into the juice adding those wonderful phenolics that make red wines so tasty and interesting.

When asked about regulating temperature, David said that they regulate the ambient temperature in the winery.  We had arrived at the change of seasons, when the daylight temperatures tend to plummet.  Often it is actually too cold for fermentation in the winery.  They do have their cold room in case a fermentation gets running too hot.  They typically keep their fermentations at around 80 ° here and let them do a nice slow 2 week fermentation.

Jackie Evans, Winemaker

Jackie Evans, Owen Roe Winery, Winemaker
Jackie Evans, Owen Roe Winery, Winemaker

We met Jackie Evans, the winemaker here at Owen Roe, as she was making her rounds adding nutrients to keep the fermentations on track.  They had their lab where they check levels and add nutrients to be sure the fermentation does not get stressed.  This avoids stuck fermentations.  As David puts it “Band-aids are easier than mouth to mouth resuscitation.” 

Later in the evening the crew would be in for punch downs.  I had planned on trying to get back in to see that, but the wine, the food, the conversation, and that sunset…well, suffice to say, I got distracted.

None the less, we did go on to do our Flavor Camp which included a vineyard tour with David.  You will see that coming up next!

Visiting Owen Roe

Owen Roe has 2 tasting rooms, one in Washington at the Union Gap Vineyard that we visited, as well as another in Newberg Oregon (they make wines in the Willamette Valley also)

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington
Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington

Washington Tasting room

Open Daily from 11-4 in the Yakima Valley, they do require reservations for more than 8 guests.

They also offer Barrel Room Tastings on the weekends started each day at noon. You can reserve this for a fee on their reservation page. It includes a tour, private tasting, an expanded flight and a cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Union Gap Vineyard and tasting room can be found at 309 Gangl Rd in Wapato WA 98951. 509-877-0454

Oregon Tasting Room

Again open daily from 11-4 their tasting room off Hwy 219 outside of Newberg requires reservations for more than 6 guests. You can bring snacks, or contact them ahead of time and they can have a snack plate ready.

Here they have a Cellar Table Experience that you can reserve to do a more private tasting geared toward your palate. Contact them ahead of time to set this up.

The Willamette Valley tasting room is located at 2761 E 9th St. Newberg OR 97132. 503-538-7778

More to come!

Watch for our vineyard tour with David O’Reilly, coming out soon!

And visit our Yakima Valley Wine page on our site for more details on this great region.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.