Washington’s Other Wine Country

Written by: Sabrina

The rain steadily came down, a thick blanket of clouds covered Seattle.
After making a few quick reservations and printing out maps we headed
out.  We threw our suitcases in the car and drove east towards the
Cascade mountain range.  After an hour of driving we descended out of
the rain laden mountains and into the sun filled Kittitas Valley.  The
few puffy, white clouds were scarce and the farmland surrounding us was
a deep, lush green.  We were on our way to The Rattlesnake Hills wine
country, one of the lesser known wine trails in Washington after Walla
Walla and Woodinville.

We decided on a
quick lunch in Ellensburg at the Soup Bowl.  I chose a ciabatta
sandwich (which turned out to be quite delicious) and brought it with
me to the Wild Horse Wind Farm that we wanted to check out.  The wind
farm’s close location to Ellensburg made it an ideal spot to get out
and stretch our legs for a bit before finishing our drive to Yakima.
The wind turbines are set high on a ridge looming over the valley and
barely visible through some low lying clouds.  Sun rays streaking
through the clouds lit up the faint turbines in the distance; the
distinct smell of a summer rain and sweet sage filled the air.  We
arrived at the Wind Farm and explored the visitor’s center learning
that there are a total of 127 turbines that make up the Wild Horse Wind
Farm.  Surprisingly the massive turbines are very quiet, the only sound
you hear on this windy ridge is the slight swoosh of the propellers moving rhythmically high above.

We
left the wind turbines and continued on our way to wine country.  We
passed through Yakima and headed for the smaller town of Zillah.  After
surveying the wine map of Rattlesnake Hills we decided on a few
wineries that we would stop at.  The first on our list, Portteus.
After turning off of the main road you enter onto a dirt road that
winds through fields of vineyards, stretching far to the edge of the
hills.  The dirt road ends at a pleasant county manor with a separate
tasting room.  This was my boyfriend’s and my first attempt at wine
tasting.  We were a bit nervous as we did not know what to expect.
However, the sight of the manor and the rows of vineyards were so
inviting we forgot all about our lack of wine expertise and made our
way into the tasting room.

The tasting
room was comfortably cool and not overly decorated.  At once I noticed
the soft “Rat Pack” style of music playing in the background that
helped to create a relaxing ambiance, perfect for wine tasting.  The
wine makers were extremely knowledgeable and personable, they were able
to explain to us how the whole wine tasting process worked. It was very
interesting to hear how one wine maker, Matt, just fell into this new
passion and career in the wine industry. The caste wines are free to
taste and the reserve wines cost $5, however this fee is waived if you
buy a bottle of wine.
A few notable wines were the Petite Syrah, the Old Vine Red Reserve
Cabernet Sauvignon, a Reserve Chardonnay and the Rattlesnake Red.  I
especially enjoyed the Old Vine Cab with its hints of blackberries, oak
and a velvety smooth finish.  Portteus was an extremely pleasant
beginning to our afternoon of wine tasting.

Our
second stop took us to Silver Lake at Roza Hills which is perched on a
hilltop over looking the valley.  This winery is less “rustic” feeling
than Portteus and has more of a traditional winery look to it with wood
counters and large windows that allow plenty of light to fill the
tasting room.  In the back of the room are large windows that give you
a glimpse into the world of wine making with a view of the large
castes.  We decided to taste four reserve wines for $5.  The Grand
Reserve Merlot was very satisfying and had a distinctive hint of honey,
similar to that of a port, making it stand out amongst other Merlot.
After making our wine purchases we decided to get a better view of the
valley.  To the right of the tasting room stands a deck that has a
sweeping view of the vineyards that fill the valley below making it a
perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine in the afternoon.

We
decided on the Two Mountain Winery for our third stop.  Upon entering
the tasting room which is located in a large barn type building, you
get a sense that this winery is much more relaxed than the previous
two.  Lying on the concrete floor were two yellow labs trying to escape
the Eastern Washington summer heat and oak barrels held up the wooden
bar table.  This winery focused more on reds and only had one white
chardonnay.  The Red Table wine was very pleasant.

Hyatt
Vineyards at Roza Ridge was our fourth stop.  The grounds are
especially beautiful at this winery.  The view of the vineyards
expanding into the distance and Mt. Rainier towering over the rolling
hills make this an excellent spot for a picnic.  We decided to take a
short break and just relax for a moment.  We sat at the picnic tables
which are conveniently placed on the lawn enjoying the colorful flowers
surrounding the garden and feeling the warm valley breeze on our skin.
The gift shop inside the tasting room is also lovely and full of
natural light streaming through the windows.  Their Roza Ridge Merlot
is quite notable with its hint of black cherry and a spicy oak flavor.

When
looking for a different winery we accidentally (and after tasting the
wine very gratefully) ended up at our final destination, Wineglass
Cellars, a smaller family owned winery.  This winery is a father and
son run winery that is very friendly and personable.  The tasting room
is simple yet welcoming and not overly large.  What it lacks in
appearance though is more than made up for in the service and excellent
wines.  The Cabernet Franc was my favorite with its smooth chocolate
taste and a hint of berry.  The Cabernet Sauvignon was also noteworthy
with a wonderfully rich oak and fruit taste.  The chardonnay was very
crisp and refreshing with a light apricot taste: a perfect
accompaniment to a warm summer evening.  Wineglass Cellars sent us on
our way feeling very satisfied and pleased with our day.

As the
sun began to set over the rolling brown hills we headed back to Yakima
to check in to our hotel.  We stayed in a moderately priced Best
Western.  The check in process went smoothly and the room was clean
with ample space for the two of us.  After settling in and checking out
dinner options in Yakima we opted for The Depot which is located
downtown in a historic railroad station.  The location was great and
there were large floor to ceiling windows that allowed plenty of views
of the trains and historic brick buildings.  We chose a local wine and
snacked on warm bread.  Unfortunately, the rest of dinner was not quite
as pleasant.  Our food arrived after an hour and a half of patient
waiting and was still not fully cooked.  My pork loin was tough, yet
still somehow underdone and both of our baked potatoes were still hard
on the inside.  While we dined a woman played the piano and sang in the
adjoining dining room.  She played a variety of soft hits (Elton John,
Celine Dion) which was at times overshadowed by Metallica that the
kitchen was blasting.  By the end of dinner we couldn’t stop laughing,
it was quite an unusual dining experience to say the least.

The
next morning we checked out early and decided to make our way back to
Seattle.  We stopped in Ellensburg once again for lunch.  We were
planning to eat at the Soup Bowl once more but found that it was
closed.  Right next door however was a small cafe named Morrelli’s Cafe
Italiano that we decided to try.  The interior was very quaint and cozy
with red and white tablecloths, black and white pictures of wine and
friendly service.  The paninis we chose were excellent, probably the
best I have ever had and they were very reasonably priced.

After
a delightful lunch we got back on the road and headed north towards the
quaint Bavarian Village of Leavenworth.  The village is nestled amongst
mountains making the drive a very scenic one.  The village itself is
very charming and friendly.  We had the opportunity this time to chat
with a local who worked in one of the shops in town but lived out in
the canyon.  Strolling through the village is a great way to get a
glimpse at the many shops and restaurants.  There are plenty of sweets
to be found as well.  We stopped at the Leavenworth Chocolate and Fudge
shop and split a piece of the dark chocolate peanut butter fudge.  It
was wonderfully smooth and rich – a perfect afternoon treat.  While
snacking on the delicious fudge my eye caught a store full of
nutcrackers.  I have to admit that I have a weak spot for the classic
nutcrackers and this store was full of them.  Upstairs the second floor
houses the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum whose collection includes over
5,000 nutcrackers dating back to the Roman times.  The museum is open
from 2pm-5pm daily during the summer months and only on the weekends
during the winter months.

Our final stop on our way back home
was at Lake Wenatchee, a deep blue lake surrounded by mountains covered
with tall evergreens.  The lake includes features such as a campground
and boating and swimming access.  The view from the swimming area is
breathtaking.  The lake stretches as far as you can see through a
winding canyon and the wind blows swiftly through the valley.  In the
distance dark clouds began to loom over the mountains and a soft summer
rain began to fall.  We zipped up our jackets and headed back to the
car.

The rain came steadily down as we finished up the final leg
of our journey.  Our wine tasting weekend had been a success.  We were
able to sample many different kind of wines and found some new
favorites.  We escaped the busy city and had a chance to enjoy the more
rural parts of Washington and a beautiful scenic drive.  We couldn’t
wait to plan our next wine tasting weekend.

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