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. 

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.  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…

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Amstrong Family Winery – The Journey to Washington

Armstrong Family Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington

We were driving through rolling hills of fields of wheat for as far as the eye could see. You’ve seen it. It’s popular for car commercials these days, and for good reason. It’s spectacular, and eerie. The vastness makes you feel at once both immense in this wide open vista and extremely small.

So this is wine country? You wouldn’t guess that from the scenery. We were driving North out of the city of Walla Walla Washington, past the penitentiary and into the open fields of wheat. Finally, we turned and came upon a green patch. Turning in, we crossed the creek to a spot of green with trees, vineyard, a house and cottage and a spectacular historic barn.

This is the Armstrong Family Winery’s Valley Grove Vineyard. It is their home and an oasis in the wheat fields. We sat with Tim & Jennifer Armstrong on their back patio overlooking the Audrey block of cabernet sauvignon.

It started in Chicago

Neither of them were really into wine to start with. It wasn’t part of their lives, even as young adults (I can relate to this personally). When they got married, Tim had a little interest in wine. He had been to New York and someone poured him a glass of Opus One (lucky guy). Well, this hooked him on Bordeaux wines and soon enough he was spending a good bit on wine and investing in Bordeaux futures! His pragmatic wife Jenifer asked “Hey, do you know what you are doing?” He found an online class from the UC Davis extension that they both took.

They literally would mail DVD’s

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

Yep, they are a little dated by this. They sat in their Chicago bungalow learning about wine and Tim realized that this was his calling. He had grown up in Wisconsin surrounded by farms, and while the family didn’t farm he had a propensity for mechanical things. That and his love for wine…he’d found his bliss. Jen was skeptical, but supportive.

A bottle of Merlot

How did they decide on Washington? Here’s the story. It all kind of started with a bottle of Merlot.

So when we were in Chicago, we were buying mostly Bordeaux, getting progressively geekier about those wines and paying a lot of attention to the wine that we were drinking.  One day Tim came home with a bottle of Walla Walla Merlot.  It was a Walla Walla Vintners bottle.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

They had been thinking about wine making and researched different regions. Virginia & North Carolina, came up since they were near to Jen’s family. They thought about New York with the Finger Lakes region. With Tim in the technology industry, the Bay area was an idea, but that bottle of Walla Walla Merlot….

We tasted it and were kind of blown away.  It tasted like the Bordeaux that we had fallen in love with.

Jennifer Armstrong, July 2019

What blew them away? Tim says this bottle was new world fruit with the structure and earthiness they loved about Bordeaux.

It really was striking this balance between old world wines and the California west coast wines that we had gotten to know.

Tim Armstrong, July 2019

A start in Woodinville

So now Washington was a viable option for them. They spent a couple years doing research and paying attention to the region. When an opportunity to move to Washington for Tim’s job came up, they made the move. This was the opportunity to be a part of a world class wine region. Something you can’t do in Napa or Sonoma without coming in with a large fortune. In Washington it is still possible to own a small vineyard and make wine, without being a millionaire.

Tim flew to Seattle and a friend told him he needed to check out Woodinville. He was blown away. Here people kept their day jobs and moonlighted as winemakers! It occurred to them that they could pursue this and get started right here.

They moved out in 2010 buying grapes even before the furniture was delivered. They met people at a wine shop and then a brewer/winemaking supplies company who referred them to people in the warehouse district where they bought a couple hundred pounds of grapes.

Immersive education and a fast track to winemaking

Tim arrived on Jennifer’s birthday in October around 7:30 am to pick up the grapes. Well, the grapes were not there. While he waited (until 4 pm) for the grapes he had them put him to work. He had his first experience in a commercial winery that day. Waiting for those grapes, he helped out, cleaning things and shoveling grape must.

The next summer he called John Patterson of Patterson Cellars in Woodinville. Tim told John he wanted to make some wine and work with him. John tried to talk him out of it. He was unsuccessful. In 2011 Tim & Jen contracted 6 tons of grape and made their first vintage. So the 2010 home batch they started…by the time it was ready to bottle, they were bottling it in a commercial winery. Fast tracking for sure.

Tim dove into classes with the WSU extension as well as South Seattle Community College. As the business evolved they signed a lease at the end of 2012 and opened their own space in 2013. 2013 they did their own crush, in their own facility in Woodinville. By 2016 they had 52 tons of grapes in that tiny spot. They had upgraded equipment, but it was just Tim, Jennifer and Jennifer’s Dad doing it all. They played the winery tetras game, which was more difficult in this area. The Warehouse district tasting rooms were open all day, so you couldn’t utilize outdoor space in the parking lot until late at night. They pulled 10 all nighters that harvest. They determined it was time to make a change.

The Walla Walla spell

They fell for Walla Walla. It’s easy to do. A drive through town will have you enchanted and you won’t ever want to leave. So they didn’t. They found a small vineyard north of town that was for sale and their fate was sealed. With a vineyard, a house, a historic barn, a creek, a guest cottage…it was perfect.

Not that it was easy. The spot was originally out of their budget. They kept their eye on it and eventually the price came down. Sadly it went under contract just before they got to it. Their disappointment only lasted a day, when a friend in the industry told them the contract fell through. They drove up from Seattle immediately and the rest is history.

The Valley Grove Vineyard is 22 acres with 2 blocks of cabernet sauvignon. They had to do some retraining of the 17 year old vines and pulled their first harvest in 2019. They now have 2 tasting rooms, one in Woodinville and one in Walla Walla, and they have plans for the winery they want to build here on site.

Our conversation didn’t end there. Join us as we talk about the history of the vineyard, and their plans for this beautiful spot just outside of Walla Walla.

For More information

Want more information? You can visit their website or read the other pieces we’ve written about them.

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Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld

Justin of JB Neufeld at Gilbert Cellars in Washington's Yakima Valley AVA

We’d been up early, catching sunrise in Naches Heights, just outside the city of Yakima. After a quick bite to eat we went to meet Justin Neufeld, to talk about his JB Neufeld wines. We met out at Gilbert Cellars where he is the winemaker. Soon we were to find that there was a connection there. He had grown up in this area.

Justin Neufeld’s journey to wine

Justin graduated from High School in Naches Washington, just outside of Yakima in 1998. Unlike many in this region, he did not come from an agriculture family. His father was a carpenter and his mother a nurse. Like many he was ready to get out of the valley. So he went on to U Dub (University of Washington or UW) to get a degree in molecular biology.

During his junior year, he got the wine bug. UW did not have a oenology or viticulture program at that time. So he did a bit of reading and researching on his own. This pull of viticulture was also the pull of home. Seattle is great, but it takes getting away from rural lands to appreciate them. He returned to the Yakima Valley.

Justin is currently the winemaker and manages the vineyards for Gilbert Cellars as his full time gig. Still, he always knew he wanted to have his own winery. He and his wife Brooke (the B in JB Neufeld) created and run JB Neufeld.

JB Neufeld and Cabernet Sauvignon

Justin didn’t start out planning to make Cabs. Early on he had a couple of Bordeaux wines. That gradually led to exploration into those blends and finding that he was intrigued by the Cabernet Sauvignon in them. Of course there are a lot of cabs in Washington, so he started tasting them. The Yakima Valley is diverse with multiple microclimates. Justin began by doing vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignons, working to show the differences in climate and site through the wines. Eventually he found he could craft a better wine by blending these sites. He would use Red Mountain AVA fruit as a base with it’s structure and ripe fruit. Then blend in cab from cooler areas that are softer with almost chalky tannins and more complexity. Then there is Red Willow fruit….

That’s a really unique site.  It doesn’t fit that upper valley, cooler site profile of the chalkier tannin and floral notes.  You know I’ve only worked with fruit now for 2 vintages, but so far it’s really unique, it takes on a more earthy minerality type character on the nose.  There’s still some dark fruit for sure, but almost a similar structure to the Red Mountain.  It’s pretty cool.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

We second the love of Red Willow Vineyard fruit. It’s an amazing site. You can read more about our visit with Mike and Jon Sauer at their beautiful vineyard here. You can look forward to seeing more on our visit to this stunning vineyard run by some truly wonderful people.

New clones

Washington State started with Clone 8 and it continues to be the most widely grown clone in the state giving consistent fruit and yields. But there are other Cabernet Sauvignon clones making their way into Washington. Justin is pretty excited about some of these.

337 I’ve kinda been geeking out about.  They’re still really young vines, but they have a different profile from clone 8, they are a little more red fruit.  A little bit grittier of a tannin and rather than being vegetal when they are picked green they are more herbaceous.  So I’m really excited.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

I found an interesting piece by Shannon Dininny on goodfruit.com about Cabernet Sauvignon clones in Washington State. Most of the discussion was regarding yields and reliability, as opposed to flavor. None-the-less it’s an interesting discussion if you want to nerd out about that stuff. https://www.goodfruit.com/wine-grape-growers-weigh-in-on-cabernet-sauvignon-clones/

When it comes to the clone Justin is speaking of, clone 337, it came up from California. It is a clone that can make very extracted wines and lacks the typical herbal character when picked late. In a comparative tasting of clones from Bell Wine Cellars, they noted that 337 had the most lush profile when compared to clones 6,4 & 7. What does all this mean? It’s like Justin said, you can blend Cabernet from different clones and different sites to create a more complex wine.

Cabernet a “stubborn” grape

We spoke a bit about Cabernet and how it expresses terroir. Syrah and Pinot Noir are notably varieties that express location. They are wines that take on notes of their climate, soil and anything the winemaker throws at them. Kind of like a person with a full closet in tons of different styles.

Cabernet is noted for being, as Justin calls it “stubborn”. It does not show site as dramatically as Syrah or Pinot. With Syrah or Pinot Noir, when you pick, at what ripeness level, can also have a dramatic affect on the wine that you bottle. Cabernet on the other hand has a wider picking window that won’t show a great difference. It can also handle oak better without being overly influenced.

He noted a tendency to pick late to avoid any vegetal notes. Justin feels that causes you to lose complexity in the finished wine. He prefers to pick a little earlier.

I think, personally, my opinion is that a lot of Cabernet Sauvignons are pushed a little too far.  They go to ripe and then a little past because they don’t want any vegetal character.  I’ve found that when you take it to that next level, a lot of that wonderful complexity is sort of gone.  So that’s what I’m trying to shoot for, timing wise, with picking at a point where there might be a little bit of vegetal. I’d rather it be herbaceous.  You just get a lot more complexity in the nose and I think the terroir shines through a little bit more.

Justin Neufeld, July 2019

Soils and microflora

Parts of the Yakima Valley sit in the Missoula Flood Plains. This was the tremendous floods that spanned 2000 years after the last ice age. This flooded the Columbia Valley and down into Oregon. You can read more about these in our post with Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate. For more about how it affected the Yakima Valley see our conversation in the vineyard with David O’Reilly with Owen Roe.

The floods deposited soils and the levels in the Yakima Valley get to 1200 to 1300 feet. Above that are older soils. These soils affect the wine, but Justin is digging deeper. He is interest in the microflora. Microflora you hear about these days regarding your gut (kombucha and keeping the micro flora in your gut healthy). But you find them in soils also. Microflora are defined as: bacteria and microscopic algae and fungi, especially those living in a particular site or habitat.

Justin is fascinated by the microflora which has a symbiotic relationship with the plant. These microflora would also be affected of course by the composition of the soil. It’s yet another factor in “terroir” or the sense of place that you find in a wine.

Terroir and all it’s variables

We had discussed the difference in micro climates and soils, and it’s interesting to see all the variables. Red Mountain is hot and early. Bloom can happen here 2 or 3 weeks earlier than the rest of the Yakima Valley. This gives Justin more hang time on that fruit. He spoke with Fred Artz in Red Mountain and discussed the wind they get there. Wind can stress the vine and delay ripening. But if it’s a sustained wind it causes thicker skins, which give you more accumulated tannins. So wind is a significant part of the terroir in Red Mountain.

The full time gig at Gilbert

Being the head winemaker at Gilbert Cellars is Justin’s full time gig. He works with Assistant Winemaker/Oenologist Dusty Jenkins. Other than some extra help at harvest, between the two of them they do most everything regarding wine making.

Gilbert is primarily from estate fruit and they focus on Bordeaux varieties. They do have a wide variety of vineyards from Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA and the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The River Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills AVA is the one with the new Cabernet Sauvignon clones Justin is really excited about.

In addition to Bordeaux style wines they are doing a Rhône white blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier, called Vin du Vallee. They also do a Rhône red called Allobroges which is a GSM.

Gilbert is a busy spot in the Summer. They do a full concert series on the beautiful grounds that you see behind us in the videos. Music in the Vines celebrates it’s 10th season in 2020.

Getting ahold of some JB Neufeld wine

JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon
JB Neufeld Cabernet Sauvignon

JB Neufeld can be found through a variety of distributors. You can check out their distributor page.

You can also order direct from their site and feel free to contact Brooke for more details!

It’s Taste Washington Wine Month, so we will be featuring some great Washington wineries and vineyards throughout March. So check back as we visit some other regions in the state! Here are a couple of links in case you want to dig a little deeper into Washington wines.

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

12 Days of Wine Day 12 – Syncline

Syncline

Let’s start with the name. Syncline…where does that come from? It was a new word to me. This winery & vineyard in located in the Columbia Gorge AVA. Vineyards are typically in scenic areas. Grapes like a view. But the Columbia Gorge? Come on…this is a pretty stellar backdrop.

View of Mt. Hood from Syncline Steep Ranch Vineyard

So…back to the meaning of the word Syncline, from their website

syn-cline (‘sin-klin)
a trough of stratified rock in which
the beds dip toward each other from either side

http://synclinewine.com/our-history/

The Syncline winery is located on the Washington side of the Gorge on their Steep Ranch Vineyard. West of the property 300-foot cliffs rise up from the Columbia River…this is the Syncline, locally called the Coyote Wall Syncline.

The Columbia Gorge AVA

Views of the Gorge make this Washington Wine delicious
View of the Columbia River and the Gorge from Syncline’s Vineyard

The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004 and is overwhelmingly known for white wines. This is the sweet spot where the rainy western part of the Gorge and the more arid Eastern Gorge meet. Syncline is on the South Eastern edge of the AVA.

Myself & James Mantone walking the rows at Syncline
James Mantone leading me through the Steep Ranch Vineyard

We spent a wonderful morning, talking with Winemaker, Vineyard Manager and Co-Founder of Syncline, James Mantone. Sitting in their beautiful gardens, we spoke about biodynamics which they are putting into practice here on this vineyard as well among other things before we walked the vineyard to take in the spectacular views at the top of the Syrah block.

But alas…in addition to the wines he makes from grapes grown on the estate vineyard, he also sources some fine grapes from elsewhere to make some beautiful wines. Such is the case with this Picpoul.

Picpoul

Picpoul is a favorite of mine. I have enjoyed Picpoul de Pinet which comes from the South of France right on the Mediterranean coast, as well as some lovely California Picpouls. You can read about those in Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing. The name “Picpoul” means lip stinger in French. It is a zippy high acid wine.

Syncline 2018 Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley

Syncline Picpoul boushey Vineyard

We tasted this wine in the tasting room with James when we visited. Since I tend to think of Picpoul and ocean, this was intriguing to me. The grapes for this wine are sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Boushey Vineyard sits at a high elevation (700-1200 feet) on southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Dick Boushey is considered one of Washington States top wine grape growers.

Soil and the long ripening time at this vineyard allow for lots of complex flavors to develop.

The fruit was hand harvested and transported to the winery on October 2nd. It was whole cluster pressed and settled overnight. The juice was then racked to one of our stainless steel tanks. Fermentation completed with no malolactic fermentation. It was aged in stainless steel and bottledin March 2019. 300 cases produced • 12.4% Alc. By Vol.

http://synclinewine.com

The Tasting

Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile
Syncline 2018 Picpoul flavor profile

James tasting notes mention “Bright lemon verbena and key lime blossom” as well as “citrus zest and wet stones”. When we opened this wine, the first thing I smelled was chalk and dust followed my notes of tart citrus fruit. It opened further with some floral notes and then lemon zest and yes wet stones. This wine was completely enjoyable on it’s own.

The Pairings

Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard
Herbed goat cheese with the Syncline 2018 Picpoul from Boushey Vineyard

We paired this wine with herbed goat cheese and olive oil on bread to start. The pairing sweetened the cheese and brightened the wine and was kind of magical.

Mussels with lemon zest
Mussels with lemon zest

Then we went to a classic Picpoul pairing of shellfish. We had mussels in garlic and butter dusted with lemon zest. Which is indeed a perfect pairing with this wine. Often you think of oysters with Picpoul and somehow those didn’t hit me as the right pairing. Perhaps it was me thinking of the photos I had recently seen of the hoarfrost on the vines in the Yakima Valley. None-the-less this wine wanted a warmer version of shellfish and these mussels did the trick, warm with savory flavors and a bit of brightness, they snuggled with the wine and brightened a chilly evening.

Visit them….

I totally told you all about the vineyard at Syncline, but I skipped right over the stunning gardens and grounds at their winery and tasting room. Here…take a look.

  • Entrance to Syncline Winery in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery in Washington Win in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Winery
  • The outdoor tasting bar at the Syncline Winery
  • Beautiful Foudre that was being refinished for wine at Syncline
  • The garden at the Syncline tasting room in Washington's Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Perfect spot for a summer tasting Syncline
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA
  • Syncline Wine's tasting garden in the Columbia Gorge AVA

Head up there in the summer, on a weekend. Drive the Gorgeous Gorge and then stop for a tasting and to enjoy the garden.

That’s a wrap!

All the unwrapping is complete on our 12 Days of Wine Celebration. Hopefully you enjoyed the journey and perhaps have a few wines to search for, or a vacation to plan to take in some of these places.

We wish you all a very happy holiday and a wonderful New Year. Here’s to a spectacular 2020!

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12 Days of Wine – Day 3 – Valdemar Estates

Valdemar…Go ahead, say it. Savor the word. It has an exotic feel doesn’t it. Well it should. As you drive up the the Estate it looks like exactly what it is, a modern Spanish winery. Only…you are in Walla Walla Washington. What’s the story?

Valdemar Estates Winery and Tasting Room in Walla Walla Washington
Valdemar Estates Winery and Tasting Room in Walla Walla Washington

A Spanish Bodega takes root in the new world

Bodegas Valdemar is well known in the Rioja region of Spain, producing wines from Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, primarily Tempranillo and Viura. Here they have ventured into Washington to explore the wines of place of this region.

  • Valdemar Estates in Washington's Walla Walla AVA
  • Entrance to Valdemar Estates Winery and Tasting Room
  • Basket Press at Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla Washington
  • The Valdemar Estates Tasting Room

The winery is stunning in it’s modern architecture and the patio allows you to enjoy your wine while gazing out onto the Blue Mountains.

Component Trials

This is what they came here for. The Component Trials allow them to explore the regions, soils and particular vineyards here in Washington. The initial 2017 Component Trials focused on Syrah from Red Mountain (vineyard specific from Klipsun Vineyard and a blend of Klipsun and La Coye vineyards) and Walla Walla with a Blue Mountain Syrah.

Blue Mountain Vineyard

Located on the Tranche Estate in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, this vineyard’s location and elevation protect it from spring frost and winter freeze. Soils are well drained and deep. This is a cooler site and they see 14-16 inches of rain annually. Valdemar sourced the Syrah for their component trial from this vineyard. It’s seems appropriate as you can see these mountains from the tasting room.

2017 Component Trial Blue Mountain Syrah

The labels for the Component Trials are a geeky wine lover’s (like me) dream.

Valdemar Estates Component Trial 2017 Syrah Walla Walla Valley
Valdemar Estates Component Trial 2017 Syrah Walla Walla Valley

And yes…this is another Syrah! I know…3 in a row. Here’s the cool thing, all 3 were from Washington, 3 different AVAs, all vineyard designates and 3 different vintages, 2013, 2015 and now 2017!

Tasting

This wine had more in the way of blue notes, visually, aromatically and on the palate than the other two syrahs. “Blue Mountain”, does that play into that? A little word association that might be suggestive to my palate.

Valdemar Estate 2017 Blue Mountain Syrah with notes of spice, fresh sage, crushed almonds, bramble fruit, blueberries, pepper and cocoa.
Valdemar 2017 Blue Mountain Syrah with notes of spice, fresh sage, crushed almonds, bramble fruit, blueberries, pepper and cocoa.

We laid out nutmeg, fresh sage, blackberries, raspberries, crushed almonds, dried blueberries and cocoa powder to see if we could find these in the wine. The components were all in there, but were very blended, not standing out on their own.

Sitting at 14.1% abv they made just 146 cases of this wine.

Pairing

Pairings again were bleu cheese, gouda and chili with bison as well as our wide array of other tasting components. I did find that this went very well with the raspberries. Something in those lighter berry notes brighten with the wine.

More on Valdemar Estate

Well you can read more about our visit to Valdemar on The Scenic Route Part 6 – Visiting Rioja in Washington and Dinner at a Gas Station in Walla Walla or visit their site at Valdemar Estate

More wine to come (and I promise it’s not all Syrah!)

Join us tomorrow as we reveal our 4th wine!

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Wine Yakima Valley

Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley

We were lucky enough to enjoy a bit of the summer in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley took time out of her day to meet us to talk about the Valley. While we were there she also filled us in on their upcoming event Catch the Crush happening October 12-13th 2019.

We met Barbara initially when we visited the Yakima Valley while attending the Wine Media Conference held here in October of 2018. She had planned a spectacular pre-conference tour highlighting the wine, cider and beers of the area. When we wanted to return to the Valley to visit and speak with winemakers she was a great resource. She graciously assisted us with finding the perfect spots for sunrise and sunset as well as suggesting winemakers to speak with.

We met Barbara at Stems Wine shop in downtown Yakima. Stems is a GREAT place to find wines from all over the region!

Catch the Crush

Catch the Crush is an annual event in the Yakima Valley. Barbara took a bit of time to fill us in on the details. Each of the wineries has their own style of event that you can enjoy with a Premier Pass. And the Premier pass will only set you back $35. If you are able to get to the area and take part, this promises to be a fantastic event!

More on the Yakima Valley Wine Region

I mentioned we spent a bit of time in the Valley…. here are some links to some of the great places we visited.

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 Part 7 – Du Brul to Hiyu

Cote Bonneville Dubrul Vineyard

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.

Côte Bonneville

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.

Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington
Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington

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.

DuBrul Vineyard

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
Dubrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels
DuBrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels

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.

  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room

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.

  • Hiyu Beet Pairing
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Wines
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Ducks
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Vineyard

Gardens

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.

Vineyard

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.

Mt. Hood

The day ended with spectacular views of Mt. Hood. We leave you hear with a bit of spectacular nature.

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The Scenic Route Flash Tour 2019 Part 5 – One day 3 Washington AVAs

Grapes at Hedges Family Estate in Washington's Red Mountain AVA

Roskamp Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA

Vines on the top of Snipes Mountain at Roskamp Vineyard in Washington's Yakima Valley
Vines on the top of Snipes Mountain at Roskamp Vineyard in Washington’s Yakima Valley

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.

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

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.

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

Meeting Co Dinn on Snipes Mountain

The View from Roskamp Vineyard on Snipes Mountain Yakima Valley Washington
Roskamp Vineyard View on Snipes Mountain Yakima Valley Washington

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.

Syrah with a view.  Co Dinn's block at Roskamp Vineyard on Snipes Mountain in Washington's Yakima Valley
Syrah with a view!

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.

Chardonnay vines on Roskamp vineyard Snipes Mountain AVA Yakima Valley Washington
Chardonnay vines on Roskamp vineyard

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

Vines at Hedges Family Estate in Yakima Valley's Red Mountain AVA
Vines at Hedges Family Estate in Yakima Valley’s 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.

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

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.

Hedges Family Estate in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington's Yakima Valley
Hedges Family Estate in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington’s Yakima Valley

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

Walla Walla AVA
Walla Walla AVA courtesy of WashingtonWine.org

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.

View from the patio at Armstrong

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.

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Stems

Stems Wine Shop in Downtown Yakima, Washington

While 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.

We had 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.

Brad 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 us.

If you 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!

Stems does tastings with Washington wines and beyond so check their facebook page for events!  https://www.facebook.com/stems.yakima

You can find them at 399 E. Yakima Ave, Ste 180, Yakima, Washington (509) 452-8800.

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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Los Hernández – Great authentic food in the Yakima Valley

Lunch special at Los Hernández

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 Valley at 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”.

Los Hernández Authentic Tamales Union Gap Washington James Beard Award Winner
Los Hernández Authentic Tamales

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.

Los Hernandez Tamales Union Gap Washington front entrance.
Flowers and flags welcome you to the best tamales in town.

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.

Lunch special at Los Hernandez
Lunch special at Los Hernández

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.

Asparagus Tamales?

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.

  • Los Hernández Lunch special with asparagus and pepper jack cheese tamales
  • Asparagus tamales at Los Hernandez in Union Gap Washington

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.

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Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills

Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley

We finished our breakfast and morning flyover seminar, courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley.  With caffeine ingested and a little more information to give us a some perspective on the Yakima Valley, we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

This is a super nested AVA, inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is itself nested within the Columbia Valley AVA. (It is the darker region north of 82 to the West side of the map).

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

Located on the North Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was established in 2006 with vineyards dating back to 1968.  It’s about four miles south east of the city of Yakima, where we were staying.  The AVA spans over 74,000 acres with around 1,800 under vine.

Rattlesnake Hills take in the hills running east to west, that are north of the Yakima River.  Elevations for here are high, starting at 850 feet and going to over 3,000 feet, with most vineyards planted in the lower elevations.

Want to get really geeky on this area?  Visit the washingtonwine.org page for Rattlesnake Hills  https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas/rattlesnake-hills

Elephant Mountain Vineyard

It was October and harvest as we drove into Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We passed bins filled with fruit harvested that morning and had to stop and take grape glamour shots. 

We climbed up the mountain through the vineyards surrounded by high desert landscape.  I will admit to it feeling a little odd.  We are from Vegas and to see a vineyard in the midst of this landscape was a little disconcerting.  We climbed the hill to the picnic area on top, where picnic tables were set out with bottles of wine and plates of wine grapes.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Elephant Mountain Vineyard, in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnack Hills AVA

The Vineyard itself is located on the southern slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge which sits at the base of Elephant Mountain.  The ridge sits above the Missoula Flood plain.  Elevations here sit from 1320-1460 feet.The high elevation here means that they have about 30 more frost free days than the rest of the Yakima Valley.

Varieties Grown at Elephant Mountain

First planted in 1998 with Merlot and Cabernet, the vineyard has expanded to almost 120 acres which now includes Cab Franc, Mourvédre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Counoise, Barbera and Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne. 

I mentioned the grapes on the table.  It was a gorgeous line-up for tasting the ripe grapes of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouvédre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne.

  • Cinsault grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Marsanne & Counoise grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Co got started giving us a little background on the area and then, Joe Hattrup, the owner of the vineyard met us to speak about the vineyard. 

Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Joe has been a farmer all of his life, but when they started this vineyard, he was new to wine grapes. So they set up a test block to see what worked and learn about the grapes before planting them in the commercial blocks.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard map
Elephant Mountain Vineyard map

They began as I said with Cab & Merlot and quickly got into Syrah. From there they found tat this site with it’s high elevation was good for many of the Rhône varieties. Most Rhônes are late ripening and the elevation here gives them those 30 additional days frost free, as well a great southern exposure late in the year to help with ripening.

They do have a second vineyard, Sugarloaf, also in the Rattlesnake Hills. He mentioned that they had pulled out the Viognier here at Elephant Mountain to plant Grenache which is in high demand and grows better with the protection this site provides.

A little on the Geography

We mentioned the elevation here, but Co put this into perspective with a few stats. At this point in the Yakima Valley, the river sits at 900 feet, and we were standing at about 1450 feet. When you head east to Red Mountain, the river there sits at around 400 feet. So you can see the valley is much lower there.

  • Desert, Vineyard and basalt. In Yakima Valley's Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Basalt at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

We were standing in a ring of basalt lava rocks which informs the soils. Up on the ridge behind us, if you look closely, you can see a tree line. A band of trees sites at about 1600 feet, right at the line for moisture, fog and snow.

The views

Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • View of Mount Adams from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley
  • Vineyard View Elephant Mountain.

The wines

The lineup of wines on the table, all from wineries who source from this vineyard, was diverse and impressive!  The grapes are concentrated and the wines from these grapes tend to be really inky.

We tasted a wide sampling of Rhône varieties and blends from an assortment of wineries, all with fruit from this vineyard. It was really interesting to see the reflection of the fruit with it’s similarities and then the expression of the various winemakers on top of this.

  • Wines made with Elephant Mountain fruit WBC18

We were treated to a great lunch following this tasting. A food truck with Authentic Mexican food arrived to fill our bellies. I felt even more at home, with food truck the desert sage brush. Once full, we climbed back into our vans and headed to Walla Walla for the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference. But along the way, we took in some spectacular views and our driver filled us in on the history of the area, ancient as well as recent.

I’ll do yet another shout out to Barbara Glover at Wine Yakima Valley. This visit that she planned for us was entertaining, informative and beautifully paced. Thanks also to Co Dinn and Joe Hattrup for taking the time to give us these great insights into the Yakima Valley Wine Region. And of course to WBC18, without which we might not have visited this beautiful region.

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