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.

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.

WBC18 in Walla Walla the Sweeping Overview

Owen Roe Vineyard Shot

We returned from WBC18 with so much content on Washington Wines and beyond!  Tons of great photos and footage and stories from amazing people and wineries.  We will break it all down and give you the in-depth stories, but the week was so exciting I wanted to give you the sweeping overview (Complete with lots of photos!) of the stories you will see coming soon!

Michael drove to Portland, you can catch a little of his trip on #WBC18 Crushed Grape Chronicles Travel Log(Day 1) and #WBC18 Crushed Grape Chronicles Travel Log Day 2  We will pick up here where he left off.

So I did make it to the airport in Portland!  While Michael got a couple extra hours of sleep due to our cancelled and re-booked flight, I sadly did not.  Whatever, it’s vacation right?  Sleep is overrated.  We got on our tiny little flight to PASCO the Tri Cities airport that sits between Yakima and Walla Walla and were seated at the back of the plane.  We noticed the plane was pretty empty and inquired about re-seating.  The flight attendant informed us that we were seated to provide ballast.  LOL!

The flight, new friends and Wine!

As it turned out, there were other WBC attendees on the flight, so we made friends!  Jennifer of Beyond the Corkscrew sat with us and we enjoyed complimentary wine from Horizon Air from Sagelands Winery.  They are part of the Precept Wine Portfolio and say Sagelands “embodies Washington State’s wine making legacy by sourcing the finest grapes from the four corners of the Columbia Valley and handcrafting them into wines of outstanding quality and value”.  From what I can gather on their site, they are a larger winery sourcing grapes, but….I appreciated the bits on their winemaker and the vineyards they source from and their soils.  Feel free to use the link and check them out. Michael had the Cabernet, I had the Chardonnay and we toasted with Jennifer to a fine start to what would be a full weekend of wine!

Wine Yakima Valley

We spent a little bit of time at the airport, before our host from Wine Yakima Valley arrived to pick us up.  There was also a Red Mountain Tour leaving from the airport.  I will have a piece or two (or three) on this pre-conference tour.  Barbara with Wine Yakima Valley did a phenomenal job setting this all up.  So you get the overview!  They had snacks for the drive…

Yakima Valley Cheese Plate

Yakima Valley Cheese Plate

…it included some local products, a bit of a tussle to get them out of the plastic wrap but…and then we were off for the hour ten minute drive to Owen Roe Winery for Flavor Camp.  Patrick our driver regaled us with stories and details of the area along the way.

Owen Roe Winery

We arrived early at Owen Roe and were greeted with wine, I managed to get a winery tour with Owner David O’Reilly and then Flavor Camp!  Yeah, you’ll have to wait to hear about that.  The evening ended with Dinner with a spectacular view and many Yakima Valley wines, with Winemakers pouring.

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Elephant Mountain Vineyard

The next morning we were up for breakfast and a fly-over seminar, with Co Dinn of Co Dinn Cellars and Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville to give us the layout of the Yakima Valley so we could connect with the landmarks we were passing as we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We met Joe Hattrup, who owns the vineyard., tasted some of the varieties fresh from harvest and then tasted an assortment of wines made from the grapes sourced from this vineyard.  Of course they kept us fed, today with a great Mexican food truck to enjoy with the wine and the astounding views.

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Walla Walla pre-conference wine education

We came in hot to Walla Walla, dashing from the van right into our first session which was with Dr. Loosen USA on riesling.  We had a moment to check in and then off to our second session on the Wines of Uruguay (which was really fascinating and delicious).

Cadaretta

Our dinner that night was at Cadaretta’s glass house.  This trip actually took us across the border into Oregon, as the Walla Walla AVA is a cross border AVA.  The views were amazing, dinner and the wines were delicious and Kris Middleton of Cadaretta was kind enough to take some time to speak with us.  (Yeah…more on that later)

And the conference begins!

The conference…well it’s really fast paced.  The Conference Opening ran right into the Introduction to the Walla Walla Valley (and more stories to come from the 4 women winemakers from name the winemakers with links to wineries who introduced us to the region), then a session on Wine Bloggers vs Wine Influencers which took us into lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country

Agenda Board for Wine Writers Conference

Agenda Board for Wine Writers Conference

Michael and I then split, Michael did a wine discovery session with Rias Baixas and I did one with Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC.  We met up again for the Keynote speaker and then went right into Live Red Wine Blogging.  What is Live Red Wine Blogging you ask?  It’s like speed dating for wine tasting and it’s chaos. You will get the rundown on that later or feel free to jump onto twitter and check out my notes that I did as we went along, the red tasting starts here.

Mystery Dinner

This is by far my favorite part of the conference, you get a colored tag at the top of the conference that is matched up to a group.  You all get in vans, buses, cars, limos….and they drive you somewhere.  You don’t know where you are going until you arrive.  We arrived at Doubleback Winery and were treated to an amazing dinner by Andrae’s Kitchen with wines from Doubleback Winery and Sleight of Hand Cellars. The winemakers joined us and spoke (we sat with Trey Busch winemaker for Sleight of Hand).  The atmosphere, food, wine and company were wonderful.

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Parties…

The conference is full of post evening parties, some sponsored by wineries, some just gatherings.  I attended one with Fullerton Wines (thanks Matt) and then another wine filled spectacle by the Drunken Cyclist where everyone brought a bottle to share.

Fullerton Pinot Noir

Fullerton Pinot Noir (they also have another brand called Three Otters)

Conference Day 2

The second day of the conference kicked off with the announcement of next years conference which will be held in New South Wales Australia!  Followed by breakout session on writing, media, video etc…

Lunch in Walla Walla

Lunch this day was sponsored by Visit Walla Walla and you signed up for lunch in a downtown tasting room.  We visited Gard Vintners where we sampled wines, enjoyed a box lunch as well as grapes from the vineyard and apples from the property.

Bubbles or Bodegas

Michael and I split up again, he attended a session with Bodegas LAN of Rioja and I did a tasting a pairing session with Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life, who I had an opportunity to chat with as I sat next to her the previous evening at dinner.  She set up a pairing seminar with Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines.  Informative, beautiful and delicious, this was a great way to spend an afternoon.

Cheese Please!

When you think of wine, you can’t help but also think of cheese!  Cheeses of Europe gets this and sponsored a session of cheese pairings hosted by the Cheese Twins Michael and Charlie Kalish (you might know them from Chopped or The Great Foodtruck Race.  Entertained and full of cheese we had a break before Lightning Talks and the Live White and Rosé tasting.

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The evening ended with the final dinner, where we met two winemakers Chris Loeliger of Truth Teller Winery and Tim Armstrong of Armstrong Family Winery .  And yes, we look forward to followup conversations with both of these gentlemen and bringing you the stories of their wineries.

The Gorge

We had also set up for a post conference excursion through the Columbia Gorge.  (This is where Michael parking at the Portland Airport comes in).  We traveled to the Columbia Gorge, stopping on the Eastern end at Maryhill Winery where Cassie and Amie had us all set up for a tour, tasting and lunch.  The views here are tremendous and we were really spoiled with the in-depth tour.  We will have plenty of video to share with you on this behind the scenes look.

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After Maryhill were driven west and south to the Oregon side of this AVA for a tasting, tour and dinner at Cathedral Ridge Winery.  This place has spectacular views of Mt. Hood.  We met owner Rob Bell (hmm…is he any relation to me?)

Finally they drove us back to Portland.  Where we picked up “Nuit” our plug-in hybrid Kia Niro and we were off to spend an evening luxuriating at the Hotel Monaco downtown.

The Adventure home

Our adventure continued!  We were up early to head to Voodoo Donuts!

The Oregon Coast and Applegate Valley

Then hit the road to the Oregon Coast.  It was foggy, but we could hear the ocean and explored some lovely seaside towns.

We drove the coast for a bit then headed inland to the Applegate Valley, hoping to catch some vineyard shots before sunset.  While we didn’t catch much, it was quickly made up for by the fabulous YURT we had booked!  Sunset View Yurt is amazing, great views, terrific people, a modern Victrola and a beautiful collection of music. We enjoyed a bottle of Johan Drueskall Pinot Gris which is an orange wine.  We packed this with us especially to enjoy on this evening, giggling over our Johan in a YURT and then soaked in the hot tub under the stars (well, clouds, but it was lovely anyway!).

The Redwoods

Our hosts Kathleen and Richard gave us tips on sites in the Redwoods and we headed southwest again to Jedediah Smith Park to visit the Stout Grove.  Redwood groves are sacred sites, it’s like walking in a Cathedral.  I really think they are Ents (any Tolkien fans out there?). Being among them you are forced to slow down. Their size and age put the universe into a bit better perspective.  After soaking up loads of energy here, we continued to the California Coast where the sun was out!  We traveled a bit of the coast, then back through the Redwood Forest and then finally to the freeway to get to Sacramento for our final evening of our trip.

Redwoods

Redwoods

Tahoe and the drive home

Our last morning had us up before dawn and heading to Lake Tahoe, soaking in the scenery and then on through the outskirts of Yosemite to Mono Lake, through park territory there and finally out into the desert and home to Las Vegas.

It was an epic trip and I can’t wait to get into all the details with you!

We did a little Primer on the area before we left, so feel free to dive into Washington Wines and beyond with #WBC18

So join us back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  as we continue sharing our amazing trip into Washington Wines and more!  And don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Disclaimer:  Michael and I attended the WBC (Wine Bloggers Conference) as Citizen Bloggers at a discounted rate.  All opinions on the conference and related events are my own.