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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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.

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