A Day in the Vineyards
Time flies when you’re having fun in the Yakima Valley! I spent my day with winemakers and vineyard owners and was late for every appointment but my first (a long day of apologies). I had a hard time pulling myself away from each stop, but not because of the wine; I had too much to accomplish today to mix in wine (and I had tasted all, but 1, before). My enjoyment came entirely from spending time with people who exude passion for their craft and pride in the valley, and embrace all who visit. And also from the area’s natural beauty – spring green throughout the valley, Mt Adams and Mt Rainier visible to the west, and bright sun and blue skies high above.
My first stop was to Dineen Vineyards, where
the vines were weeping but Pat Dineen was all smiles. The vineyard supplies approximately 20 Washington winemakers primarily with Cab, Cab Franc and Syrah. (Dineen also makes a small batch of its own wine, with the help of Scott Greer of Sheridan.) Pat planted the vineyard with his wife after a career in banking out of passion for food, wine and travel – he also happens to have farming in his blood. He loves his land, is energized by the grapes, and loves to share both with others.
While there, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting John and Heather Ramseyer, who have been successful at selling 3 vintages of wine exclusively to their mailing list. Not bad. I followed them back to their home where they, along with their daughter and son, were painting the Ramseyer “party barn” – an old cow barn that will be an important part of future release parties. They go back and forth between Mercer Island and Zillah (except during their son’s baseball season, which takes priority in the spring), but their hearts remain in Zillah. Their wine world, which revolves around their simple property with expansive views, and their new community, is what gives them fuel for their more traditional lives on the west side of the mountains – work, school, and raising a family. Together, we pondered the challenge of getting more people to visit the Yakima Valley, all in agreement its beauty alone is worth the effort.
And then there are the 30-somethings. They
wouldn’t mind that reference; in fact, Two Mountain, Cultura and Severino are hosting an event April 15 called just that, 30-Somethings Behind the Bottle. It is a guided tour from one winery to the next, an opportunity to learn about viticulture, wine tasting, and food and wine pairing – in an un-intimidating setting. All owners/winemakers are in their 30′s and are on a mission to take the snooty out of wine and make it accessible and fun for all. They all have ties to the land they work and are extremely enthusiastic about the growth of the valley and its prospects for the future, and are intent on making a mark.
Last, but definitely not least, I got a special tour of Snipes Mountain (one of WAW9′s 9 AVAs). There is one vineyard that dominates this AVA: Upland Vineyards. On their vast property grows cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots (very difficult to pick I learned), pears, prunes, and… grapes. A lot of grapes (more than 800 acres and over 35 varietals). And 5 years ago they began to make wine under their own label, Upland Estates Winery. This has been a family business for 3 generations, and it is still thriving. Their passion comes from tremendous pride and deep attachment to the land; but they are not haughty about their success. When I asked my host about being so dominant in the AVA, she said in a very matter-of-fact way, “it’s pretty cool”. Hard to challenge that.
And hard not to have a great day buzzing
around the Yakima Valley surrounded by so much excitement about this flourishing industry. It’s contagious. I highly recommend this experience if you want to get a taste of a young, burgeoning wine industry. The commitment of all I visited with today makes me certain it will be around for a while.