Our weekend adventure wine tasting in Yakima Valley, WA: Rattlesnake Hills region
We like wine. A lot. For my birthday, I decided I wanted to go wine tasting in Yakima Valley, WA for the weekend.
The Yakima Valley is on the Eastern side of the Cascade Mountain Range, which means it is on the sunny, desert side of the state. Many people don’t know that half of Washington and Oregon is actually desert. With snow runoff from the mountains into rivers and streams, Eastern Washington receives plenty of irrigation plus two extra hours of sunlight a day than the Napa region of California. All this amounts to a great place to grow grapes.
I looked at accommodations and a map of the wineries in the area, and found the highest concentration of wineries to be in Rattlesnake Hills, near the town of Zillah, WA. Accommodations in the immediate area left much to be desired. Neighboring town of Toppenish has a Quality Inn, but that was about it. There was a lovely expensive B&B in the area, but the price was out of our budget.
We left Seattle early on a Friday afternoon, taking the I-90 East and then connecting with the I-82 Southeast just past Yakima to Zillah, WA. We passed this sign as we entered Yakima:
Now, I haven’t been to Palm Springs, but I’m pretty sure that Yakima is not comparable.
We made pretty good time and arrived at the cottage around 3:30. The drive was pretty, and only about two and a half hours.
The cottage was perfect for two people and was in walking distance to five wineries, with all the rest just a short drive away. The owner Susan was very friendly in her emails and the kitchen had everything we needed to cook with. She even had quite a few spices and teas for guest use in the cupboards.
Something to be aware of: This house is small. It’s cute, but the ceilings are only about 6.5 ft, and the stand up shower stall is pretty cramped. The bed is a full size, not a queen. We had no problem, but if you are very tall or larger people, it might not be super comfortable.
I had just flown in from a business trip in Detroit that morning, and was really tired. After a nap, we deliberated about what to do for dinner. We had planned on driving 30 minutes to Yakima for a nice dinner, but our energy level and bank account balance was lacking. We went on Yelp to find restaurants in the area– there was a plethora of Mexican restaurants, and not much else. We decided to drive into neighboring Toppenish to find a grocery store and see what restaurants we could find nearby.
We found a Safeway in Toppenish, and stocked up on groceries for the next day and evening. We then drove down the main drag a bit and found The Branding Iron. It was a diner with a lounge in the back, with all the classic diner food you would expect. We ordered a fishwich and a burger dip with side salads. It was about a step up from a high school cafeteria, with a square fish patty, crinkle fries, and iceberg lettuce salad. It was cheap though, and we were feeling a little poor at the moment. I think this is more of a 3:00 AM drunk breakfast spot, not so much on the sober dining.
We came back to the little blue house and opened a bottle of wine, enjoying the late evening sun on the deck. We had a little celebratory toast for my birthday.
The house didn’t have a TV, so we brought our new Roku projector and DVD player and hooked it up to project on the bedroom wall. It worked out nicely.
I was dog tired, so we only made it through one and a half episodes of True Blood season 6 before I passed out.
We got a great night’s sleep (the bed is a memory foam mattress with a fluffy comforter–very comfortable). Paddy cooked a tasty breakfast– potatoes and a sausage scramble. We forgot olive oil, but found some truffle oil in the cupboard and we had butter, so we made do and it worked out.
**Note: The house has salt and pepper and spices, but make sure you bring everything else you need to cook with.
Mount Adams was out in full view from the back deck. It was a beautiful morning.
After a solid breakfast foundation and a leisurely morning, we were ready to do what we came here for: wine tasting in Yakima Valley.
There were so many wineries to choose from in Rattlesnake Hills, that we didn’t really know where to start. Susan had left a few tourist magazines on wine tasting in the region for guests, which came in handy.
We decided to start with J. Bell Cellars, which advertised wine tasting and lavender fields.
We were the first people to arrive at just after 11:00 AM and were welcomed by the owner, Wes and their little dog Toby. There was a lovely little courtyard with a wine tasting bar in the corner, and Wes said he would waive the tasting fee today.
We tried a few of the reds, the cabernet was our favorite. Wes encouraged us to walk around the property and lavender fields while we sipped our tasting pours.
The property is definitely a work in progress, and the plans have great potential. The lavender fields will continue to grow, and they are starting to manufacture lavender products for sale as well as wine.
The wine tasting hours are from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, but the courtyard is clearly being set up for future evening events and entertaining. There was a very nice fire pit, and lights wound around the trees in the courtyard area. A large corner koi pond is beginning construction, and I think it will be very nice when it is finished.
We asked Wes what their plans were, and he told us they were trying to get a restaurant permit for evening dinners. He said it is very difficult in the area to get a food service permit at a winery, as the zoning is agricultural. They are determined though, and I am excited to see what they will have going next summer. This is a place to keep an eye on.
We sat down and Wes brought us a few more tastings. We thought the pinot noir rose was pretty interesting–it was sweet and buttery. Different than a lot of rose wines we’ve tried before.
The bottle prices at J. Bell were probably the highest of all the five wineries we visited, and while they were all very good we felt that they were a little out of our budget range.
We were escorted in by another winery dog named Dixie past a little picnic area with more great views to the tasting room, where we met Anne.
It turned out Anne was a good friend of Susan, the owner of our little blue rental house. She told us a bit about the area and we tasted all 12 of her wines (six whites, six reds). Our favorite was the 2012 Verdelho, which was a nice fruity yet slightly dry white perfect for a hot summer day.
We also met Grigio, the winery cat. He was extremely friendly.
After tasting 12 wines (Knights Hill has so many!) on top of the ones we tasted at J. Bell, we were feeling like we might want to consider parking the car soon and continuing on foot.
We decided to take a short break from wine tasting and drive into Downtown Zillah to see what was there.
There wasn’t much.
However, we did find the place that we should have gone for dinner the night before– The Old Warehouse. It is a fairly new restaurant and bar with a deck, and…a furniture auction house. Kind of random, but it looked pretty good. There was a good lunch crowd on the deck and a band playing Led Zepplin covers. We were bummed we didn’t find it the night before. I have no idea how their food is, but it has to be better than the Branding Iron.
We headed back to the house to drop off the car and pack up a picnic so that we could continue our wine tasting in Yakima Valley.
We ditched the car at the house, packed up our picnic, and set off walking down the road towards Bonair Winery.
Everywhere in the area were cherry orchards growing bing cherries. They seemed to be growing on every road.
We crossed the street to a sign for Bonair Winery on the corner, and passed many fields of grapes before we reached the tasting room. The tasting room is a bit further than we thought, but it was a nice walk.
We finally reached the tasting room at the end of the road. The winery itself was very nice, with a duck pond, picnic tables, and it looked like they were setting up for a wedding later that evening.
We were given an option of five wines each to taste for $5.00 per person. We tasted several, including the oddly-named “Bung Dog Red,” which was a very nice blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec. Paddy was raving about the 2010 Malbec that he tried, so we bought a bottle to drink with our picnic. It ended up being my favorite as well.
We paid for the wine and the tasting fees, and found a table in the courtyard for our picnic.
We soon realized where the name Bung Dog Red came from when Bung Dog himself decided to take a seat at our table in hopes of partaking in our picnic.
He was very polite but was a bit disappointed that we did not allow him to imbibe in our al fresco lunch. He soon moved on to the next table and took a seat, patiently hoping for service.
After our picnic, we realized we should get going as the wineries close at 5:00 PM, and it was already 3:00. We packed up, said goodbye to Bung Dog, and headed back down the dusty road.
Our next stop was Tanjuli Winery. There weren’t any outdoor picnic areas, but the tasting room has tables and chairs for guest use. We tasted several of their wines, the most memorable being the dessert wines. I tried the Orange Muscat Sherry which had a unique fruity flavor, and Paddy tried the Black Muscat Port. The Port was very strong, and sweet without being too sweet. It had a full bodied complex flavor that we really enjoyed (Paddy let me taste some of his). Tasting fees were $5.00 per person.
We left Tanjuli and walked across the road to our last stop, Wineglass Cellars. The name may be a bit dull, but the wine makes up for it. Our favorite here was the Syrah Les Vignes de Marcoux, which just won a gold medal at the 2014 Seattle Wine Awards. Paddy is always a sucker for Syrah.
The owner David was very friendly and we enjoyed talking to him. It turns out his wife is also a former AFS high school exchange student as well. The two of them have been making wine for 20 years, longer than the rest of the wineries we visited.
We purchased a bottle of Syrah and weren’t charged any tasting fees. The wines are also very reasonably priced. No picnic facilities, but this one is worth a stop.
For dinner that evening, we cooked salmon, corn, and garlic bread and made a large batch of guacamole with chips. We relaxed and enjoyed the sunset, Mt. Adams continuing to look lovely from the deck.
The next day, we drove home. We made a quick stop a little ways outside of Yakima at a highway viewpoint. A couple last photos of the sunny Eastern Washington Valley before returning to the other side of the Cascades.
We had a really great weekend and we’ll be back wine tasting in Yakima Valley for sure. There are so many wineries that we didn’t get to and Susan’s little blue house is a great spot for a relaxing summer weekend. I think on our next trip, we’ll check out The Old Warehouse restaurant, and if we have some money to splurge, we’d love to check out the Cherry Wood Bed and Breakfast with fancy “glamping” Teepees. They’re expensive, but the reviews are good and gourmet breakfast is included. If you stay there, let us know how it was!