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Vintners, growers hit road with story of Yakima Valley wine
RICHLAND, Wash. — David O’Reilly helped create two of Oregon’s top Pinot Noir houses, yet he’s proudly joining forces with some of Washington’s legendary winemakers to help promote the Yakima Valley — which now is home to his Owen Roe Winery.
“We could have built our winery in Woodinville, but I want to bring people out to the Yakima Valley to show just what makes this area so special,” O’Reilly told Great Northwest Wine.
Last year, Yakima Valley grape growers and winemakers celebrated their 30th anniversary as the Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area, but they don’t plan to slow down on their efforts to tout their region as the cradle of the Washington wine industry.
On Monday, Wine Yakima Valley took its promotional tour to Richland, which featured iconic winemakers such as Kay Simon of Chinook Wines and Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe. Presenters also included Kerry Shiels, winemaker for her family’s Côte Bonneville and DuBrul Vineyard, second-generation grower Jonathan Sauer of historic Red Willow Vineyard — and the newly transplanted O’Reilly.
“Yeah, he’s a devotee,” Simon said.
Wine Yakima Valley grower luncheons target trade
The continuing series of Wine Yakima Valley grower luncheons targets restaurateurs, grocers, wine merchants, wine shops, wine bars, distributors and media. This day also included the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, which has embraced the region’s award-winning wine industry to help drive tourism.
“Just because that bottle was produced in Woodinville or Walla Walla, there’s a good chance that it came from the Yakima Valley,” said Barbara Glover, executive director of Wine Yakima Valley. “We grow more than 30 percent of Washington state’s wine grapes, and there are reasons for that, so we are taking this out on the road and letting people know about them. We started these in conjunction of the 30th anniversary, and they were so well received that we’ve continued to do them.”
They returned this year to Seattle’s popular Wild Ginger restaurant and included a luncheon in Yakima followed by Monday’s presentation in Richland at Anthony’s at Columbia Point. There are plans for Wine Yakima Valley to make a trip to Portland this winter.
“I think everybody who walks out of these presentations is surprised by what they didn’t know,” Glover said. “And we try to keep them to around 24 people because it’s more informal. We had a lot of good questions today, and if you get a bigger environment, people are not going to feel as comfortable and pose those questions. This makes for a better one-on-one experience.”
Wolfe said, “Here, we are in our own backyard, but the feeling is that we’ve made more of an impression with the Seattle luncheons — probably because they are farther away and some of them haven’t even come over to the Yakima Valley before.”
Winemakers, growers take turns sharing story of Yakima Valley
Winemakers and growers took turns leading the audience through a tasting of nearly a dozen wines while describing the Yakima Valley’s climate, geology, viticulture and history.
“It’s a road show, and it’s describing what’s special about the Yakima Valley because we haven’t been tooting our own horn,” Simon said. “I’ve always said the growers in the Yakima Valley were too busy growing the grapes to be talking about themselves. Now, we’re buying grapes from third- and fourth-generation growers — people like the Newhouse family, the denHoeds and Brenton Roy at Oasis Farms in Benton City.”
It’s no coincidence, Simon said, that farmers, rather than winemakers, created Wine Yakima Valley, which counts 55 members.
“It was a group of growers that included Dick Olsen, Mike Hogue and Bill denHoed, who said, ‘Hey, we’re not getting our share of attention. We need this,’ ” Simon said. “And we have to do events like this. This is our area. We have to represent. If we don’t do it, there’s no one else.”
Owen Roe prepares for second crush in Yakima Valley
O’Reilly, who co-founded Sineann in the Willamette Valley two decades ago with Peter Rosback, was among the rare Oregon winemakers to produce Washington wines when he created Owen Roe starting with the 1999 vintage. After years of earning acclaim with grapes from DuBrul Vineyard and Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, he decided to build a winemaking facility near Wapato in the Rattlesnake Hills.
This will be his second vintage produced at his winery on Gangl Road near sparkling wine house Treveri Cellars, and O’Reilly said the opportunity to join the Wine Yakima Valley road show was “an honor.”
“You look at Wade and Kay and the Sauer family — sure, I want to help tell the story,” O’Reilly said. “You go out to any of our vineyards and you’ll see three different soil types, different exposures and with younger folks like Jonathan and Kerry, you get passion. There are winemakers and grape growers who really care about excellence.”
The more relaxed atmosphere in the Yakima Valley also provides some fascination, O’Reilly said.
“In Oregon, we’re a lot more competitive now, and we have grown as an area,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve said this many times. I don’t have a formal contract with any of my growers here in the Yakima Valley, whereas in Oregon where everyone does have a contract.”
On Monday, winemakers and growers also pointed out that research funded by assessments and wine sales continues to help drive the industry in Washington state. Simon credited the late Max Benitz, Sr., a state senator from Prosser, with spearheading legislation that collects a tax on any wine sold in Washington to help pay for research. Construction of the Wine Science Center at Washington State University’s branch campus in Richland serves as just another example.
“These are world-class researchers, and they are right here,” O’Reilly said.
Perhaps no other winery has branded the Yakima Valley better in the Seattle restaurant scene than Chinook, and Simon’s longtime association with Tom Douglas and his restaurants played a major role in that. Simon and her husband Clay Mackey work on Douglas’ house wines.
“On his Lola wine and his Dahlia anniversary wine, it says Yakima Valley. He’s not going to get away with Columbia Valley,” she said with a laugh.