The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 3 – Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley

Red Willow Vineyard In Yakima Washington from Within the Chapel

Day 4 – On to Washington Wine

Newburg OR to Bridal Veil, to Syncline Winery
Newburg OR to Bridal Veil, to Syncline Winery

We stayed in Newberg in the Willamette Valley on the night of our third day. Sadly while this area is heaven for wine, we did nothing but sleep. But sleeping here got us closer to our morning stop, the Columbia Gorge. It would also put us closer to the goal for the day, Washington Wine.

The hotel was silent as we quietly packed the care and headed out. I wanted to take in at least one waterfall on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. It was relatively quiet as we made our way through Portland pre-morning traffic and drove into the Gorge in the early morning hours. After a quick look at the map, I chose Bridal Veil Falls as our morning stop.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls base in Oregon
Bridal Veil Falls

We arrived at 6:30 am and had the place mostly to ourselves. A quick hike to look out over the gorge rewarded us with vista views as the morning light started to dawn. The moisture in the air with the green trees felt lush and alive. We hiked down to the falls, on the steep switch back trail and spent some time just soaking in the woods, the water and the spectacular falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

After this bit of peace and tranquility, it was back on the road. Our morning appointment was with James at Syncline, a winery located on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Traffic was a little busier as we crossed the gorge at White Salmon on the Hood River Bridge and got on Route 14. This was a big change from Route 84 on the Oregon side. Route 84 is low in the Gorge, running just above the river, you are blanketed in trees with views upon occasion. You find yourself looking up at the trees and cliffs. Route 14 is higher and the views are expansive.

We were also starting to see the landscape change, from lush evergreen forest to a more arid landscape.

Columbia Gorge AVA

The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004. It sits 60 miles east of Portland and straddles the Columbia River Gorge including both Oregon and Washington. We will be back later to explore Hiyu on the Oregon side, but today we were heading to Syncline on the Washington side.

View of Mt. Hood from Syncline Vineyard in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
View of Mt. Hood from Syncline

Syncline – into Washington Wine

At Rowland Lake we turned left to get on Old Hwy 8 and eventually turned onto Balch Road which took us into Syncline.

Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA

The front entrance is quiet and unobtrusive, with a simple elegant sign on the fence. The gate was open for us leading up a drive between the trees where you could see vineyard in the distance.

We pulled up and parked near the winery, past the house. The simple entrance felt deceiving now, as we looked at the elegant and beautiful garden with multiple small seating areas for wine tasting. We were to learn later that this garden was designed to be water smart. We found a spot to set up for our interview and were joined shortly by James Mantone, the owner/winemaker. He spoke to us on biodynamics, Shale Rock Vineyard, the climate here in this section of the Gorge and the other vineyards he sources from, before walking us up to take in the vineyard and it’s views. His Syrah has the best view of any of the grapes we have met so far.

We walked back down to the winery. Here we did a tasting through his Bloxom Vineyard Grüner, his Picpoul from Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley, the 2017 Estate Gamay and the 2017 Syrah from Boushey Vineyard. We finished our tasting with a really wonderful treat, a Sparkling Grüner that they made just for their crew. (Thank you so much for sharing this with us James!).

  • Fermentation tanks at Syncline
  • Syncline Winery
  • Syncline Picpoul boushey Vineyard
  • Syncline Estate Gamay 2017
  • Syncline Gruner Veltliner 2018

Again it was hard to pull ourselves away, but we headed out, this time driving on to the East end of the Yakima Valley.

The Columbia Gorge to Yakima

Back in the car we headed further east on 14. We stopped to take in the expansive views of the gorge from time to time, watching the the landscape transition from lush and green with steep cliffs to more arid and brown with rolling hills and wind farms.

Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Leaving Syncline, we left the Columbia Gorge AVA and stepped into the Columbia Valley AVA. This AVA covers almost all of the wine growing regions in the state of Washington, with the exception of the Columbia Gorge AVA, Puget Sound AVA and Lewis and Clark AVA. As we drove further along 14 and then turned north on Rt 221, we were driving through the center of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This AVA sits between the Yakima Valley and the Columbia Gorge. We didn’t stop at a winery here, but we tasted plenty of Horse Heaven Hills wines. The area has almost 30 vineyards, but only 5 tasting rooms. Washington State is the 2nd largest producer of premium wines in the United States and this AVA is home to some of the largest wine producers (think Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle).

Yakima Valley AVA

We ended up on the east end of the Yakima Valley. Trust me, you will be hearing alot more about the Yakima Valley AVA from us. This AVA contains 3 nested AVAs, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and Red Mountain AVA. Today however, we were headed to just east of the Red Mountain AVA, to visit Kitzke Cellars and speak with Seth Kitzke.

Kitzke Cellars

Kitzke Cellars on Candy Ridge in the Yakima Valley AVA
Kitzke Cellars Candy Ridge Vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA

As we pulled up passed the houses to the tasting room (which feels like it’s in a neighborhood), were greeted by Paul Kitzke, the owner and founder of Kitzke Cellars. He’s also Seth’s Dad and since we had just been in touch with Seth…it was news to him when we arrived cameras in hand. Seth was on his way in from another appointment and arrived shortly. In the meantime, we were warmly welcomed and brought in to the tasting room, out of the heat.

Seth Kitzke & I walking Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Seth Kitzke & I walking Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

We walked the estate vineyard with Seth and talked viticulture, soils and all kinds of geeky wine stuff. I could have spent all day chatting with Seth on all things wine. They are located right next to Candy Mountain, which is just south of Red Mountain. The process for Candy Mountain to become an AVA is almost ready for approval. The Proposed Rule is published and now has a 60 day period for comment.

Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

I pulled up a bit from the Kitzke blog about their Candy Ridge Vineyard…

Candy Ridge Vineyard may look like a backyard project on Candy Mountain in Richland Washington but (it’s) what’s right underneath your feet that makes it stand apart. Candy Ridge is built on a very small alluvial fan that was made when the Missoula Floods flowed right between Candy Mountain and Badger Mountain into Richland. Depositing large amounts of gravel, basalt, caliche, and granite in our soils. It is such a small area with expressive unique terroir that showcases depth and subtleties that aren’t overpowered by tannin.

Kitzke Cellars http://www.kitzkecellars.com/news/

As we walked the vineyard we talked about the caliche in the soil (more fascinating stuff to come).

Upsidedown Wine

Seth is also the winemaker for Upsidedown Wine, where he makes wines from all over Washington State striving to create wines with a true sense of place. They also give back with 20% of their net profits going to the charitable organizations they are partnered with.

Now we were off to the other end of the Yakima Valley for an sunset shoot at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.

Red Willow Vineyard

The Chapel on the Chapel block at Red Willow Vineyard
The Chapel on the Chapel block at Red Willow Vineyard

Red Willow Vineyard is on the Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA, outside of Wapato. The address is Wapato, but it’s about 20 minutes due west of the town. These are long straight roads in a region that is all agriculture. We drove looking at Mt. Adams, whose base began to disappear behind the foothills as you get closer.

When we arrived at Red Willow we were warmly greeted by Jonathan Sauer as he waved goodnight to the vineyard crew, who were on their way home. Jonathan had graciously offered to let us shoot sunset on their vineyard near the Chapel Block, where their stone Chapel marks the skyline at the top of the hill.

He put us on the golf cart and we headed out into the vineyards past rows tagged with names familiar in this valley, Owen Roe, Betz, DeLille, Savage Grace… We stopped to look at the soil strata in a cutout section of the vineyard and he pointed out blocks and the notable items in the landscape. At one point we heard an ATV coming and his father Mike Sauer pulled up to join us. After a chat we continued to the top of the hill by the Chapel. We pulled a picnic table into the shade to sit and chat while Michael set up cameras for sunset. (You will get to enjoy our full interview with Mike and Jonathan later).

A little history of Red Willow Vineyard

There is so much history here. One of the oldest vineyards in the state and the furthest west vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA, Mike Sauer started planting the Red Willow Vineyard in 1971. The beginnings of this vineyard were tied to Mike Sauer’s relationship with Dr. Walter Clore, who is known as the “Father of Washington Wine”, as well as with David Lake the head winemaker at Columbia Winery. (that’s alot of Washington wine history in one sentence).

I spent sunset watching the birds swooping down to catch bugs, listening while Mike and Jonathan shared stories of the history of this vineyard. We watched the sun set with this spectacular view from the Chapel over a unique bottle of Blanc de Cab Franc by Savage Grace and a bag of fresh Rainier cherries. I promise, I’ll share these stories with you later.

My heart kinda wanted to burst at such a glorious end to an amazing day. The Sauers are such wonderful generous people, it was a joy and honor to share an evening with them. We rode off into the sunset, in a small cloud of dust down the farm roads, full from a great day and ready for some sleep. It would be an early morning tomorrow, with a sunrise shoot at Wilridge Vineyard in Naches Heights AVA. Stick with us. We are just getting started!

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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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