Of all the places that I visited on my recent tour of the Northwest, the Yakima Valley reminded me most of my home here in West Texas. While we were touring the area the temperatures topped out somewhere in the mid 90s. The good news is, that with an average rainfall in the Yakima Valley of less than 9 inches, it was a dry heat (of course, so is a blowtorch).
On the bus that took us from the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco) to Yakima, we were treated to some really interesting facts about the Yakima Valley, compliments of Matthew Rawn of Copeland Vineyard and Two Mountain Winery. Matthew and his brother Patrick are third generation farmers, although the grapes are a more recent addition to the crops produced on their land. I really found the parallels between Yakima and West Texas to be very interesting. Both feature long, hot Summers, but with large nightly temperature swings that can be as drastic as 40 degrees. The low rainfall is another similarity. In spite of these similarities, there are some key differences that were discussed. Winter temperatures are cold enough that they do not have a lot of the pest problems that we have here. The descriptions of the area sound like a vineyard owners paradise when compared to those in my home state. Yakima growers have not really experienced problems with Pierce's Disease, or with troublesome insects. There also seem to be more significant sources for irrigation, with snow melt-off from the mountains, and the substantial rivers that feed into the area.
Another interesting facet of the terroir of the area that we learned about, is the soil in the area. The effects of prehistoric floods, most notably the Missoula Flood, and volcanic activity have created the unique landscape found in the area. The soils are a mixture of the basalt layers and the soils deposited by the flooding. The soils are well suited for the drainage needed to produce vigorous vines.
Our first stop of the tour was DuBrul Vineyards, where we were treated to a lunch, complete with an incredible selection of Yakima Valley wines. There were more than 20 different wineries represented at the event, and a host of different wines for us to sample. I started off with a nice Barnard Griffin Rosé, and then worked my way into some Riesling, and then finally onto some reds. The lunch was delicious, and it was great to be able to experience a little cross section of Yakima Valley wines. I will say that I found a large percentage of the wines to be a little bit hot for my taste. There were a few that stood out to me. I enjoyed the 2009 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese, the 2009 Willow Crest Riesling, and my personal favorite was the 2006 Cultura Syrah, which seems like a great value at $25 a bottle.
After the lunch, we took a walk through the Vineyards at DuBrul and had a great opportunity to talk with some of the local growers. I really enjoyed talking with Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyard about his farm, and approach to working the land. He told me that his family walks through that vineyard, so he tries to be as natural as possible when it comes to additives in the vineyard. The growers are fortunate to be in a location where it is largely unnecessary to use some of the normal additives to control pests.
Next stop on the tour was at the Vintner's Village, a great spot in the city of Prosser that serves as the base for 10 different wineries. There was more great food, and more wines than I could possibly taste during the time that we had there. There were some great wines on display here, including the wines from Steppe Cellars, which I was disappointed to learn that I wouldn't be able to have delivered to my West Texas home. Their 2007 Tempranillo/Grenach/Mourvedre and the 2007 Artemisia red blend were both outstanding. I did come away with a bottle of one of the wines that we tasted at the event, the 2006 Milbrandt Vineyards Syrah.
The trip to Yakima was an incredible way to officially kick off the Wine Bloggers' Conference. It was great to learn about this area of Washington, and to personally experience the wines and the wonderful people of the area. One of the highlights of my entire trip was getting to spend time with the growers who produce all the grapes that go into the great Washington wines that I enjoyed in the Northwest. Everywhere you go, you hear winemakers saying that great wines are made in the vineyard, and these are the people behind those great wines.