I think it’s safe to say that as Washingtonians, we are pretty lucky people. We have breathtaking landscapes, enjoy actual seasons and don’t fear natural disaster the way many other states do. We are a center for technology, commerce and agriculture.
The agriculture is what completely sets us apart though. Large software companies can always move their headquarters to another region, or another state. A new distribution hub can centrally locate three states away. But what we grow is special to our state and across the globe. Few can grow apples, cherries, pears or raspberries, and the list goes on. Even fewer can grow wine grapes to the extent of what we can in Washington State, and specifically the Yakima Valley. We are the birthplace of Washington wine.
And if we can grow the grapes better than most others, it would stand to reason that we should have a few folks who know what to do with them. As a lifelong Yakima resident (with a few years of escape in Seattle and California), I tend to forget that. I think we all do. We yearn for the out of town expert in business, and at times, follow that rule with what we eat and drink (think Kobe beef). But I am here to tell you with wine, you really don’t need to look any further. Don’t get me wrong, I love wines from across our state, our country and across the globe. But, the Yakima Valley is home to some really great wine as well, and I think as self-proclaimed oenophiles, we all need a reminder in that.
The following list is by no means comprehensive, but a good place to start if you haven’t spent much time in the Yakima Valley. At the feverish pace that Washington adds new wineries every year (over 1,000 now), this compilation will definitely need updates over the years. Enjoy at your own pace, but you really do not want to miss the “**” starred wineries on the list.
This group I simply refer to as “The Given” because they are a staple, a benchmark and sizable winery that that many wine drinkers are aware of or have tasted. There is little I need to tell you about them other than to make sure to add at least one or two to your next tasting experience in the Valley.
A winery with decades long Northwest roots, they didn’t open their Wapato facility and tasting room until 2014. Winemaker David O’Reilly has been singing the praises of fruit from the all across the Yakima AVA for decades including Red Willow, Dubrul and the winery’s own Union Gap vineyard.
Located at 309 Gangl Road in Wapato.
Bubbles…we all need more of these in our life. Some people only drink sparkling wine when they celebrate, so I say turn more daily occurrences into celebrations. Depending on where you are in the state, or beyond, Treveri might not be as well known to some today, but it will be soon. They have grown to an impressive 42,000 cases planned in 2019, helping them squeeze into the top 10 wineries by production in the state.
Their tasting room in Wapato is truly the gateway to the Valley’s wineries. What better way to kick off your day of tasting than with a little celebration and a lot of knowledge. The staff is well versed in their offerings as well as where to go next on your tour.
The tasting menu may vary by season with 4-5 selections out of 7-8 available sparkling wines. The research allowed me to taste all of their selections, and I was never disappointed. If you aren’t normally a sparkling consumer, they will change your mind. From very dry and low sugar Blanc de Blancs brut to a mouthwatering Riesling or Gewurztraminer, there’s a bottle for everyone. They are one of only three sparkling houses in the state and one of only two that make a sparkling red (Syrah) on the west coast. You wouldn’t be the first if this is your only stop of the day.
Located at 71 Gangl Road in Wapato.
Arguably the highest rated winery in the region and one of the highest in the state, winemaker Scott Greer believes in using all estate fruit. They have recently reopened the tasting room for select Saturdays throughout the year, but look for big changes in their venue in spring 2020.
Located at 2980 Gilbert Road in Zillah.
The Shiels family first dipped their toes into the wine arena as grape growers of famed Dubrul Vineyard for a decade before their first vintage in 2001. Like Sheridan, they are all estate fruit and have recently converted the family doctors office into a first rate tasting room. This family business is dedicated to quality.
Located at 1413 E. Edison Avenue in Sunnyside.
The Yakima Valley Wineries You Need To Know
These wineries tend to be smaller and might not be on your radar yet. Some distribute through their tasting room and wine club only, or with minimal store shelf/wine menu real estate. Do not be fooled, they are well worth your time to taste!
Located amidst a lavender field, J. Bell Cellars is all about the “simple pleasures in life”, so much so that they named one of their red wines after the phrase. Their first vintage was 2009, and they opened their Zillah tasting room in 2013. Some of the wines are barrel aged for up to 36 months before bottling, providing a wine more approachable than most others at opening. Their 2014 Sun Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon was extremely well balanced after a pop and pour that you would swear it had been decanted for an hour.
Located at 73 Knight Hill Road in Zillah.
Similar to J Bell, VanArnam is extremely relaxed in a tremendous setting. Founded in 2010 with their tasting room opening two years later, they use all estate fruit from their 40 acre vineyard for 2,000 cases of wine each year. Make sure to ask for the secret stash of vinyl to pair with your tasting. Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” was exceptional with the 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc.
Located at 1305 Gilbert Road in Zillah,
Part of the “second wave” of wineries in the area in 2005, Cultura loves exactly where they are at. This husband and wife team of Tad and Sarah Fewel produces approximately 1,000 cases of strictly red wine per year. Predominantly Bordeaux varieties, the winery also makes one of the few Zinfandels in the state, and they do it well.
The agricultural roots run deep in both of their families, and the two learned much from their neighbors at Sheridan Vineyard to get their start. Their 2014 vintage is just being released and both the Kairos blend and the Estate Cabernet Franc will wow you, as well as your guests when served.
Located at 3601 Highland Drive in Zillah.
A one-man-show like no other. Co, short for Coman, Dinn is one of the few that can do it all. The former Texan started the winery in 2013, bottling at Cote Bonneville where he had been a part of their team. His tasting room is a converted 1930 water department building in downtown Sunnyside and is as unassuming but rich in history as its tenant.
After graduating with his master’s degree from the famed UC Davis winemaking program, Dinn has spent decades honing his skills while working with some of the most respected winemakers and wineries in the state. In my seven years of writing about the Washington wine industry, I have found few with the knowledge this man has. He has a truly unique understanding of his craft, not only in the winemaking itself, but in the fruit that goes into it and the soil it comes from.
The wines are produced with what the winemaker refers to as “vineyard jewels.” Dinn has searched for what he believes are the best sites in the region. Rather than blending vineyard with vineyard, he allows a single vineyard to sing in each bottle to better understand and appreciate what that part of the valley has produced.
A recent blind tasting featured the winery’s 2015 GSM Red Wine Lonesome Spring Ranch Vineyard as the wine of the night over two well know French Chateauneufs and some stiff California competition. You will not regret this stop!
Located at 501 Grant Avenue in Sunnyside.
Enjoy the wines, enjoy the view and soak in all that the Yakima Valley has to offer in celebrating its role in the Washington wine industry. Cheers!
Co Dinn Cellars: James Dinn
Cultura Winery: Chad Bremerman
Treveri Cellars: Treveri
Cover, Owen Roe, J Bell Cellars, VanArnam: Petar Marshall