Yakima Valley thrives as historical heart of Washington wine

By on September 3, 2017
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Otis Harlan of Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

Otis Harlan was a pioneer in the early Washington wine industry, running Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and selling top-quality grapes to the likes of David Lake of Columbia Winery. Today, Harlan is retired and living in Yakima, Wash. He sold his vineyard a couple of years ago. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

The Yakima Valley is where the Washington wine industry got its start, as we like to say, “the cradle of the industry.”

There’s a ton of history in this valley, including:

  • Walter Clore, “the father of Washington Wine,” lived and did much of his research here. His life is now celebrated at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.
  • William Bridgman, two-time mayor of Sunnyside, planted grapes here in 1914. He started Upland Winery after repeal of Prohibition, and it operated into the 1960s. If you know where to look, you can find his concrete fermentation tanks.
  • In 1986, the first Syrah, planted in Washington went in the ground at Red Willow Vineyard.
  • The oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Pacific Northwest are at Otis Vineyard north of Grandview, planted in 1956.
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s largest and oldest winery, established its original winemaking facility  in the town of Grandview.
  • The Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area was the Yakima Valley, approved by the federal government in 1983.

Since then, several new AVAs have been carved out of the Yakima Valley, including:

  • Red Mountain was approved in 2001.
  • Rattlesnake Hills was approved in 2008.
  • Snipes Mountain was approved in 2009.

The Yakima Valley is home to more 13,000 acres of vineyards and 60 wineries.

Here are a dozen wines made from Yakima Valley grapes. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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