Yakima Pairs Wine and Food With Recreation
As I marvel at the basalt cliffs towering above the canyon floor, a hawk circling high off in the distance catches my eye. The rush of water from a trailside creek and vivid splashes of color from the purple, pink and white wildflowers dotting the sage-covered slopes have lulled me into a meditative state. Just when I start to wonder how similar this setting might have looked a century or two ago, a trail sign pointing the way to a winery tasting room nudges my attention back to modern times. With each step on this leisurely hike along the Cowiche Canyon Trail (above), about 10 miles west of downtown Yakima, I become more and more convinced that this area is hitting its stride as a getaway destination. Sure, people have been coming here for years, but these days, a growing artisan food-and-beverage scene and easier access to stunning natural surroundings are amplifying the appeal.
Founded in the mid-1980s, the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy has preserved more than 2,000 combined acres of sensitive shrub-steppe on two sites. In spring, visitors can admire the vibrant color of wildflowers from the trail that follows Cowiche Canyon’s floor or along its rim. The conservancy’s Snow Mountain Ranch (above), about 4 miles west of the canyon, provides opportunities to spot a variety of birds and other wildlife. About 20 miles north of downtown Yakima, off Hwy. 821, Red’s Fly Shop, at Canyon River Ranch, sits in the heart of the blue-ribbon Yakima River Canyon fishery. In addition to offering guide services and updates on conditions for anglers, the shop also rents equipment and provides shuttle services for those seeking to admire the scenery on a DIY float trip. Less than 2 miles north of Canyon River Ranch, the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area (above) provides access to a hiking trail into the sage lands west of the river.
Wineries and tasting rooms seem ubiquitous in Washington, but those in the Yakima Valley (more than 80 in all) set themselves apart through the uniqueness of the experiences they provide. In Wapato, Treveri Cellars (above) is one of the few Washington wineries producing sparkling wines from Washington grapes, including syrah, riesling and gewürztraminer, in addition to those made from the traditional Champagne varietals pinot noir and chardonnay. Owner and winemaker Juergen Grieb, who studied winemaking in Germany before coming to Washington in the 1980s, sheepishly admits that his sweet sparkling gewürztraminer pairs particularly well with cheesecake. As a bonus, Treveri’s winery and tasting room is just up a country road from Owen Roe winery, whose varietals and blends consistently impress critics.
Along the Cowiche Canyon rim, the tasting room shared by Wilridge Winery and Naches Heights Vineyard is set in a restored farmhouse on a 40-acre vineyard overlooking the canyon. If you don’t mind steep hills, you can hike down into the canyon before or after sampling in the tasting room and/or picnicking on the grounds.
Yakima area farms produce about 75 percent of the nation’s hop crop and the area’s orchards are legendary. A new generation of artisans are taking advantage of this bounty to produce craft beers and ciders that are achieving top-notch status, as evidenced at Bale Breaker Brewing Company’s taproom and the tasting bar at Tieton Cider Works. Reminder: Always designate a non-drinking driver, or hire a transportation service (learn more about the latter at yakimavalleytourism.com) before heading off on a wine, beer or cider-tasting excursion.
In-the-know foodies head straight to Los Hernández Tamales (3706 Main St., Union Gap, 509-457-6003) for lunch; the modest shop’s signature delectables feature flavorfully spiced pork or chicken rolled in scratch-made masa and steamed in corn husks (asparagus–and–pepperjack cheese tamales are available in spring). In downtown Yakima, the spacious and lively Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Icehouse Bar (above) provides a swank setting for offerings ranging from burgers and sandwiches, as well as a few internationally inspired eats. Glass, steel and board-formed concrete give the space a stylish, urban vibe, while elements such as light fixtures fashioned from old smudge pots—used to ward off frost in the orchards—salute the region’s agricultural heritage. In the brick, 1898 opera house in Yakima’s historic district, Carousel Restaurant & Bistro puts a local stamp on French cuisine by sourcing its ingredients from area purveyors and including Yakima Valley selections next to Old World offerings on its wine list. On weekends, its Sunday brunch is the place to be.
–Written by Rob Bhatt
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