Smack between the Columbia Basin and the Coastal Range in Washington, the Yakima Valley was in 1983 designated the first wine-growing appellation north of California. The sun-soaked wine region includes more than 100 award-winning wineries that produce delicious whites and smooth and complex reds.
But it's not all grapes: along with the best wineries to visit, we've also dug out the pick of the region's apple and hop (and cherry and apricot!) breweries and distilleries.
Tour a winery on horseback
Just because Yakima Valley is famous for its wine, don’t think the region is satisfied with the standard wine tasting bus tours and bike rides. Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast and Barn (www.cherrywoodbbandb.com) is a working ranch that leads horseback wine tours through nearby vineyards and tastings at selected wineries. Many of the horses from Cherry Wood have been rescued from feedlots, abuse and other desperate situations – and showing you around the area’s vineyards gives them a new, happy life. Want to stay longer? Reserve a teepee outfitted with the creature comforts of a hotel room, including down bedding and wood furniture. Each morning brings an amazing breakfast, which is the perfect fuel for a day of wine tasting (even if the horse is doing all the work).
A dog's view of Yakima Valley
If canines are more your speed, tour the Yakima Valley with dogs – winedoggies.com has everything from stories about working wine dogs to a doggie bloggie to pet-friendly attractions in the area. A host of wineries in the valley have mascot pooches that are more than happy to greet you and check your pockets for treats – from Jax at Airfield Estates Winery to Aurora at Sleeping Dog Wines. All the pups refrain from the hard sell, allowing their human companions to educate you on each winery’s attributes. If you can’t leave home without your own pooch, check Wine Doggies' map of wineries in Yakima Valley that will welcome your best friend with open arms. Alas, no wine tasting for Fido, so remember to bring extra cookies.
Hop to a brewery
Grapes and animals aside, the Yakima Valley also grows 75% of the nation’s hops, which makes it the world’s largest hops-producing region. Newly opened Bale Breaker Brewing Company (www.balebreaker.com) not only offers tastings, but also lets visitors check out the hops fields and leads hops tours during harvest (approximately late August through early October). The craft brewing company makes its home on land where the owners’ great-grandparents originally (and presciently) planted hops in 1932, the year before Prohibition ended.
Surrounded on three sides by a field of Cascade hops, the brewing facility’s taproom (the Baling Room) serves Bale Breaker’s choicest brews: Topcutter IPA and Field 41 Pale Ale. Get a view of the fields in the Yakima sunshine with a seat on the outdoor patio as you taste the bright hoppy goodness.
Celebrate beer at the Fresh Hop Ale Festival
If you adore brews and beer, head to the Yakima Valley in early October for the Fresh Hop Ale Festival (www.freshhopalefestival.com), which showcases beers produced with fresh Yakima Valley hops. To qualify for the festival the beers must be produced with Yakima Valley hops that were picked no longer than 24 hours prior to brewing.
Sample some cider
Yakima Valley is also home to Washington’s largest producer of hard artisan cider, Tieton Cider Works (www.tietonciderworks.com). The apples from Harmony Orchards, a farm homesteaded in the 1920s, have been farmed organically for the past 25 years. The land that was once predominantly planted with red and golden delicious varieties now has blocks of ambrosia, honey crisp, jonagold and pinova apples. The farm has one of the larger acreages in the state of perry pears and cider apples – the gnarly, inedible wild apple varieties needed to make great cider. Harmony Orchards’ American, English and French cider apple varieties are blended with organically grown dessert apples to give the cider plenty of body and sweetness.
Tieton Cider Works' variety of offerings run from Cherry Cider to Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider, and plenty more. A bonus: all the ciders are naturally gluten-free. Schedule a visit to the cidery with a call in advance or pick up some bottles in shops and restaurants in the Yakima Valley.
Finish with a selection of fruit liquors
Get a different liquid treat at Glacier Basin Distillery (www.facebook.com/GlacierBasinDistillery), housed next to Gilbert Orchards. A new small-batch distillery that specializes in using in-season fruit to create premium liquors, it features grapes, cherries, apples and apricots from the surplus of area orchards and vineyards. It’s one of the best ways to get the taste of the season from the Yakima Valley, whether it’s a grappa using grapes from winemaking or a cherry brandy during summer.
The small distillery is open by appointment, so call in advance to make sure you can drop by for a taste and a few bottles as souvenirs. Don’t forget your friends back home, who will surely be jealous of your liquid tastes of Yakima Valley. There’s always enough to go around.