Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills

Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley

We finished our breakfast and morning flyover seminar, courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley.  With caffeine ingested and a little more information to give us a some perspective on the Yakima Valley, we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

This is a super nested AVA, inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is itself nested within the Columbia Valley AVA. (It is the darker region north of 82 to the West side of the map).

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

Located on the North Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was established in 2006 with vineyards dating back to 1968.  It’s about four miles south east of the city of Yakima, where we were staying.  The AVA spans over 74,000 acres with around 1,800 under vine.

Rattlesnake Hills take in the hills running east to west, that are north of the Yakima River.  Elevations for here are high, starting at 850 feet and going to over 3,000 feet, with most vineyards planted in the lower elevations.

Want to get really geeky on this area?  Visit the washingtonwine.org page for Rattlesnake Hills  https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas/rattlesnake-hills

Elephant Mountain Vineyard

It was October and harvest as we drove into Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We passed bins filled with fruit harvested that morning and had to stop and take grape glamour shots. 

We climbed up the mountain through the vineyards surrounded by high desert landscape.  I will admit to it feeling a little odd.  We are from Vegas and to see a vineyard in the midst of this landscape was a little disconcerting.  We climbed the hill to the picnic area on top, where picnic tables were set out with bottles of wine and plates of wine grapes.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Elephant Mountain Vineyard, in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnack Hills AVA

The Vineyard itself is located on the southern slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge which sits at the base of Elephant Mountain.  The ridge sits above the Missoula Flood plain.  Elevations here sit from 1320-1460 feet.The high elevation here means that they have about 30 more frost free days than the rest of the Yakima Valley.

Varieties Grown at Elephant Mountain

First planted in 1998 with Merlot and Cabernet, the vineyard has expanded to almost 120 acres which now includes Cab Franc, Mourvédre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Counoise, Barbera and Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne. 

I mentioned the grapes on the table.  It was a gorgeous line-up for tasting the ripe grapes of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouvédre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne.

  • Cinsault grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Marsanne & Counoise grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Co got started giving us a little background on the area and then, Joe Hattrup, the owner of the vineyard met us to speak about the vineyard. 

Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Joe has been a farmer all of his life, but when they started this vineyard, he was new to wine grapes. So they set up a test block to see what worked and learn about the grapes before planting them in the commercial blocks.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard map
Elephant Mountain Vineyard map

They began as I said with Cab & Merlot and quickly got into Syrah. From there they found tat this site with it’s high elevation was good for many of the Rhône varieties. Most Rhônes are late ripening and the elevation here gives them those 30 additional days frost free, as well a great southern exposure late in the year to help with ripening.

They do have a second vineyard, Sugarloaf, also in the Rattlesnake Hills. He mentioned that they had pulled out the Viognier here at Elephant Mountain to plant Grenache which is in high demand and grows better with the protection this site provides.

A little on the Geography

We mentioned the elevation here, but Co put this into perspective with a few stats. At this point in the Yakima Valley, the river sits at 900 feet, and we were standing at about 1450 feet. When you head east to Red Mountain, the river there sits at around 400 feet. So you can see the valley is much lower there.

  • Desert, Vineyard and basalt. In Yakima Valley's Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Basalt at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

We were standing in a ring of basalt lava rocks which informs the soils. Up on the ridge behind us, if you look closely, you can see a tree line. A band of trees sites at about 1600 feet, right at the line for moisture, fog and snow.

The views

Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • View of Mount Adams from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley
  • Vineyard View Elephant Mountain.

The wines

The lineup of wines on the table, all from wineries who source from this vineyard, was diverse and impressive!  The grapes are concentrated and the wines from these grapes tend to be really inky.

We tasted a wide sampling of Rhône varieties and blends from an assortment of wineries, all with fruit from this vineyard. It was really interesting to see the reflection of the fruit with it’s similarities and then the expression of the various winemakers on top of this.

  • Wines made with Elephant Mountain fruit WBC18

We were treated to a great lunch following this tasting. A food truck with Authentic Mexican food arrived to fill our bellies. I felt even more at home, with food truck the desert sage brush. Once full, we climbed back into our vans and headed to Walla Walla for the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference. But along the way, we took in some spectacular views and our driver filled us in on the history of the area, ancient as well as recent.

I’ll do yet another shout out to Barbara Glover at Wine Yakima Valley. This visit that she planned for us was entertaining, informative and beautifully paced. Thanks also to Co Dinn and Joe Hattrup for taking the time to give us these great insights into the Yakima Valley Wine Region. And of course to WBC18, without which we might not have visited this beautiful region.

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Yakima Valley Seminar

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

We spent a glorious evening at Owen Roe Winery, tasting wines and meeting winemakers from all over the Yakima Valley.  Now it was time to get into the nitty gritty geeky stuff.

Wine Yakima Valley,  set us up with a morning seminar for a video flyover of the Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels to orient us on the layout of the valley.

Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels talk Yakima Valley Wine
Yakima Valley with Co Dinn and Kerry Shiels

Co Dinn

Co Dinn Cellars

I had met Co Dinn on the first evening in Yakima.  As the party was winding down, and the table emptying out, he came to my end of the table and introduced himself.  We spoke for quite awhile in the shadows, my shot of the wine I tasted with him, with attest to that.

Co has been a winemaker in Washington for over 20 years.  A UC Davis master’s grad, he worked in Napa and then came to Washington in 1996.  Since then he has worked with vineyards all over the state to make his wines.

He spent 12 years working with Côte Bonneville before diving into his own label Co Dinn Cellars, where he makes wines of the Yakima Valley and is devoted to learning everything about this areas soils and climates.  His knowledge is expansive as you will see as he speaks with us.

Kerry Shiels

Côte Bonneville

We mentioned that Co had spent time working with Côte Bonneville.  The Côte Bonneville estate vineyard is Du Brul Vineyard.  It was planted by Hugh and Kathy Shiels back in 1992 with the winery founded in 2001.  Kerry Shiels, daughter of Hugh and Kathy and the current winemaker at Côte Bonneville joined us for this conversation.

DuBrul Vineyard

Did I mention that Co was devoted to learning about the climates of the area.  Yes, that was plural climates.  When you talk about DuBrul vineyard, they have multiple microclimates within their 45 acre site. 

“In distance measured by hundreds of feet or less, we observe different growing conditions and tailor our farming practices to provide for the individual needs of the vine.

Quote courtesy the Cote Bonneville website https://www.cotebonneville.com/vineyard

This vineyard is recognized as one of the top in the state.

Part 1 – Overview and comparisons

In Part 1 below, we begin with Barbara Glover, the Executive Director of Wine Yakima Valley giving us an overview of the Yakima Valley AVA, it’s sub AVA’s and some of the surrounding area.  She then turns it over to Co Dinn. Co gives us a little perspective on the size of the wine region here compared to other regions. He and Kerry move on to a comparison of Washington to Burgundy and then moving on to talk about the soils and geology within this region.

Part 2 – Soil overview and Union Gap to DuBrul Vineyard

Part 2 continues with details on the soils and top soils.  They don’t have clay here, the soils here are gravel or sand.  As they don’t have clay, they don’t have phylloxera.  They are also in a rain shadow.  We zoom in and begin our flyover where Kerry details some of the vineyards that we will be driving by shortly on our way first to Elephant Mountain and then on to Walla Walla.

Kerry mentions the world class vineyard research happening here in the Yakima Valley.  She also tells us about the Red Willow Vineyard.  They focus on Syrah here and have a replica of the Chapel at Hermitage on the hill at the vineyard.  They also are looking deeply into the nuances of the different microclimates of the vines on different sides of their hill. Red Willow is a vineyard and at least 18 wineries source fruit from this iconic vineyard.  Our flyover takes us from Union Gap on the western end of the valley discussing areas and vineyards as we travel east.  We get to DuBrul Vineyard in Rattlesnack Hills AVA, where Kerry takes over speaking of their vineyard.

Kerry gives us a great quote from Bob Betz, Master of Wine

“Every grape would be red if it could.  Every grape would be cabernet if it could, and the best cabernet in the state of Washington is DuBrul Vineyard merlot.”

Part 3 – DuBrul to Red Mountain

 In Part 3 Co continues us east from DuBrul ending in Red Mountain.  This hill is an extension of Rattlesnake Ridge.  Red Mountain provides excellent structure and tannins and is used often in blends.  This is a southwest facing slope, not an entire mountain.  It is one of the warmest grape growing region in the state, so the cabernet grown there always ripens fully. 

We had a little time for questions which got into climate change. Kerry says the hillsides help to protect them according to most projections, but they are working on water management.  (She goes into some great details on why this is so)

Thanks to the Wine Media Conference https://www.winemediaconference.org/ (then known as the Wine Bloggers Conference) and Wine Yakima Valley https://wineyakimavalley.org/  for setting us the enjoyable and informative Pre-Conference tour.

Next up – Elephant Mountain Vineyard

From here we head out to Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the middle of the Yakima Valley

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Yakima Valley Hops with Nicholi Pitra

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

While in the Yakima Valley for WBC18, we were treated to “Flavor Camp” by Wine Yakima Valley.  This allowed us to explore 3 of the tasty libations that have roots here.  We of course discussed wine, but then also moved on to learn about two other major crops in the area, cider apples (check out our video with Marcus Robert of Tieton Cider Works), and hops!

Hops for Beer with Nicholi Pitra, Hop Geneticist with Hopsteiner.

Hopsteiner is a company that grows and breeds hops.  That’s the stuff that makes your beer so tasty.

What is a hop? 

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

Hops are cultivated flowers used as a preservative, and flavoring in beer. The bitterness of a hop is used to balance the sweetness of the malt. The hop’s essential oils add a unique flavor and aroma to the beer that cannot be achieved by using any other plant in the world. The hop plant is a spiraling perennial vine that grows in regions with slightly acidic soil, ample water and a lot of sunlight. Hops can climb strings, or poles and reach heights of 40 feet. A hop’s flowers are called a Cone, and most commonly dried before use, but can also be used “wet,” right off the vine (or “bine”, since this the technical term used for plants that climb).

Courtesy https://www.hopsteiner.com/faq/

So a Hop Geneticist?  What do they do?

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.

Nicholi Pitra is a Hop Geneticist, with Hopsteiner, who has a background in biochemistry, biotechnology, and bioinformatics.  He breeds and then tests hops, which is a minimum of a 10 year process.  He is looking to find desirable qualities in the hops, which includes growing healthy plants as well as finding those qualities that brewers are looking for.

The Yakima Valley and hops

Hops Growing In Yakima Valley

75% of the US grown hops come from the Yakima Valley.  You can see it when you are driving through.  Hops farms are all along the valley floor. 

The smells

Nicholi had a table filled with containers of different hop cones as well as the beers that each were used it, so we could do a comparison.  We rubbed the buds between our hands, releasing the fragrance and coating our hands with sticky resin. 

He talked us through some of the Hop varieties that Hopsteiner has, and the different flavor profiles (I mean, this is “flavor camp” right?)

Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities
Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities

The range is wide from Apollo which has lime, grapefruit and pine to Calipso with tropical fruit, pear, apple and mint to Eureka!  With black currant, dark fruits, strong hers and pine to Lemondrop with lots of lemon and a little orange, green tea and melon.  So now you know…it’s not just adding orange to make that microbrew (although some brewers might do that), these flavors can come straight from the hop.  Just like you get blackberries in a syrah, which comes from the grape, you can get lemon from hops.

It’s all pretty cool and fascinating.

If you want to know more go to Hopsteiner or HopResearchCouncil

  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, Hop Varities
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp, a view of Hops in a Bin.
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Washington Flavor Camp
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine
  • Hopsteiner Talk with Nicholi Pitra at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp, a view of Hops on the Vine

You can also check out our post on the whole of Flavor Camp.

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Tieton Cider Works, in Yakima Valley Washington

Marcus Roberts, Tieton Cider Works

While in the Yakima Valley on a Pre-conference Tour for WBC18, Wine Yakima Valley set up Flavor Camp, so we could experience the variety of flavors that come out of the Yakima Valley.

Marcus Robert – On Cider

We started with apples with Marcus Robert of Tieton Cider Works, who spoke with us about the apples they grow for cider.
to find out more on their cider

Marcus came to Tieton as the cidermaker, with 10 years of experience in beer, wine and cider under his belt, back in 2010. They started with 200 cases and now produce upwards of 100,000 cases annually.

Where the fruit comes from – Harmony Orchards and Craig Campbell

“The fruit that is used in Tieton Cider Works cider comes from Craig and Sharon Campbell’s Harmony Orchards. This land has been in our family since the 1920’s when our grandfather planted his first trees in Tieton, Washington. “

Tieton Cider Works

Craig Campbell is a third generation farmer. He has a degree from Washington State University in viticulture. He is always looking for new varieties of trees.

In 2008 he planted a test block of 25 varieties of Cider Apples. He figured out which worked best and now they have 55 acres of cider apples and pears.

How can you find some?

1st you can go visit them in Yakima at the Cider Bar and Production facility:

619 West J St. Yakima Washington 98902

Just don’t go on a Tuesday (they are closed on Tuesdays). Other than that it’s 2 pm to 8 pm Monday, Wednesday & Thursday. 12-9 on Friday and Staurday and Sunday’s from 12-6.

Or you can use this great search page to find a local spot in your neck of the woods to pick some up.

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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.

Yakima Valley – Wine and beyond with Wine Yakima Valley’s Flavor Camp

Owen Roe Yakima Valley

We had an opportunity this past fall to travel to Washington to explore their wine scene as we attending the Wine Bloggers Conference (which has since been renamed the Wine Media Conference) held in Walla Walla Washington.

One of the great things about the conference is that they offer Pre and Post Conference Excursions.  These are press junket style for wine writers.  Michael and I were able to join the Yakima Valley Tour put together by Wine Yakima Valley.

We flew into Portland and then on to the Pasco Tri-Cities Airport in Washington.

After arriving early, we camped out in a comfy couch at the airport and gathered ourselves before the true start to our journey.  Soon enough we were greeted by the folks from Wine Yakima Valley and guided to the vans.  They handed us a snack tray with local snacks….

Daniels Artisan Snack Tray

Put together by Daniel’s Artisan, it included an Asiago from Ferndale WA, Pajarero Figs from Spain, Two Sisters honey sticks from Kennewick WA, and Croccantini crackers from Tukwila WA.

With sustenance in hand, we set out for Yakima.

The drive to Yakima

Yakima Wine MAp
Courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley

The drive from the airport to the Yakima Valley was pretty long!  Luckily, I was squished in the back seat with Cathie Schafer of Side Hustle Wino and Jennifer Whitcomb of Beyond the Corkscrew. Patrick, our driver, was full of great information on the area, but we couldn’t hear a thing in the way back, so we kept ourselves entertained, giggling quite a bit. Every now and then Thaddeus of the Minority Wine Report would relay what the driver was saying.  We watched the valley roll by, driving through the greater part of the valley, through Red Mountain, Prosser and Zillah and at last arrived at Owen Roe Winery on the far West end of the Yakima Valley.

Owen Roe Winery – the host for Flavor Camp

Owen Roe Winery In Yakima Valley's Union Gap
Owen Roe Winery In Yakima Valley’s Union Gap

Owen Roe Winery sits on the edge of the Yakima Valley AVA in Union Gap. The winery produces wines from within the Yakima Valley as well as from the a variety of vineyards and AVAs in the Willamette Valley. The winery itself is built on the Union Gap Estate Vineyard, but they also source fruit from other Yakima Valley vineyards, including; Dubrul, Elerding, Olsen, Outlook and Red Willow.

David O'Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery
David O’Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery

The winery is co-owned by David & Angelica O’Reilly and Ben & Julie Wolff. We were lucky enough to be here while the winery itself was busy and filled with fermentation bins. We were lucky as well to have co-Owner David O’Reilly there to greet us.

Yakima Valley Winemakers

Wines at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp
The line up of Yakima Valley wines for tasting at Flavor Camp

Wine was flowing…so much wine from so many wineries. I admit to being a bit overwhelmed. Trying to note each wine was not possible.  I tried to memorize labels to come back to later for more information.  Bottom line…I need another visit to this region to dig in. But let me fill you in on a few of the wines and people we were introduced to!

  • Cultura Wine from Zillah with Winemaker Sarah Fewel. She and her husband Tad lean toward the reds with Bordeaux style blends.
  • Côte Bonneville from Sunnyside with Winemaker Kerry Shiels, recognized as one of the states top wineries for years.
  • Hightower Cellars Red Mountain with Winemaker Kelly Hightower
  • Wit Cellars in Prosser. One of the newest wineries in the area opening last May.
  • Chandler Reach located in the Red Mountain AVA with an estate overlooking the Yakima River, they do Italian-style wines.
  • Kitzke Cellars of Candy Mountain
  • Upsidedown Wine with Winemaker Seth Kitzke (yes also the winemaker for Kitzke)
  • Gilbert Cellars Where winemaker Justin Neufeld makes ten wines from 7 varieties of grapes including Malbec, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Corvidae
  • Owen Roe with co-owner David O’Reilly (you’ll get to know more about them below)
  • Co Dinn Cellars with Winemaker Co Dinn (more from him in our 2nd day in the Yakima Valley)

Women in Wine in Yakima Valley

It’s Women’s History Month, so I’m going to take a moment to do a few shout outs to women in the Wine Industry from the wineries above. Sarah Fewel co-owns Cultura, Kerry Shiels is the winemaker at Côte Bonneville, Kelly Hightower is the co-winemaker at Hightower Cellars and Jacki Evans is the winemaker at Owen Roe.

A sneak peak inside Owen Roe Winery

While we were waiting, David O’Reilly with Owen Roe, invited a couple of us back into the winery. This is a working winery and they were busy with harvest.  But that tale is for another day. Soon, I promise, complete with video of our tour and filled with great information from David, who is a brilliant guide (and he’s great on camera!)

Flavor Camp

After the 2nd van arrived and people had wine in hand, Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley welcomed us to Flavor Camp. Today, we would learn about the flavors of the Yakima Valley.  This is more than wine country, this is the apple growing capital of the country and the premier place for growing hops.  So today would be insights into all the flavors in these libations!

Shout out to Barbara Glover with Wine Yakima Valley for organizing a great event and reorganizing to make it even better on the fly!

Apples for Cider with Tieton Cider Works

Marcus Robert General Manager Tieton Cider Works Yakima Washington
Marcus Robert General Manager Tieton Cider Works Yakima Washington

We started with apples with Marcus Robert, General Manager of Tieton Cider Works, who spoke with us about the apples they grow for cider.

Grapes for Wine with Owen Roe

David O'Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery
David O’Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery

Then on to wine with David O’Reilly and a tour of the vineyard Owen Roe Vineyard here in Union Gap. We looked at the soils and elevation of the vineyard, feet in the dusty loess soils.

Hops for Beer with Hopsteiner

Nicholi Pitra, Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner
Nicholi Pitra, Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner

And finally on to hops, with Nicholi Pitra who is a Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner. It was fascinating to learn about hops and get to smell the difference between the varieties.

(You will get in depth videos of each of these coming up soon!)

Dinner with a Sunset View of the Yakima Valley

The evening culminated with a sunset dinner, bottles everywhere along the table and winemakers walking about serving their wines and speaking with people. In addition there was amazing food from Crafted Yakima fresh from local farms. (Yes more flavors of the Yakima Valley)

I ended my evening with a great conversation with Co Dinn who lead our group the following morning. I promise more on that soon as we journeyed on to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Enjoy a little synopsis of this day and you can look forward to some in depth pieces coming up on the Flavor Camp, our winery tour with David O’Reilly and Day 2 with our trip to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Want more information on the Yakima Valley and it’s wines

If you want more information on the Yakima Valley and it’s wines, Wine Yakima Valley is the place to find it. You can find out about events, winery and tasting rooms, restaurants, lodging and they have a great blog with some terrific photos that will have you longing to visit the area.

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