Yakima Valley – Wine and beyond with Wine Yakima Valley’s Flavor Camp

Owen Roe Yakima Valley

We had an opportunity this past fall to travel to Washington to explore their wine scene as we attending the Wine Bloggers Conference (which has since been renamed the Wine Media Conference) held in Walla Walla Washington.

One of the great things about the conference is that they offer Pre and Post Conference Excursions.  These are press junket style for wine writers.  Michael and I were able to join the Yakima Valley Tour put together by Wine Yakima Valley.

We flew into Portland and then on to the Pasco Tri-Cities Airport in Washington.

After arriving early, we camped out in a comfy couch at the airport and gathered ourselves before the true start to our journey.  Soon enough we were greeted by the folks from Wine Yakima Valley and guided to the vans.  They handed us a snack tray with local snacks….

Daniels Artisan Snack Tray

Put together by Daniel’s Artisan, it included an Asiago from Ferndale WA, Pajarero Figs from Spain, Two Sisters honey sticks from Kennewick WA, and Croccantini crackers from Tukwila WA.

With sustenance in hand, we set out for Yakima.

The drive to Yakima

Yakima Wine MAp
Courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley

The drive from the airport to the Yakima Valley was pretty long!  Luckily, I was squished in the back seat with Cathie Schafer of Side Hustle Wino and Jennifer Whitcomb of Beyond the Corkscrew. Patrick, our driver, was full of great information on the area, but we couldn’t hear a thing in the way back, so we kept ourselves entertained, giggling quite a bit. Every now and then Thaddeus of the Minority Wine Report would relay what the driver was saying.  We watched the valley roll by, driving through the greater part of the valley, through Red Mountain, Prosser and Zillah and at last arrived at Owen Roe Winery on the far West end of the Yakima Valley.

Owen Roe Winery – the host for Flavor Camp

Owen Roe Winery In Yakima Valley's Union Gap
Owen Roe Winery In Yakima Valley’s Union Gap

Owen Roe Winery sits on the edge of the Yakima Valley AVA in Union Gap. The winery produces wines from within the Yakima Valley as well as from the a variety of vineyards and AVAs in the Willamette Valley. The winery itself is built on the Union Gap Estate Vineyard, but they also source fruit from other Yakima Valley vineyards, including; Dubrul, Elerding, Olsen, Outlook and Red Willow.

David O'Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery
David O’Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery

The winery is co-owned by David & Angelica O’Reilly and Ben & Julie Wolff. We were lucky enough to be here while the winery itself was busy and filled with fermentation bins. We were lucky as well to have co-Owner David O’Reilly there to greet us.

Yakima Valley Winemakers

Wines at Yakima Valley Flavor Camp
The line up of Yakima Valley wines for tasting at Flavor Camp

Wine was flowing…so much wine from so many wineries. I admit to being a bit overwhelmed. Trying to note each wine was not possible.  I tried to memorize labels to come back to later for more information.  Bottom line…I need another visit to this region to dig in. But let me fill you in on a few of the wines and people we were introduced to!

  • Cultura Wine from Zillah with Winemaker Sarah Fewel. She and her husband Tad lean toward the reds with Bordeaux style blends.
  • Côte Bonneville from Sunnyside with Winemaker Kerry Shiels, recognized as one of the states top wineries for years.
  • Hightower Cellars Red Mountain with Winemaker Kelly Hightower
  • Wit Cellars in Prosser. One of the newest wineries in the area opening last May.
  • Chandler Reach located in the Red Mountain AVA with an estate overlooking the Yakima River, they do Italian-style wines.
  • Kitzke Cellars of Candy Mountain
  • Upsidedown Wine with Winemaker Seth Kitzke (yes also the winemaker for Kitzke)
  • Gilbert Cellars Where winemaker Justin Neufeld makes ten wines from 7 varieties of grapes including Malbec, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Corvidae
  • Owen Roe with co-owner David O’Reilly (you’ll get to know more about them below)
  • Co Dinn Cellars with Winemaker Co Dinn (more from him in our 2nd day in the Yakima Valley)

Women in Wine in Yakima Valley

It’s Women’s History Month, so I’m going to take a moment to do a few shout outs to women in the Wine Industry from the wineries above. Sarah Fewel co-owns Cultura, Kerry Shiels is the winemaker at Côte Bonneville, Kelly Hightower is the co-winemaker at Hightower Cellars and Jacki Evans is the winemaker at Owen Roe.

A sneak peak inside Owen Roe Winery

While we were waiting, David O’Reilly with Owen Roe, invited a couple of us back into the winery. This is a working winery and they were busy with harvest.  But that tale is for another day. Soon, I promise, complete with video of our tour and filled with great information from David, who is a brilliant guide (and he’s great on camera!)

Flavor Camp

After the 2nd van arrived and people had wine in hand, Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley welcomed us to Flavor Camp. Today, we would learn about the flavors of the Yakima Valley.  This is more than wine country, this is the apple growing capital of the country and the premier place for growing hops.  So today would be insights into all the flavors in these libations!

Shout out to Barbara Glover with Wine Yakima Valley for organizing a great event and reorganizing to make it even better on the fly!

Apples for Cider with Tieton Cider Works

Marcus Robert General Manager Tieton Cider Works Yakima Washington
Marcus Robert General Manager Tieton Cider Works Yakima Washington

We started with apples with Marcus Robert, General Manager of Tieton Cider Works, who spoke with us about the apples they grow for cider.

Grapes for Wine with Owen Roe

David O'Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery
David O’Reilly co-owner Owen Roe Winery

Then on to wine with David O’Reilly and a tour of the vineyard Owen Roe Vineyard here in Union Gap. We looked at the soils and elevation of the vineyard, feet in the dusty loess soils.

Hops for Beer with Hopsteiner

Nicholi Pitra, Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner
Nicholi Pitra, Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner

And finally on to hops, with Nicholi Pitra who is a Hops Geneticist for Hopsteiner. It was fascinating to learn about hops and get to smell the difference between the varieties.

(You will get in depth videos of each of these coming up soon!)

Dinner with a Sunset View of the Yakima Valley

The evening culminated with a sunset dinner, bottles everywhere along the table and winemakers walking about serving their wines and speaking with people. In addition there was amazing food from Crafted Yakima fresh from local farms. (Yes more flavors of the Yakima Valley)

I ended my evening with a great conversation with Co Dinn who lead our group the following morning. I promise more on that soon as we journeyed on to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Enjoy a little synopsis of this day and you can look forward to some in depth pieces coming up on the Flavor Camp, our winery tour with David O’Reilly and Day 2 with our trip to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Want more information on the Yakima Valley and it’s wines

If you want more information on the Yakima Valley and it’s wines, Wine Yakima Valley is the place to find it. You can find out about events, winery and tasting rooms, restaurants, lodging and they have a great blog with some terrific photos that will have you longing to visit the area.

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

Ballard Canyon Wines, The 1st Annual Larner Winemaker Dinner

Larner Vineyard Wines


1st Annual Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

The warm atmosphere of the Ballard Inn, was the perfect setting to enjoy the beautiful wines of Larner Vineyard and Winery grown in the brand new Ballard Canyon AVA (by the man who got this AVA going) and have them paired with the Asian & New French inspired dishes of Chef Budi Kazali.

Michael Larner Rose

As guests arrived, Michael Larner was pouring his 2012 rosé, and the guests found seats in the comfortable parlor, or ventured back out onto the porch to watch as the sun started to dip toward sunset. The rose is a GSM made in the saignée method, bleeding off the juice.  It is about 55% Syrah, 30% Grenache and the rest Mouvedre.

Larner Wine Dinner Appetizer

Larner Wine Dinner Appetizer

The 2013 Malvasia Bianca came out next as well as passed hors d’ouevres. Conversation was light and easy, but we were all waiting for the main event. Table by table the guests were seated in the small dining room that holds about 50, and Michael spoke about the wines and the things that make this place so special for him. This is the place that he and his wife Christina come to celebrate momentous occasions, so The Ballard Inn, Chef Budi and great memories are all wrapped up together for them. Holding their first winemaker dinner here, was really the icing on the cake.

The menu was spectacular

Larner Dinner Menu

Larner Dinner Menu

 

 

As we came to the table Michael began with a little background.

Larner is about Geology Origins and Territory.

Michael Larner

Michael’s background is in Geology and he spent time doing geotechnical engineering. His parents Stevan & Christine had been looking since 70’s for a vineyard to take them into their retirement. In the late 90’s found this place in Ballard Canyon and invited him to join them in the vineyard venture.

He came out and fell in love with the place.

Michael finds that there is a synergy between geology and winemaking. Both get you out in the field getting dust on your feet and sunburnt.

Viticulturalists talk about soil. Soil starts from the decomposition and erosion of something else and that is the geology of it. This is the “origin” of the soil.

In France they talk about terrioir, which is the expression of climate & soil.   Here in America that would translate to “territory”. The Larner “territory” is Ballard Canyon. They seek to express this territory in their wine.

So there you have it. Geology, Origins, Territory. That is what Larner Wine is all about.

We started dinner with the Kombu Brined Local Halibut Sashmi with Japanese Cucumber & Nagaimo Peach Vinaigrette & Basil Oil paired with the 2012 Larner Viognier. I will admit..I had to go look up Kombu and Nagaimo and here’s what I found. Kombu is an edible kelp that is often used to flavor broths. Nagaimo is an Asian yam that can be eaten raw and is typically shaved or grated. Regardless, the dish was light and nuanced and with the peach vinaigrette, it tied in beautifully with the wine. You should have seen us all laying bits on our fork to create the perfect bite.

The second course was Jimenez Farm Rabbit & Shitake Confit with Black Pepper Gnocchi & Brown Butter Demi Glace, paired with 2009 Elemental, GSM blend. This blend is where Michael gets to be more creative, channeling his wife’s artistic energy. For him a blend doesn’t have a standard bar that it is striving to reach like a 100% variety wine does. You can blend it to make you and your palate happy. The name “Elemental” comes from blending these separate elements: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. This wine is meant to be multidimensional, pairing with anything from pizza to the Rabbit and Mushroom dish that Budi created to accompany it.

The 3rd course was the one that Emily had been waiting for. Emily runs the tasting room and deals with the social media and much more for Larner and she loves the Mourvedre. Typically Mourvedre is a blending grape and it is rare to see it on it’s own. Since Michael keeps all his lots and clones separate for as long as he can, he has an opportunity to see them grow and evolve before blending. The 2010 Mourvedre surprised him with expressions of game spice, chocolate spice and crushed rock characteristics and he determined to let it stand on it’s own. Budi paired this with Rack of Wild Boar with Velasquez Farm Nopales & Bacon Forbidden Rice with Bing Cherry Glaze. I got to watch as Emily took her first bite, her eyes closed and I think she might have even moaned a little. It was perfect. It is rare to see something as gamey as Wild Boar on a menu, but the “gaminess” is what made it pair so well with the wine, that and the cherry glaze which pulled up the fruit character. I will admit to not knowing what Nopales were. The word sounded familiar, but within this context I couldn’t place it. Understandable I think, Nopales are the paddles of the prickly pear cactus, they were unexpected and delicious.

The 4th course was to pair with Ballard Canyon’s signature wine, Syrah. Syrah is the poster child for Ballard Canyon and by far is the most widely planted grape there. While it is planted all over Santa Barbara County, it flourishes in Ballard Canyon with a structure and minerality that you don’t find elsewhere in Santa Barbara. The Larner Syrah is made up of a about 7 different clones and is sourced from all over the vineyard. The lots are kept separate and then brought back together to blend giving you a synopsis of the Larner Vineyard. The pairing for this went exotic again with Buffalo prepared 2 ways. First braised Buffalo short ribs & then a buffalo ravioli with Sautéed Celtuce in a Chinese Black Bean Sauce. (full disclosure..we all went “Celtuce? is that like a lettuce?” So let me set the record straight, it is also known as “stem lettuce” or “chinese lettuce” and it is the stem that it used.)

Our last course was dessert and we enjoyed a different side of the Malvasia Bianca here paired with the Coconut Mochi with Lychee Ice Cream. The nose on the wine and the taste and smell of the dessert were really complimentary.

Chef Budi, Ballard Inn

Chef Budi, Ballard Inn

At this point Budi made it out of the kitchen to speak to us. This was a fun dinner for him, pairing with wines he loves and mixing it up with things outside the norm was fun for him. He did also mention one of the big perks for him with these dinners. “Everybody orders everything and No left overs!”

Larner-tasting-room-window

If you find yourself in Santa Barbara, make the trip to the Ballard Inn. Budi’s food is not to be missed. Stop in Los Olivos and do a tasting with Larner Wines. You won’t be able to leave without a bottle or two.