Visiting Yakima Valley for the first time had me curious. I’ve only been to the state to hop at the Spokane and Seattle airports, never to stay and enjoy the country. Then when you throw in the phrase wine country in there, my trip was booked and I was ready to go! South, central Washington is simply beautiful and there is sun 300 days of the year, perfect for providing some of the best apple, grape, and cherry harvests in the region!
Rolling hills and the agriculture-rich valley look so similar to central California as I flew into Yakima airport (a short 35 minute flight from Seattle), I felt right at home from the get go. I met my guide for the 3 days and immediately I loved the friendliness and warmth from the people of Yakima. With a full itinerary ahead of me, we jumped on part of the Spirits and Hops Trail for a little alcohol tasting first thing in the morning.
Our first stop was Glacier Basin Distillery and we met Thomas Hale and talked to him about the first craft Distillery in Yakima Valley. I’m not a brandy drinker regularly, but I was eager to taste some of his recently bottled cherry brandy grown right on the 110 year old Hackett Ranch where his current establishment resides. Okay establishment is a generous word, it’s more like a shed, but they’re going to be branching out soon in the nearby barn. Warming me from lips to toes, the brandy’s 40% alcohol is slightly shocking at first, but has a nice smooth after taste.
I love that Thomas and his team will utilize the fruit in season to craft his brandy and he’s already planning a craft beer division to add to the properties’ vineyard. It will be a one-stop shop in the next few years whether you enjoy wine, beer, or brandy! If you didn’t know…I didn’t, here’s how brandy is made:
The actual distillery resembles a stainless steel hot-water heater — it’s a 15-gallon keg — with fittings and pipe attached. Here is where the liquor is brewed at roughly 170 degrees before it is sent up a pipe into a cooling condenser that reduces the temperature to about 65. In about 12 hours, there will be a gallon of brandy.
Shortly after saying goodbye to Thomas, we met Jessica on the same property with Gilbert Cellars and she gave us a quick tour of the wine cave and we witnessed some wine pressing in action! 5 generations in, this family-run winery has the perfect altitude, at nearly 1,400 feet for aromatic white varietals, like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay, oh my absolute favorites! The cooler evenings with the warmer days provides a higher natural acidity and elevates the aromatics, a delightful combination. The wine cave is covered by beautiful lavender and the vineyard itself hosts music and events on occasion and with such a lovely setting! We didn’t sample wine on site, their tasting room is in downtown Yakima, and we’d hope to get there but never did. There’s a perfect excuse to go back already!
LUNCH: Dined at Creekside West Bar & Grille, a nice spot for fresh seafood, steak, pasta, salads, appetizers, and always featuring new menu items. I enjoyed the steak skewers-Korean style marinated steak with sweet chili sauce, wasabi slaw, and Thai peanut sauce, (no added sides) it was delicious and just enough for lunch!
After lunch, we drove from Yakima about 25 miles east to the town of Tieton to visit Tieton Cider Works. This is not your grandmother’s cider folks, and no it’s not for kids either. This “hard” apple cider uses the company’s 55 acres of 400 varieties of organic fruit that include bittersweet and bittersharp apples. Fermented, the flavors borne from Tieton Cider Works read like wines as far as tasting notes and food pairings go. What they call “branch to bottle” taking from the farm to table phrase, owners Sharon and Craig Campbell allow the cider to age about 2 years in bourbon barrels before it’s bottled. The verdict? Interesting, bubbly like you’d expect with a fun added kick. I fell in love with the Holiday Cheer blend, like the name boasts, it’s perfect for the fall and entering the Christmas season. It tastes like Thanksgiving in a glass with it’s pumpkin pie spice background and I immediately purchased a case on site to arrive when I got home!
SPA: My tour guide was so generous to provide me a Spa treatment at Ummelina Spa Retreat in Yakima and I will be forever grateful! If you’re ever on a busy press trip and it’s not included, book it yourself, it just makes the trip that much more relaxing and special!
Lodging: I stayed at the Ledgestone Hotel on N. Fair Avenue the first night in Yakima. This all suite hotel is perfect for couples, girlfriends, and families staying and needing more than just a bed to sleep on! Each room has a full kitchen to make a meal or two and save some money on eating out. A living area with additional sofa bed, desk, and second television makes you feel right at home. The bedrooms are large with comfortable bedding and I loved the huge bathrooms as well. Mirrored closet doors remind me of home and are just an added bonus for primping before you head out. Downstairs you have Seattle’s Best Coffee (as well as some in your room) to grab on your way out for the day. The price is right at about $99 per night!
DINNER: That night after a full day of adventure in this lovely piece of Washington, I met with John Cooper, president/CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau and his lovely wife for dinner. It was a Tuesday night and our first restaurant was packed with a 20 minute wait, the town was bustling and we turned the corner and found Cafe Melange to be available. The bread was amazing (when it did arrive), I tasted some amazing Chardonnay from Wineglass Cellars and ordered a pesto fettucini that was incredible! The service was slow despite the half-full restaurant, but the company and menu sure made up for it.
I can’t believe how much more I have to tell you about the Yakima Valley, stay tuned!
My media tour was all-expenses paid. All opinions are 100% my own.