Seth Kitzke on Kitzke Cellars, Upsidedown Wine and so much more.

Kitzke Cellars Tasting Room Candy Mountain AVA

After checking out the Syrah out back, Seth walked us to the vines out front.  Here you walk between 2 vineyards, Kitzke‘s Candy Ridge vineyard and their neighbor Jim’s vineyard.  (You can read our previous piece in the back block here.)

Boulders the size of VW buses!

Out front is where Jim’s old vine stuff is as well as a bit of geological history.  Seth takes me to a spot where we can see a large piece of granite poking up through the ground.  Jim found it while he was planting the vineyard and thought he would pull it out.  As he started digging he realized it was bigger than he thought, approximately as big as a VW bus!  So…he covered it back up. This large boulder was likely part of the Missoula Flood that rolled through the Columbia Valley at the end of the last ice age.  With all that debris being swept down by the floods Seth says “Who knows what’s really under here?”  He’s found decomposed granite before.  It’s not common in Washington, it’s random, brought in by the floods. This boulder is chipped on the top.  From the mower Seth tells me. 

a large boulder just off of Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard in Jim's yard
Boulders the size of VW Buses

Jim’s old vines

The Boulder sits next to a block of chardonnay that he believes is close to 30 years old. 

Jim also has cabernet sauvignon & merlot.  Seth says they get about 2 barrels of the old vine cab and one of the merlot.  Jim originally planted these just to make wine for himself.  He now sells to at home wine makers in smaller quantities.  He’s been known to even crush the grapes and ship them to Portland for clients.

Cab Franc Pet Nat

We talk about the cab franc on the lawn.  These plants get more water than the rest, due to the proximity to the lawn sprinklers.  So Seth decided to make a Pet Nat from them.  Pet Nat is short for petillant naturel, a light sparkling wine that has become popular (it’s a favorite of mine). It’s made by bottling the wine while it’s fermenting to capture the carbon dioxide, giving it a bit of effervescence.

Cab Franc on the lawn at Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard
Cab Franc on the lawn at Kitzke’s Candy Ridge Vineyard

“I don’t want it (the cab franc) to go to waste just ‘cause it gets too much extra water.  When I was looking at the acids, the pH was low. It actually worked out pretty perfect for it.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

They pick early and don’t thin this as much, so they get a heavier crop.  He found the pH was low so that seemed perfect.  He says it can be hard to get exact numbers on it, but he shoots for 21 to 22 brix.

Tasting with Seth Kitzke and more

Tasting with Seth Kitzke at Kitzke Cellars Candy Ridge Vineayard Washington
Tasting with Seth Kitzke at Kitzke Cellars

We did a tasting of both Kitzke wines and Upsidedown wines.  Everything they do, with the exception of their Method Red is vineyard designate.  The Method Red is a blend of cabernet, nebbiolo and either sangiovese or Malbec depending on the year.

Rescue rosé

  • Upsidedown Wines Rescue Rosé
  • Rescue Rosé notes fro Upsidedown Wine

We begin with discussing the Rescue Rosé which at this point is the only rosé of nebbiolo in Washington.  This is 100% nebbiolo that was grown specifically for this rosé. They crop at a higher tonnage.  Seth says they do the opposite of what they do with cabernet sauvignon.  Here they water during fruit set, trying to get bigger clusters and bigger berries.  More and larger clusters with more acidity is what they want, and they want to slow down the sugar accumulation.  This is whole cluster direct press, no skin contact and Seth cuts off the press when he feels it’s starting to be too astringent.  He notes that nebbiolo has thin skins, but those skins have quite a bit of tannin.  His wine making technique is low intervention so he does not use bentonite for stabilization or fining agents which would pull out some of the astringency.

Color and thin skins in Rosé

It seems strange that thinner skins often give more color.  “If you do something like a cab franc that has thicker skins…like Michael Savage, he does a cab franc he does a direct press and it has very little  but it has thicker skins”. With nebbiolo, the skins are so thin that it really leeches out the color.

Savage Grace Blanc Franc with Ranier cherries at Red Willow

Here is one of those wonderful coincidences in the universe.  This wine he was speaking of was Savage Grace Blanc Franc, which we actually tasted later that day, thanks to Jonathan and Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard, we sipped this white cab franc at the Chapel with fresh Rainier cherries, watching sunset…

Seth is looking to make in a Provenće style rosé.  To create that big luscious mouthfeel with fruit, but keeping it dry, they do lots of lees aging in stainless.

Why is it called Rescue Rosé?

At Upsidedown Wines they work with a different non-profit with each wine through their Give Back program.  For the Rescue Rosé they work with the Humane Society.

The Syrah (artist series)

2016 Artist Series Syrah from Upsidedown Wine
2016 Artist Series Syrah from Upsidedown Wine

Seth poured us a syrah, and warned us that it would need to open up.  In fact, he swears that this syrah is best on day 3 after having been opened.  That’s when it really comes into it’s own.  This is from that east/west block of syrah in the back, closest to Candy Ridge.  100% syrah, they did 50% whole cluster in the 2016 vintage.  Since then they have opted for 100% whole cluster.  It’s neutral oak large format when possible, with lots of lees aging to create a style that feels like Northern Rhône to him. 

He loves the sense of garrigue and crunchy red fruit of the Northern Rhône.  Seth finds (similar to what we heard about cab sav from Justin Neufeld) that in Washington people are worried about picking early and getting too vegetal a flavor.)  They pick this earlier and end up with a syrah that sits at 13.3%. 

Oak, but not by choice

They have been integrating some new oak, not really out of choice.  He is trying to switch over to 500 liter puncheons and you don’t find those available used.  Those puncheons will just have to age and become neutral in his cellar over time. 

The syrah was really elegant.  Seth says if you pick early you get this coffee/smoky side that is really interesting.  He’s not sure what to attribute that too.  The spot where this block is, used to be where the neighbors orchard was and nearby was a big gravel pit.  The soil there almost looks like asphalt, like black gravel that has been conglomerated. 

Cab franc & labels

  • 2016 Kitzke Candy Ridge Vineyard Cab Franc
  • Back label of the Kitzke bottle.

The cab franc has a great back label with lots of details.  They use it on all of their Kitzke wines now.  It actually shows you what pH the fruit was picked at. This wine was 92% cabermet franc.  Typically it’s close to 100%. 

This cabernet franc also has the Candy Mountain label.  With the AVA on it’s way, he wanted to showcase where this sense of place in a timeless way. 

The labels at Upsidedown Wine are a bit more fun.  The artist series switches each year and they even play with bottle shapes.

This cab franc is one of Seth’s favorite wines from this vineyard.  It has good acid, a very cab franc feel, but a rich mouthfeel with the fruit.  Seth finds it hard to get the balance in Washington.  He finds some Red Mountain cab francs to be big, grainy and really rich, without the green bell pepper spice that he loves in a cab franc. He notes also that at the really cold sites the cab franc gets too thing and the green pepper then just dominates.  Getting the balance between these two versions can be tough.

’13 Monte

He pours for us the 2013 Monte Caramelle, which had been opened the day before.  It is 66% sangiovese, 18% cabernet sauvignon and 16% syrah.  It’s not a blend they do every year.  This is their Super Tuscan style wine.  Monte Caramelle, is Candy Mountain in Italian.  This vintage was made by Charlie Hoppes from Fidelitas Winery.  Seth worked with him to make the Kitzke wines in 2013 & 14 and then in 2015, Seth started to take the reins and adjust the wines more to his own style.  The 2013 is inoculated and has a shorter fermentation period.  With all of Seth’s wines now they are native yeast and 6-7 days to start fermenting with a slower cooler fermentation.

Hood River

We get talking about other things.  Seth has a busy week scheduled and is sad he couldn’t meet us in the Upsidedown tasting room in Hood River.  I ask him how they ended up there.

“I love Hood River.  I lived on Mt. Hood for a while 3 or 4 summers teaching snowboarding after highschool.  I used to do the…I was a semi-professional snowboarder. I’d teach and work at the summer camp there in the summers and then winters I’d take off from college and go film videos. So Mt. Hood and Hood Rivers always been a spot for me.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Seth looks at Hood River as a gateway to Washington Wine.  Yes….it’s on the Oregon side, but people fly to Portland and head out to the gorge and that’s where the vineyards start.  The Columbia Gorge AVA straddles the state line including both Washington and Oregon.

The Kitzke Tasting Room

For the Kitzke tasting room they wanted to be on the vineyard.

“we want to be able to walk you through the vineyard, we want you to come in the fall, you can taste a sangiovese grape you can taste the grapes and taste the wines and see the similarities side by side.  That’s more of our style, cause we’re growers at heart.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The benefits to making your wine near the vineyard

Seth lived in Seattle and didn’t want to do the Woodinville thing.  He had grown up around the grapes and wanted to be close.  He did his 2016 vintage in Seattle “everyday that the truck would bring the grapes was my favorite part.  Unloading the trucks you smelled all the fresh cut vines, the dirt…everything.  So you kind of felt like you were in the vineyard for a second.”

The downfalls to being so far from the vineyard…you schedule picks 6-7 days in advance and you don’t get to taste the grapes as often as you would like.  Picking from the numbers doesn’t always work. 

“if you would have picked off of just pH and sugars, in ’15, your wines would have been harsh and astringent and vegetal, because stuff would be 25 or 26 brix, but it would taste bad, the berries were not developed yet.  It was so hot, a lot of people were picking at the end of August.  If you are not there, tasting that, you don’t know that.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

On growing in the Gorge and natural vegetation

In the Gorge, it’s a cooler area, consistently windy and of course rainier.  He notes that it is so much easier for people to be biodynamic and organic there because with the wind they have less mildew pressure.  This year at Kitzke they had to do sulfur sprays every 10 days.  They don’t use herbicides, as they are trying to get the natural vegetation to return.

“In our other vineyard you are really seeing it. We are starting to see a lot of sage and yarrow and stuff starting to grow back in the vineyard.  I feel like even last year you could get a little more of that in the wine versus clean under rows and vineyard, planted by vineyard, planted by vineyard without any of that natural vegetation carrying through the vineyards.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

He notes people finding more aromatics in the wines depending on the local vegetation.  Like the garrigue you get in wines from southern France.

More to Come…

We did speak to Seth more about a grenache he is making from the WeatherEye vineyard on Red Mountain.  This is a fascinating project, more on that soon.

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

A Vineyard walk on Candy Ridge with Seth Kitzke

Candy Mountain as seen from Kitzke's Candy Ridge Vineyard

It was July 2019 and we were on summer whirlwind trip called #thescenicroute.  We had come from the beautiful Columbia Gorge region and were meeting Seth Kitzke at Candy Ridge Vineyard at Candy Mountain.

We pulled in and up to the Kitzke Cellars tasting room, on a Monday. Their tasting room is only typically open on the weekends, so we pulled up to a very confused looking gentleman.  This was Paul Kitzke, owner of the estate and winery and Seth’s dad.  Seth had evidently not mentioned us coming and Paul was surprised to see people at the tasting room so early, not to mention with camera and recording gear.  After a quick explanation, he warmed and looked to invite us in just as Seth pulled up. 

Seth’s tasting room for his own brand Upsidedown Wine is in Hood River, where we had just been, but he was coming from a meeting somewhere else this particular morning.  He had managed to squeeze us in to the middle of his day.

So where exactly are we?

Well, we are in the east end of the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. The area is near the Tri-Cities close to the city of Richland. Candy Mountain is just South East of Red Mountain the fairly famous Yakima Valley AVA that is winning high praise for it’s grapes and wine. 

Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with Candy Mountain AVA
Washington AVA Map Courtesy of Washington State, with the area of the Proposed Candy Mountain AVA penciled in.

We started in the vineyard with Candy Mountain in the background.  The view is the same as the view on the sketch on their labels. The first thing I wanted to know about was the proposed AVA.

Candy Mountain AVA (Proposed)

You know we get into proposed AVAs, we’ve talked about the proposed AVAs in the Willamette Valley and I was really curious about the proposed Candy Mountain AVA.  When approved, it will be Washington’s smallest AVA at around 820 acres.  Seth told us it’s been submitted and approved on the Washington State side and now they are just waiting on the Federal stuff.  The application was “Accepted as Perfected” on January 24, 2017. As of the date of this piece, the time for public comment had closed and it was just waiting.  Likely it will be waiting a bit longer with everything slowing down right now.  It’s a little confusing.  I went to the TTB page and they are no longer listed on the “Pending approval” page, but they are also not listed on the “Established AVA” page.  So they are sitting in limbo in between.  As Seth put it “It’s sitting on someone’s desk somewhere in a stack waiting to get stamped.”

Details on the proposed AVA

The thing is, that this AVA which would be nested in the Yakima Valley AVA spills a little over the edge and they would need to expand the Yakima Valley AVA by 72 acres to adjust the overlap.  *Update! My understanding is that the adjustment to the Yakima Valley AVA is complete.

The AVA is on the the southwestern slopes of Candy Mountain.  Seth mentioned that the slopes here are south facing due to the the way the ridge and Mountain are oriented.  Red Mountain AVA with it’s much larger 4040 acres, wraps around Red Mountain with vineyards Southeast facing, south facing and wrapping around to some that are south west and west facing also. 

“…Candy Mountain doesn’t really have that option. It’s pretty much all directly south.  You might have a tiny bit of southeast and southwest..”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

 Seth studied sustainability and tourism before getting into wine and like preserving ridge lines and views.  He mentions that a hiking group that used to do “hike, wine & dine” events bought up the land that goes up to the ridge so that the views won’t ever get obstructed with a bunch of houses.

Candy Ridge Vineyard

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

The Candy Ridge Vineyard is the Estate Vineyard for Kitzke Cellars.  They have another vineyard, the Dead Poplar Vineyard which is in the lower Yakima Valley directly across from (but not in) the Red Mountain AVA.

Here at the Candy Ridge Vineyard they are mostly growing Bordeaux varieties, Cab Franc, Cab Sav, Petit Verdot and then some Syrah in the back and some Sangiovese out front. 

“The sangio is kind of an anomaly here.  It’s all east facing all lyre style trained stuff, like a double cordon that comes up and splits, a lot more shade.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Their neighbor Jim, is kind of the reason Seth’s parents started growing grapes.  He has Merlot that was planted in 1982 as well as some other varieties that they get some of.  Seth says that he is really the pioneer of Candy Mountain.

Cabernet Franc and Caliche soil

We walk into the vineyard and Seth points out Cab Franc that was planted in 2008.  

Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard
Cab Franc by the Lawn at Candy Ridge Vineyard

“We kinda added as the wines proved themselves. My parents started gobbling up a little more of the square footage of the area, planting more rows…basically the yard was big and they were like “hey let’s plant some more cab franc.””

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

The cons of caliche soil

Previously all the cab franc was east facing out front and the back was just Petit Verdot and Cab Sav.  But just because they had the space didn’t mean it would be easy.  The front is rocky with floating basalt in the loam.  In the back…well

“My dad called me a wuss, because I couldn’t dig the poles when we got up here.  The caliche layer is like calcium carbonate, a really hard layer, like natural cement.  He ended up bringing in our backhoe.  When we had the backhoe in here it broke 2 teeth off the metal bucket on the backhoe.  It shows you how hard this stuff really is.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019
Caliche comparison at Kitzke Cellars
In the lower hand basalt, in the upper caliche. The caliche, while really hard, is so much lighter.

But there are also pros…

The caliche though, has is pluses.  The berries on the cab franc in the back are tiny little stressed berries, where as the ones in the front get a little more size on them.  Stress berries equal tasty wine typically.  The Cab franc in the back has more shatter and natural stress from the caliche layer.  But caliche is also porous.  They had a foot of snow as late as early March in 2019.  Where as with basalt the moisture would evaporate, the caliche layer locks the moisture in and holds it.  In early July when we were there it was the first time they had turned on the water this season. They were trying to get the canopies to shut down and focus on fruit.  You can see in the video that the canopies were kinda going a little crazy.

Petit Verdot and new training systems

We moved on to the Petit Verdot.  Seth was getting ready to implement a new training system. 

“So you can see we are leaving some of the suckers low this year.  This stuff is all around 20 years old and you are getting older and older wood on the cordon.  So to preserve the vineyard and make it healthier longer I’m going to slowly start switching to can pruning, lower that way there are less cuts, less possibility for disease, or at least that’s what they say.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

This system keeps fresh wood which encourages sap flow.  Vines produce less as they get older. Seth wants to keep these elderly vines as happy as he can.  At 20 years old they only do one color pass at veraison.  The vines tend to regulate themselves keeping to 3 to 3.5 tons per acre.  3 tons is Seth’s sweet spot for quality.

How to manage Syrah planted East/West

We walk back to the Syrah in the back.  This is trained differently.  When his parents first put these vines in they were not really thinking from a wine making standpoint.  This part of the vineyard is all trained east/west.  That sounds crazy to anyone who knows much about planting vineyards.  You typically run north/south to get the best of the sunlight.  Here with the east/west vines, you get sun on one side of the vine all day.  So, what do they do? 

“We’ll hang more fruit on the shady side, less on the sun side.”

Seth Kitzke, July 2019

Seth notes that in hot areas in Washington, syrah can get rich, ripe, jammy and high in alcohol.  He wants to taste the terroir, not just the fruit.  So they pick separately the sunny side and the shady side, with again, more fruit on the shady side.  This allows them to really keep the alcohol down.  We later tried a syrah in the tasting room that Seth said was picked at 23 brix and came out at 13.3% abv.  Still it was phenolically ripe with time to develop without the sugar spiking. Rather than pulling out this vineyard, they found a way to work with it that really works for them.

More to come!

Stick with us.  We spent a ton of time talking with Seth out in the front vineyard and then in the tasting room where we tasted through Kitzke wines and Upsidedown Wines and talked about all sorts of interesting stuff.  You can read about that here. One thing we spoke about was the Grenache that Seth was getting from the WeatherEye Vineyard up on Red Mountain.  More on that soon.

In the meantime, some links…

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

How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.

I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.

Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!

The Quiet Time

My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.

Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.

The Scenic Route

We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.

Studying

Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.

So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.

12 Days of Wine

Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.

Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

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

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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