The Van Duzer Corridor… it’s the newest AVA in the Willamette Valley and it is also home to one of our favorite wineries Johan. We stopped last year and spent an hour or so with Jack Tregenza in the tasting room and were looking forward to getting back for a more in depth conversation.
Van Duzer Corridor AVA
There is a drop in the Coastal Range of Mountains, creating a Corridor where the cool air from the ocean can come inland. That is the Van Duzer Corridor. Highway 22 takes you out through this river valley all the way to Lincoln City at the ocean ( a drive we would take later that day).
The warm air in the valley pulls in the cooling breezes at night. That diurnal shift (warm days, cool nights) especially as the vineyards close in on harvest, help keep some acid in the wines as they ripen.
Dag Johan Sundby is from Norway. He came to the Willamette valley with his family to establish this winery and vineyard in Rickreall Oregon. The winemaker here is Dan Rinke. Jack…well Jack is indeed a Jack of all trades, assisting in the vineyard, the winery and managing the tasting room, at least, lucky for us on the day we stopped by. He is a wealth of information and is passionate about this place.
The valley is beautiful and we were out bright and early to meet with Jack. You drive into the property through the trees and come around to the winery and tasting room to overlook the vines.
We set up on the patio to talk with Jack. We covered quite a bit, including why the vineyard was biodynamic and the different certification processes.
A walk of the vineyard
After our interview we walked the vineyard and Jack showed us some of the newly grafted vines. We took in the views, talked about the blocks and the compost pile (I know, crazy that I get excited over a compost pile).
He also showed us a tree stump that they had inoculated for mushrooms.
Back to the tasting room
We returned to the tasting room for a tasting and talked about…so much!
The wines here lean toward Natural. I know that is not an official term. Let’s say many are unfined and unfiltered with minimal intervention. They have some really wonderful sparkling wines a pet nat of Melon that I am enamoured with. It is barrel fermented and hand disgorged and there are only 80 cases made.
We tasted though some beautiful Pinots, talked about bottle closures, wine pod cast, the use of argon…and so much more. Really I could have spent all day talking with Jack, but…he had other things to do and we were off to drive through that Van Duzer Corridor for a little Ocean therapy.
Applegate Valley AVA
The next day saw us up really early to make the drive south back to the Applegate Valley to visit with Herb Quady of Quady North.
I first heard Herb Quady’s name when I was talking with Leah Jorgensen about her Blanc de Cab Franc. She sources her Cab Franc from Herb and spoke really highly of him. As we were going to be in the area, I knew I wanted to speak with him. He was kind enough to meet us out at the vineyard.
We sat on the patio, by the house, the dog curled up under our feet at the table and talked about the vineyard and the varieties he is growing in Mae’s (the first vineyard) and Evie’s the newer vineyard. Both vineyards are named after his daughters.
We finished with a vineyard walk. Again, vines with views. The dogs ran around us chasing rabbits and we got in some good cardio (Herb’s a fast walker). Herb headed off to his day and we headed to Jacksonville to visit the tasting room.
The Quady North Tasting room in Jacksonville
Sarah met us in the tasting room and took us through an incredible line up of wines. Some are block specific, like the Ox Block Viognier, which we had just walked earlier that morning. Others like the Pistoleta are blends. The Pistoleta is a Rhône white blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne & Grenach Blanc.
They also do some canned wines! Their Rose comes in a 3 pack. A Southern Rhône style blend, it’s led by Grenache at 55%, then 39% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 2% Vermentino and a splash 1% Counoise. Canned wine is accessible and rosé is the kind of wine you want accessible in the summer. They have a canning truck that comes by (just like a bottling truck) to package this.
There’s lots more to tell, but you will get the full scoop later. This was the last of our wine stops. From here, we headed south to Yosemite for a little nature meditation before returning to the desert.
Watch for future posts with our in depth interviews with both Jack and Herb!
Our time in Washington was nearing it’s end. Morning had us traveling from Walla Walla west to the Yakima Valley once again to visit with Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville. We met her for an interview at their tasting room in Sunnyside.
Driving through the small town of Sunnyside you come upon a quaint restored building that was previously a train station. When Hugh and Kathy Shiels moved to the area, Hugh set up practice as an orthopedic surgeon. The renovated Train Station was his office for many years. It has now become their beautiful tasting room.
Kerry is a wealth of information on the area and the science behind the vineyard and wine making. Kerry has an engineering degree, which she put to use with Fiat in Italy, before returning to get a degree in Viticulture and Enology and then taking over as winemaker. She is smart and intense, a woman who made her way in the male dominated engineering field.
We headed to their DuBrul vineyard before things warmed up too much. The drive up to the top was a little sketchy for our Kia hybrid, but we made it. The mountains were both out (Mt Adams and Mt. Ranier) as we reached the top of the vineyard to walk through the vines.
Own rooted vines
We talked about the aspect of this vineyard, which allows them to grow so many varieties well and discussed the difference with own rooted vines.
“It’s like reading Tolstoy in Russian”.
Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville and DuBrul Vineyard
This is certain to be a topic we hear more about and lamented over as phyloxera has been found in Washington and precautions will need to be taken. I will tell you that I find the difference in the character of the wines from own rooted stock undeniable and wonderful.
You can look forward to hearing much of our conversation in future posts. It was really a fascinating morning.
Co Dinn Cellars
We made a stop to visit Co at his tasting room at Co Dinn Cellars. Co also has a renovated historic building in Sunnyside. His winery and tasting room are in the old Water Works. It’s a gorgeous space.
He showed us around and took us through a tasting. We also had an amazing conversation on closures…more on that later.
We headed back to the Gorge and through Hood River then off to Hiyu on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge AVA.
Hiyu Wine Farm
Go to the website…the water colors will enchant you. I was sucked in immediately and knew that I needed to visit this place.
Hiyu is 30 acres of wine farm. There is a sense of wildness here. Nate Ready, a Master Sommelier and China Tresemer fell in love with the beauty of this region. This place is undeniably stunning, with it’s glorious views of Mt. Hood.
The idea didn’t begin with wine. They really wanted to cultivate a lifestyle. From 7 acres in 2010 it expanded to take in another 20 acres in 2015.
We arrived a bit early, and walked in to see if it was okay if we explored the property. There was a bit of chaos happening, the goats had just escaped and there was some scurrying to round them up.
Community within the staff
The farm has a staff that includes a handful of interns. Duties rotate weekly, so everyone gets to do each of the jobs. This insures that no one takes for granted the job someone else is doing. It has a little 60’s 70’s nostalgia feel to me. A little feel of a hippy commune, and I’m down for that.
The garden in front of the tasting room is an edible food forest. You will find Goji berries and rock herbs here seasonally. We headed up the hill to the garden. Wild and overgrown, the things that were complete for the season were taking their natural course, going to seed to prepare for the next season. There are flowers and herbs, annuals and perennials, artichokes, favas and cardoons.
From here we walked the vineyard and then up to the hill where the view of Mt. Hood is simply breath taking. Winter to spring the cows, pigs and chickens wander through the vines, grazing and fertilizing. There is an acre of pear trees left. They have a green house and make compost on site.
Falcon boxes protect the vineyard. And they have grafted field blends. They don’t hedge the vines here, allowing them to be a little more wild, and do just 1 pass with a scythe. Cinnamon is used to prevent powdery mildew.
Livestock & Animals
There are cows and guinea fowl. A 100 year old irrigation ditch feeds the pasture and gardens. We wound down by the pond and visited with the ducks and came around to the goats. Phoebe the matriarch stood on the fender of the horse trailer. They were fiesty, but contained once more.
There are hawthorn trees and over by the house there are currants. I was reminded of days as a child on mountain farms in West Virginia. Life is allowed to thrive and be wild and perhaps a bit messy.
The day ended with spectacular views of Mt. Hood. We leave you hear with a bit of spectacular nature.
It was a quiet morning as we drove south of Walla Walla toward the Oregon border. Pulling off Peppers Bridge Road into an area with several large wineries, we headed to the one that stood out architecturally. This was Valdemar. Bodgas Valdemar is known in the Rioja region of Spain, and has ventured to Washington to explore making wines of place here.
Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla
Modern with clean lines the building evokes the feel of the modern architecture seen in Spain. There were few cars here at this point and we headed to what we thought was the front entrance, an immense door that stood a full story tall. Natasha let us in and we met Kaleigh Vrapi, the Valdemar Estates Hospitality Director. We were led upstairs around the stunning space as things started to open up for the day. After a stop in the tasting room, we headed out to the patio next to the fountain with a beautiful view of the Blue Mountains for our interview with Kaleigh.
The sparkling winery
After our interview, which we will share with you later, Kaleigh led us through the rest of the space in this beautiful facility. Down the open stairway that spans the full height of the space, past the antique basket press, into the barrel rooms and finally into the winery, to meet Assistant Winemaker Devyani Gupta. Devyani was awaiting the crane to install new fermentation tanks that morning. As the truck had not yet arrived, she took a few moments to show us around the sparkling facility.
Flights of Rioja & Washington
Kaleigh then led us back up to the tasting room and took us through a tasting. Tastings here are done as flights and we began with a couple of flights from Bodegas Valdemar beginning with their rosé of Garnacha & Viura, followed by their barrel fermented Viura and then into the reds, which as you would expect…are Tempranillo based.
Now it was time to move on to the Vlademar Estate Wines, which are labeled as “Component Trial” . This exploration into the wines of this region features labels are perfect for the geeky wine nerd, listing vineyards by percentage, as well as the harvest notes etc.
All of their Washington wines are Syrah. The first of these is their Blue Mountain Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley, then they have 2 from Red Mountain. The Red Mountain Syrah is a blend of syrah from Kipsun and La Coye vineyards and then they have a vineyard specific Klipsun Syrah.
This is the perfect place to come and explore wine and food pairings. Find a comfortable spot with a view, chose a flight or two, then ask your server for suggested pairings from their Tapas and Pinchos menu. They are all about hospitality here.
A stroll in Walla Walla
We headed back to Walla Walla and after a stroll, stopped in to the Cadaretta tasting room. In October with WBC18 we had been treated to an extraordinary dinner at Cadaretta’s glass house. We needed to get back and explore some more of their wines.
Cadaretta Tasting Room
In the tasting room, Greta was a friendly face! We had met her at the Glass House. She took us through a tasting and we left happily with a bottle or two.
My Dinner at Andrae’s
(Can anyone give me a shout out for that movie reference?)
Now we were ready for dinner and dinner had a plan! At our dinner at Doubleback back in October, Chef Andrae of Andrae’s Kitchen had put together a spectacular meal. Thaddeus Bugs of the Minority Wine Report had gushed about his food when we arrived and asked if we had been to the gas station? What? Well, now were were back to do just that.
Chef Andrae Bopp has a resume filled with work in restaurants like Balthazar and Le Bernardin. His current restaurant and catering business run out of the Cenex Gas Station on Rose Street in Walla Walla. His food is impeccable, but he keeps it real. Unsure of what to expect, we pulled into the Cenex, but the sign over the door let us know we were in the right place.
I stood back to peruse the chalkboard menu for a bit. It was a tough decision, but we settled on AK’s Corn Salad, Poutine and a combo of tacos. The kitchen runs like a well oiled machine. The staff are polite, attentive and obviously in love with the food they are making. We kicked back at table up front to wait while they did their magic. Chef Andrae came in while we were there to check in. We grabbed our to go order and headed back to the hotel to indulge in some deliciousness to end our day and our stay in Walla Walla.
Rest for another day…
Tomorrow we would spend a good deal of the day driving. First it would be back to Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley to meet Kerry Shiels and visit her Du Brul vineyard and a stop to see Co Dinn at his Sunnyside tasting room. Then we would drive back to the gorge through Hood River and up to Hiyu with their stunning view of Mt. Hood. We would finish our day with views of Mt. Hood as we headed back to Salem Oregon for the night. Join us for more!
After a good nights sleep, we were up early, but not too early, (not pre-dawn like the day before!) to meet Co Dinn up at Roskamp Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.
As you are driving through the Yakima Valley, Snipes Mountain is hard to miss. It bubbles up in the middle of the Valley on the south side of the highway. Snipes Mountain, named for Ben Snipes who had a cattle ranch here in the 1850’s, is it’s own AVA.
Meeting Co Dinn on Snipes Mountain
We were scheduled to meet Co Dinn of Co Dinn Cellars here early in the day. There was plenty of time, as we headed out early and followed the GPS. But the %/&*#$*&% GPS led us astray, trying to take us in the back way, where there are locked gates and dirt roads. We called Co and got back on track and eventually met him off the mountain, which gave him an opportunity to stop and show us some of the soil strata on our way up.
At the top of the mountain we visited a beautiful block of Co’s Syrah, while he filled us in on the soil and we took in the expansive views. He got pretty detailed on the soils and geology, so we will save that for our in depth interview with him later.
We also visited his Chardonnay block that looks north toward Sunnyside and across to DuBrul Vineyard. We look forward to doing a comparitive tasting of these two Chardonnays later this year.
After a great morning we looked at the clock and realized it was time to get moving. Luckily would be back this way so we scheduled to join him at his tasting room in a couple days. Now it was back on the road, we had to continue our journey east to Red Mountain.
Hedges Family Estate in the Red Mountain AVA
We drove east and passed Red Mountain to the North of the highway. The entrance to the area is on the east side of the mountain. As we were running just a bit early, we headed toward Richland to find some coffee. We found a great quaint coffee shop, with a friendly staff, good coffee and bags of cherries for sale on the counter. After a cup of joe we were back on the road to Red Mountain and to Hedges Family Estate.
The Red Mountain AVA has been getting quite a bit of press lately. The AVA is not actually the whole mountain, but the South facing slope. This is (currently) the smallest AVA in the state at 4040 acres. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah here are bold and powerful and are thought to be some of the finest examples of these varieties in the state.
Sarah Hedges Goedhart – Hedges Family Estate Winemaker
When we were deciding on a winery to visit in this region, we were drawn to the fact that Hedges Family Estate is biodynamic on their vineyard. (You know biodynamics is my jam!). We reached out and Sarah Hedges Goedhart, the winemaker for Hedges Family Estate was able to meet with us.
The property is stunning. You drive up the the beautifully landscaped French Chateau and enter another world. Sarah’s mother is French and had a great influence on the design. I could have happily spent the day reclining in the garden.
Sarah was in a meeting when we arrived, but soon joined us on the patio under the trees, next to the fountain, overlooking the vineyard. It was a pretty enchanting spot. She shared with us her story and her family’s. We dove into their going biodynamic, moving to native ferment, the old world philosophies in the vineyard and winery as well as about slowing down. Sarah has been known to play meditation and yoga music in the winery to assist fermentation. The staff looked at her skeptically at first, but they couldn’t deny the results.
Into the Tasting Room
After our interview we moved into the tasting room for a tasting with Sophia. This winery has multiple labels and the selection we tasted through was vast and included some barrel samples that Sarah brought in for us. We look forward to sharing all those details with you later.
We headed out to grab some vineyard shots and then jumped back in the car to make our way east to Walla Walla.
Walla Walla “The city so nice they named it twice”
We spent time in Walla Walla last year for WBC18, so we knew a little of the lay of the land coming in. We stopped for a really delicious lunch at the Walla Walla Bread Company. I will throw out a high recommendation here, for if you ever find yourself in this town.
Walla Walla AVA
While we spent time in Walla Walla on our last trip, we really have yet to “dig into” this AVA. The area has the highest concentration of wineries in the state. Rainfall in the valley varies, but some vineyards on the east side have the ability to dry farm, which is rare in Washington. The eastern side also gets into the foothills of the beautiful Blue Mountains.
The region is known for reds with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon dominating the plantings.
Valley Grove Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA
We had time to check into the hotel, before heading north of the city to visit Tim & Jennifer Armstrong of Armstrong Family Winery at their Valley Grove Vineyard. The drive took us through vast wheat fields, rolling as far as the eye could see. The hills rolled and sometimes you were engulfed in nothing but wheat. Eventually we came to a green patch near a creek and turned into the vineyard. The old red barn is an iconic landmark.
Tim and Jennifer met with us at a picnic table on the back patio overlooking the vineyard. We talked about their journey into wine, their Seattle winery and then walked the vineyards talking about their plans for this place.
Off to the Walla Walla Tasting Room
All too soon it was time for us to leave. They were packing up to fly out on a well needed vacation to the East Coast in the morning. We determined we had not had enough and headed downtown to their tasting room. It was jazz night, so they were open late with live music. Carl runs the tasting room and it also happened to be his birthday. We arrived early and grabbed a table in the back and watched as every table filled up. Carl did an amazing job of keeping up with the busy room.
Time to rest for the next great day
We were a little tired, so we looked for a pizza spot nearby and grabbed a pizza to go. I’ll send a shout out to Sweet Basil Pizzaria for great service and a great pie!
Off to bed to rest up. Our morning stop would be the beautiful Valdemar, followed by some time in Walla Walla and dinner at the Gas station.
What were we thinking!? A sunset shoot, followed by a sunrise shoot in Washington! Days here are longer. In July they are about 15 hrs. Sunset was 8:57 pm and sunrise is about 5:15 am. At least today we did not have a ton of driving to do.
We were up really early to get out to Wilridge Vineyard in the Naches Heights AVA before the sun. Paul Beverage, the owner, couldn’t join us that early, but was happy to give us permission to shoot on this beautiful property. We quietly pulled in. They allow camping on the property and there was an RV out front with people tucked away sleeping, as we were arriving before sunrise to set up.
Naches Heights AVA
The Naches Heights AVA was approved in 2012 and was the first Washington AVA to be completely sustainable. All 7 initial vineyards were biodynamic or LIVE certified. This AVA is in Yakima County, but sits outside (north and west) of the Yakima Valley AVA.
We’ve talked about the Missoula Floods that washed through this area. I remember speaking with David O’Reilly of Owen Roe at their Union Gap Vineyard. We stood toward the top of his vineyard at 1,200 feet and were at the top of the Missoula Flood level. Naches Heights sits between 1,200 and 2,100 feet, so the entire plateau is above the Missoula Floods.
The plateau was formed as a lava flow from the Cascades cooled. The soil here is known as Tieton Loam Loess. The high elevation means less chance of winter damage in the vineyard.
Paul Beverage started his winery in Seattle back in 1988. In 2007 he planted Wilridge Vineyard near Yakima. The vineyard was planted to be Certified Organic and Biodynamic.
They consider themselves a “Recreational Vineyard”. There are bike trails and hikes, and they have a map to guide you around the vineyard and to the cliff trail hikes in Cowiche Canyon. You can even rock climb on the Andesite rock cliffs where the vineyard has bolted anchors.
You can also just kick back on the porch of the 100 year old farmhouse that is their tasting room and enjoy the views and the wild (or not so wild) life. The cats are friendly. Rachel, a young black cat, came running up to me meowing and spent part of the morning purring and curling up in my lap!
Rachel, the vineyard cat. She ran up to me from across the porch meowing and demanded to sit in my lap and be petted! How could I not ablige.
The farmhouse has 3 AirBnb rooms, they take reservations for RV parking and you can camp in the vineyard! Staying here, gives you the luxury of waking up and taking in the gorgeous sunrise in your PJ’s with a cup of Joe in hand.
Back to the Yamika Valley AVA
Justin of JB Neufeld made some time in his morning to talk with us about his Cabernets. In addition to his own label, he is the winemaker for Gilbert Cellars and we met him on their beautiful property on Hackett Ranch.
The bees buzzed happily in the lavender behind us as we chatted with a view of the beautiful gardens and amphitheatre here on the property.
Justin is focused on Cabernet Sauvignon. He looks to how this grape expresses itself in different soils and climates within Washington. We had a fascinating discussion with him on how he pulls the best out of each of his vineyard designates from Red Mountain to Red Willow, across the entire Yakima Valley, to create a beautiful complex blend of Cabernet. We also talked about microflora in the soil and about the wines he makes with Gilbert. You can expect us to share more of this interview later!
Wine Yakima Valley
When we visited Washington before for #WBC18, we met Barbara Glover who had put together the pre-conference tour for Wine Yakima Valley. Barbara was instrumental in helping us connect with vineyard owners and winemakers for this trip to the Yakima Valley. We were excited to meet with her and talk about all the exciting developments in the Yakima Valley Wine Region.
She arranged for us to meet her at Stems, a wine shop in downtown Yakima. We met Brad the owner and were able to talk Yakima Wine. In addition to the great interview with Barbara, it was fun to just chat with them about the region, it’s people and culture.
Brad mentioned that when he opened Stems, he planned to be just focus on Washington Wines. Local demand to learn more about other regions has him holding events including wines from outside the region. The thirst for knowledge (and wine) is alive and well in Yakima! This is a great place to pick up a bottle or twelve of wine and anything wine related that you can imagine.
When we asked where to grab lunch, everyone said the same thing…Los Hernandez. We did a piece on our delicious lunch here.
We were running early for our tasting at Owen Roe, so we thought we would stop by Treveri. I mean who can pass up bubbles after filling up on tamales!
As we were filled with tamales, we passed on the cheese and charcuteries offerings, but…if you are in the area, this is a great stop for bubbles and a snack. Tastings are seated and are free. We found a spot outside. The clouds had rolled in and it actually got a little humid (which is not typical for this area!). It was just mere moments before an attentive host came to talk us through the menu. It felt a bit luxurious to sit and enjoy the view and have someone continually bring you new bubbles to try.
These are good affordable bubbles. Your tasting will take you through bubbles that go from Brut Zero to Demi Sec with their sweetness levels and in addition to the traditional Blanc de Blancs of Chardonnay, they have a rosé of Syrah and Chardonnay and the Demi-Sec sparkler we tasted was of Gewurztraminer.
When we were here last October we attended a dinner at Owen Roe’s Union Gap vineyard. I had an opportunity to walk the winery with owner David O’Reilly as well as do a vineyard tour with him. As we walked the vineyard we tasted the Owen Roe wines on, in the blocks the grapes were harvested from.
But Owen Roe has many more wines than just the Union Gap vineyard designates. They pull from Red Willow for their Chapel Series, as well as from DuBrul, Olsen, Outlook and Elerding here in the Yakima Valley for many of their other wines (and they do have a really wide selection of wines!) They also source from the Willamette Valley from vineyards across 4 different AVAs. When we knew we were going to be back in the area, we knew that we wanted to sit down and taste through their wines.
Tasting with Brandon at Owen Roe
The space looked so much different than our last visit! Our October visit was during harvest and the winery was filled with fermentation bins! Now there were stacks of barrels, some of which created a private tasting area and this was where Brandon set us up for our tasting.
Brandon set us up with a wide and large tasting through many of their wines and we promise we will walk you through that tasting in the not so distant future.
It was still early when we finished at Owen Roe, but we were bushed! We picked up some dinner and crashed early. The next day would be early again. Co Dinn was meeting us at Roskamp Vineyard in the Snipe Mountain AVA, early in the day. Next we would drive on to Red Mountain to visit with Sarah Goedhart at Hedges Family Estate. Then we would be making the drive to Walla Walla to meet Tim & Jennifer Amstrong at their vineyard. So stay tuned!
in the Yakima Valley, we wanted to catch up with Barbara Glover who heads up
Wine Yakima Valley. She had put together
an amazing tour for many of us in the Wine Media for the conference held in
Walla Walla in Oct 2018. The tour gave
us an in depth look at this region and was the reason we decided we needed to
return to learn more.
a couple of morning interviews and Barbara was kind enough to squeeze us in
last minute. Now…where to meet? Barbara made a call and set us up to meet at
Stems in Yakima.
Stems is a wine & gift shop, so we had a backdrop of shelves of bottles of Yakima Valley wines for our interview with Barbara.
who runs this shop was generous in letting us use the space and we had great
conversations on the area. We found a
couple of bottles that we were not able to find elsewhere to take along with
are in Yakima, this is a great place to pick up a bottle and gain some valuable
information from Brad on the area! It’s
also a pretty great spot to pick up gifts for fellow wine lovers!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we walked the vineyard we talked about the caliche in the soil (more fascinating stuff to come).
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
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!
Day 3 had us up early and traveling back the way we had been the afternoon before. The Applegate Valley AVA in Southern Oregon established in 2000, is actually a sub AVA of the Rogue Valley AVA. From California’s border runs north 50 miles to the Rogue River west of Grants Pass.
We arrived early to Cowhorn to meet Bill Steele. This Southern Oregon vineyard is Demeter Certified Biodynamic and is a bucolic setting on Eastside Road that runs along the Applegate River. We did an interview with Bill in the vineyard and walked the property before heading into the beautiful modern tasting room to do a tasting with Bill. The tasting room features a large window that looks out onto the vineyard and the valley, which is reflected in the shiny white glass behind the tasting bar, allowing you the view while facing either direction.
The wines here are Rhône varieties primarily and the finese on the winemaking is pretty spectacular. Everything is done with native yeast. I have to admit the grounds were so beautiful, I really didn’t want to leave. We will dive in deep to our visit in a separate post and tell you about Bill, biodynamics, the patio, gardens and the tasting room. Their tasting room was the first in the US to meet the “Living Building Challenge”.
You can look forward to our in depth interview with Bill coming up soon.
We left unwillingly. We could have stayed all day (or perhaps forever). But we had another appointment and this one was a bit of a drive.
North to the Umpqua Valley
We were headed toward Roseburg in the Umpqua Valley about 2 hours North. The Umpqua Valley AVA is a little older, established in 1984. We jumped back on Route 238 and took the scenic (and shorter) route to Grants Pass where we grabbed a bite and got on the 5. Yes it was freeway, but it’s Southern Oregon, so the views are still pretty spectacular.
We exited onto the 99 around Cow Creek and then took Route 42 out to Ten Mile where Girardet Vineyards is located. Mind you….our GPS had a little trouble out here and we ended up coming into the property the back way. I suggest downloading a map ahead of time and not relying on GPS.
Girardet is one of the older wineries in this area planting the vineyard back in 1971. The Girardets (Philippe and Bonnie) got in their VW bus and drove the country looking for vine starts. They picked up some French varieties from Wente and then planted some of the French hybrids that they picked up in New York; Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga among others. Marc was born in 1975 just after this experiment had begun. He now runs the vineyard and winery and he took some time to speak to us on the beautiful covered patio with a picnic table, next to the tasting room. After our chat he took us through the winery and drove us up into the vineyard to see the views. Vines do love a view.
We finished this stop with a tasting which included some of the Italian varieties that Marc has added on the newer section of the vineyard where they found ancient marine bed shale. We made some friends in the tasting room before heading back on the road to Newburg, where we would stop for the night. This winery has a great history that we look forward to sharing with you.
Coming up Next…
Next we head North, first to the Columbia Gorge to visit the waterfalls on the Oregon side, then onto the Washington side to visit Syncline winery. From there it is off to the Yakima Valley to visit with Seth Kitzke of Kitzke Cellars and Upsidedown Wine and then enjoy sunset with Jonathan and Mike Sauer at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.
We headed out early. Not pre-dawn, but early enough to beat the heat in Death Valley. It was the top of a 12 day road trip that would take us almost 3800 miles, through so much stunning scenery that we almost became numb to the beauty. Almost.
This was the Flash Tour 2019, that we are dubbing “The Scenic Route”. We visited vineyards and winerys and met many really wonderful people. We look forward to telling you each of their stories. But for now, we will tell you ours. This is our adventure. A sometimes over-planned 12 day epic trip that was filled with exceptional places, some of which were far beyond our expectations. A few things were skipped along the way as we prioritized in the moment. So hop on for the adventure!
Back to the top of the drive. Day One’s plan, out early to travel North to Lake Tahoe. We could have taken a quicker route, going through some expansive empty desert, but, with all the driving on this trip, we opted to take the scenic route.
We headed North out of Vegas, passing the exit to Mount Charleston, up past Creech Air Force Base, past the High Desert State Prison and on to the Armagosa Valley. The morning light gave us a fresh morning feel, a start to the day and our adventure. My cannister of hot coffee was close by to help me slowly enter the day.
From the Armagosa Valley we took a turn south, as anti-productive as that seems for a trip north. This was onto Route 373 which would take us to Death Valley Junction. There we would pick up Route 190 taking us into California and Death Valley National Park. We soaked in the expansive arid beauty of the area and stopped for a quick break at the Furnace Creek Visitors center.
Furnace Creek is a small oasis of green in the midst of the Valley, with places to stay or camp. We continued North from here passing the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Panamint Spring and then stopped at the Father Crawley Vista Point. It was time to stretch our legs before getting onto Route 136 which took us to US Route 395.
This drive took us through the quaint towns of Lone Pine & Independence. Roads here were lined with banners and bunting for the previous day’s Fourth of July Celebrations. By this time our tummies were grumbling and we headed toward a rest area Michael discovered on a previous trip.
Division Creek Rest Area
Division Creek Rest Area sits on Division Creek and has views of Mt. Whitney, Black Mountain and Mt. Pinchot in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. We pulled out the cooler to a picnic table and fended off the birds while enjoying the sounds of the creek and the view of the snow capped peaks.
In this beautiful setting there is a darker side. The rest area tells the story of this plentiful valley and the Piute Indians who lived here, who were bit by bit driven out as settlers took the area. You can explore the details of the story here.
Back on the road we drove north through Big Pine and into the Inyo National Forest. We passed Mono Lake and the back entrance to Yosemite and drove through the Stanislaus National Forest.
At last we turned on the tiny Route 756 to head to Lake Tahoe. The drive up the mountain to get to the Lake which sits at 6,237 feet above sea level reminded me of how far we had come. Earlier in Death Valley, the elevation was 286 feet BELOW sea level.
South Lake Tahoe
As we arrived on the Lake in South Lake Tahoe, it dawned on me that the day before was the 4th of July and while the Independence Day fireworks were done, the lake was still teaming with visitors for the holiday weekend. We headed to Zephyr Cove to set up to catch sunset views to find it packed. So we traveled further North and found a place to park at Logan Shoals Vista Point. After a bit of exploring, and a bit of getting lost and climbing, we settled on a spot just above the lake where we could camp out and watch sunset.
By the time the sun had set we were hungry! We headed back to our hotel for the night in Minden and then headed late night to the Carson Valley Inn & Casino, to Katie’s Country Kitchen for a good ole stick to your ribs dinner (or breakfast…I had the breakfast burrito). While waiting for our food, we checked our social media. We found another earthquake had shaken Las Vegas and LA just a few hours earlier. The shallow quake had friends from both cities reporting waves in their pools. We checked with the neighbors to be sure the house looked okay and the cat sitter to check in on Loki. We then finished our dinners and headed back to catch a bit of sleep.
Day Two had us up early and traveling North around Reno. We took Route 44 to the Lassen Volcanic National Forest, stopping to enjoy views of Lassen Peak, then traveling North on Route 89 to take in some spectacular views of Mt. Shasta.
On to Oregon
We continued up through Ashland and Medford on Interstate 5. We veered off on Route 238 to Jacksonville, driving through the super quaint town as it teamed with visitors. Then it was out into the country, venturing into Southern Oregon Wine Country in the Rogue and Applegate Valleys. Our first stop would be at Wooldridge Creek Winery and Creamery.
I had spoken with Monica at Wooldridge Creek via email a bit before our trip. Sadly for us, a staff member was getting married this day, so most of the staff would be away. While there would be no one to give us a full tour of the property, they gave us permission to photo to our hearts content.
The property houses goats, chickens and a garden on top of the vineyard. This is a perfect spot to spend an afternoon. Just bring a cooler, because you will want to leave with some of their specialty products. They set us up with a tasting out on the crush pad with a cheese and charcuterie platter. Everything on the platter was made on site, most of it grown here also. It was a delightful sensory experience enjoying wines from the site with mustards, cheeses and pickles from the site. (You will need to watch for our future post for all the details).
After a visit to the barrel room and a bit of time in the vines, we picked up a few bottles of wine to take with us and headed on to our next stop.
Our stop at Red Lily was simply to taste. No one knew we were coming. We didn’t know how much time we might have left after our first stop and didn’t want to have to rush. We arrived at Red Lily, just before their last pours of the day. This winery focuses on Italian varieties. Our tasting was served in test tubes in a test tube rack that we could take with us to the patio.
After our tasting we strolled to the river or creek that runs along the property. Red adirondack chairs dot the shore, many right in the water with people cooling their feet with a glass of wine in hand. There was a bar with bottles and glasses, picnic tables, live music and a food truck up the hill by the winery. It was a lovely place to spend an afternoon. One tree was roped off as there was an otter nest that they did not want disturbed.
We soaked up a bit of ambience and headed back to Medford to our hotel for the evening.
Next up we visit Cowhorn Vineyard a biodynamic vineyard in the Applegate Valley. We then travel north to the Umpqua Valley and Girardet, where they planted French and French American hybrids in the early 70’s!
So when you are in Yakima (probably tasting wine and visiting vineyards) and you ask where to go for lunch, everyone will say the same thing…”Los Hernández“. No fewer than 5 people told us this was the place to go. (we did have a shout out for Los 3 Pancho in Toppenish, where we were told the 1/2 chicken is amazing, but we didn’t have time to stop on this trip).
“They do tamales” we were told, “They won a James Beard Award”. Well that certainly had us intrigued. So, we located them on GPS and set forth to try the tamales.
We were not sure what to expect. We had just finished out interview with Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valleyat Stems wine shop and she and Brad (the owner of Stems) mentioned the asparagus tamales that were limited to the asparagus season. They were pretty sure those were done for the season.
Asparagus tamales, James Beard Award Winner….I was unprepared for the unassuming spot we found when Google Maps said “Your destination is on the right”.
Authentic & Unassuming
The building was a stand alone cinder block building, painted white and trimmed in red, white and blue. Out front wine barrel planters filled with petunias in white, pink and purple, also have a couple of American flags tucked in, perhaps left from the barely passed 4th of July weekend, when we were there. “Orders To Go” says the sign above the door and the window.
Inside there are just a few tables, and you walk to the counter to place your order. The menu is simple, Pork, chicken or asparagus with pepper jack cheese tamales which you can get fresh or frozen (so you can take them home and cook them). They also sell fresh salsa, masa and hojas (the corn husks for tamales). They have lunch specials which adds rice beans and salsa,which was what we had come for. I opted to try the asparagus and pepper jack, as they were still available and Michael went for the chicken.
We sat down at a table with a simple plastic table cloth to wait while our order was made. Three of the tables were full of others quietly enjoying lunch and conversation. These were all people who were not afraid to get their hands dirty, obviously locals who could tell we were “out-of-towners”. A woman walked in, boots dusty from being somewhere in a field. She ordered and ended up joining a man who was already there. They talked about the new vineyard she had just been checking out. It was faint, but lovely to listen to a couple of winemakers talk shop. Both obviously had been up early and in the vineyards.
James Beard American Classics Award
So how did they come to have a James Beard Award, here in this unassuming concrete block building in Union Gap Washington?
Well the James Beard Foundation yearly honors not only the big time chefs and restaurants, but a handful of “America’s Classics”. These are restaurants around the country, that are beloved in their communities. They must have been around for at least a decade. Los Hernandez was one of 5 restaurants honored in 2018 by the James Beard Foundation.
Los Hernández Tamales opened in 1990, when Felipe lost his job at the local Montgomery Wards. Their chicken and pork tamales were a hit. One day, his wife June brought home locale asparagus (did you know that 40 percent of the US asparagus in grown in Washington?) for dinner and they played around with some extra masa, they added pepper jack cheese and a new seasonal standard was born.
The asparagus and pepper jack tamales are only typically available from April to June, we lucked out that they still had them in July. But you can get the chicken and pork tamales year round.
Quietly enjoying these tamales, sitting at a simple clean table with the same type of plastic flannel backed table cloth that cover my kitchen table growing up as a child, it was a little bit of home and nostalgia. Okay, not that my Mom made tamales…for her it was cabbage rolls, different culture, same comfort. It was good to Listen to quiet conversation on everyday things and take a moment, like everyone else here, to refill. The energy doesn’t just come from the food.
How to find them
You can call and order to pick up at 509.457.6003. Which might be a good idea, as we sat there enjoying lunch, the place filled up, we hurried to finish and open up a table.
Los Hernández is located at 3705 Main Street, Union Gap, WA 98903, where they are open Sunday-Friday 11am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 7 pm. Or you can visit their new location at 6411 W. Nob Hill Blvd in Yakima.
Oh…and the lunch special which will set you back $6.75, is only available from 11-2. (I think there is an extra charge for the asparagus tamales, which run $2.09 a piece compared to the pork or chicken for $1.75)
Is your mouth watering and you find yourself no where near Washington? Well..check their site, they sometimes ship… if they have enough. Currently they added a restaurant in Yakima to keep up with the demand and don’t have enough to ship, but, they hope to ship again in the future.