Yakima Valley Wine Country: Rattlesnake Hills

img_7092_lucidFor an early wedding anniversary getaway we spent a weekend in Yakima Valley, exploring the various wine regions.

After a great day of tasting wines in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village, we were ready to tackle the many wineries throughout Rattlesnake Hills.

I had researched quite a few tasting rooms for us to visit so we started out early to catch the first couple as they opened at 10 a.m. While we could have waited until early afternoon, given most were open until 5 or 6 p.m., we knew we couldn’t stay out that long because we needed to return to our B&B, freshen up, and head over to the main house for our dinner reservations.

In addition to the tasting rooms, my research included several non-wine tasting activities for us to check out throughout the day, knowing we would need to take several breaks and pace ourselves to responsibly enjoy our tastings.

As part of my research I had mapped out which wineries to do in what order based on their tasting room hours and our desire to start making our way back toward Yakima by mid afternoon so we would end close to our B&B in time for dinner.

This led us to begin our day at Bonair Winery and Vineyards, where they were celebrating the birthday of the winery’s resident dog, Bung. As part of the celebration, visitors were encouraged to bring their own dogs to the winery, and all tasting fees were donated to a local animal shelter. A representative from the shelter was on site with additional puppies they were trying to place in good homes.

Needless to say the first 15 minutes of our visit had nothing to do with wine– we were outside playing with the puppies!

We did eventually make our way inside where we shared a tasting and ended up enjoying the Chardonnay enough to make a purchase. The tasting room was basically empty so we had a nice chat with the woman helping us, walked around to look at some of the items for sale, and then headed to our next stop, Tanjuli Winery.

Tanjuli was off the beaten path and the tasting room was inside a big warehouse type building. There were already several people there, including some people who had just concluded their tasting and were heading on to their next winery. We pulled up some bar stools and I tasted a couple of their reds, including one I had never heard of before called an Orange Muscat.

We both enjoyed the Pinot Noir the best so we purchased a bottle and then decided to take our first break and head south to Toppenish and check out the railway museum.

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After our awesome stop in Toppenish we headed north to explore a few wineries that were bunched close together. The first was Portteus, which ended up being one of our favorite wineries of the whole weekend! We loved many things about this place– the fact that it was up in the hills so you were able to drive through their vineyards to reach the tasting room, how unassuming and relaxing it was in the tasting room, the hilarious guy serving our tastings, and of course the wine!

We were sharing tastings throughout the day, which usually meant we were trying to accommodate both of our tastes and divide and conquer based on which wines the winery was tasting that day. Most wineries only have a selection of their wines available for tasting, which I understand, but it is disappointing when you get there hoping to try something and they aren’t tasting it that day. At Portteus, they weren’t only tasting a selection of their wines– the guy helping us let us try anything we wanted. If someone wanted something, he would open a new bottle– it didn’t matter if they were the only people who tried it the entire day.

I don’t know if that’s a good approach for the winery in terms of how many bottles they have open and have to dispose of at the end of the day, but it is CERTAINLY a good idea for selling your wine! Getting to try all of the ones that interested us allowed us each to find several we liked, and then we purchased several bottles of each of those wines. Our favorites included the Bistro Red, Purple Haze, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese. If we had spent more time there, I’m certain we would have tried and purchased more, and if we do go back to the region again, we’ll likely go out of our way to return to Portteus again.

Before we left, we asked the guy helping us which wineries he recommended, and one we didn’t have on our list was Cultura. It was right down the road so we pulled in to check it out. They were only tasting reds so Brian decided to skip this tasting, but there were several things about the place we really liked. First, the tasting room was intimate and in a refurbished barn with some awesome old gas pumps outside. Second, they don’t charge a tasting fee, they offer you the option of donating to a local animal shelter (which of course we did!). And third, their wines were incredible.

They are a little boutique so their wines were among the most expensive of the day, but I couldn’t help buying a bottle of their 2012 Merlot. I’m not usually a huge Merlot fan, but this one was incredible, and I’ll be saving it for a special occasion!

We drove a little ways down the road to Paridisos del Sol, which I had written down did a food pairing along with the tasting. Yet again, this winery had a completely different feel than the others– in fact, it was in the winemaker’s house! We weren’t sure we were in the right place when we arrived because we were literally parking at someone’s home, but he had converted their California room into a tasting room and sure enough, there were people their tasting! He was really nice– a little bit eccentric, but clearly passionate about his wine. We shared this tasting, which included quite a few wines, and agreed it was helpful knowing what food to pair with which wine. It was an entertaining stop to say the least, and we did end up purchasing the Baby Barn Owl red, which Brian liked the best.

We were ready for another break so we headed to Zillah to see the Teapot Dome Service Station. There were a couple older women sitting on a picnic table outside with brochures and other information so we spent some time walking around and talking to them. While the service station long since closed down, it was neat that they had restored and relocated the entire site so you could still visit and learn about its history. Brian mentioned to the ladies that he had once visited the world’s largest teapot in Chester, West Virginia, and they had never heard of it! He pulled it up on his phone and they couldn’t believe it. He explained that it wasn’t a service station and was more of a tourist ploy versus a functioning site, but they still couldn’t believe theirs wasn’t the only human-sized teapot out there.

Hopefully we didn’t disappoint them– this one was very cool and, in my opinion, had a more interesting history!

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After our stop in Zillah we agreed we should start making our way back to our B&B.

The final stop I wanted to make based on my initial research was  Two Mountain Winery because they had a Lemberger. Things seemed to be winding down there when we arrived– people were leaving, and the ladies handling the tastings seemed a little distracted. Thankfully they were tasting the Lemberger so I got to try it, and although it was good, I didn’t like it as well as Whidbey Island Winery’s Lemberger. I was more impressed with their 2013 Cab Franc, which we ended up buying.

Brian wasn’t interested in the wines they were tasting so I tasted while he played with their resident dog, who had clearly had a long day–he could barely muster the energy to wag his tail as new people were coming in!

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After Two Mountain we drove up to Dineen Vineyards, which ended up being by far the poorest experience of our trip. We later thought it should have been a sign that people only recommended it to us for the view and pizza oven rather than the wine.

When we arrived the place was packed with people having an early dinner. We headed into the crowded tasting room where the staff didn’t make any effort to keep up with people’s tastings. The one girl was incredibly rude to an older gentleman who was trying to purchase a glass of wine, and I simply didn’t want to stay. We rushed through our tasting and left as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thankfully that wasn’t our final tasting of the day– our last stop was Owen Roe Winery which was a great way to wrap up our tour. Up on a hill in a bright red building, this winery was also busy and had two resident Irish  wolfhounds outside and ready to great us. We later learned their names were Pinot and Grigio– ADORABLE.

The girl helping us with our tasting was lovely, and we tried several really good wines, ultimately buying the Chapel Block Syrah. One other wine that we really enjoyed was called the Sinister Hand, and we had to ask about the name– it was so intriguing! As it turns out, the name is inspired by the Irish legend about the Red Hand of Ulster. According to the tale, the king of Ulster at one time had no heir and so ordered a boat race, with the first person to touch the shore winning rule of the kingdom. As the race progressed, one of the contestants noticed he was losing, and, unwilling to lose his opportunity to rule, cut off his hand and threw it on shore, thereby winning the race and kingdom!

The afternoon was waning and the weather was taking a turn for the worse so we headed outside to say goodbye to Grigio before heading back to our B&B. Along the way we made one final stop at Fruit City, a fruit stand that’s been operating in Union Gap since the 1960s to pick up some local produce for the next morning’s drive home.

It was a wonderful day touring Rattlesnake Hills and learning more about some of the local towns and their history. Great weather, great people, and great wine. If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard Napa Valley wine tour, add Washington’s Yakima Valley wine region to your list!

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