Day 4 – On to Washington Wine
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 switchback 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 the 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, their Steep Creek Ranch 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 its 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 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 a lot 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 just east of the Red Mountain AVA, to visit Kitzke Cellars and speak with Seth Kitzke.
As we pulled up past 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 with 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 about 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.
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).
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 a 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 the 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 a lot 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 sunset 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!