by Tom Joe the “Hops ‘R Better” Winer
Yakima Valley – More Than Meets The Eye
Located in the southwestern portion of Washington State, USA, the Yakima Valley is basically a desert. Yep. Surrounded by mountains to the west and north, it barely reaches 8-9 inches of rainfall each year, allowing the perfect opportunity to grow great fruit.
What’s So Special About The Yakima Valley?
It’s a hopping place – seriously! The valley grows 75% of the hops for the entire USA. Yep, 75%. No wonder I love this area! And to top it off, we had a little “hoppy” session at Owen Roe Winery put on by Nicholi Pitra from Hopsteiner (“farm fresh hops for six generations!“) – absolutely the best of the three mini-sessions put on there (Marcus Roberts from Tieton Cider Works gave a great session on the cider industry, and David O’Reilly from the winery took us on a 20 minute very educational jaunt around the farm).
Pop-Quiz Notes on the Yakima Valley:
- Yakima Valley AVA was the first AVA established in Washington State in 1983
- 75% of all hops grown in the United States come from this valley
- More than 30 different fruits & vegetables are grown for nationwide consumption including apples, cherries, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, mint, asparagus, hay, berries, eggplant….ad nauseam. Let’s just stick to hops & grapes!
- Semi-arid (read “desert”) conditions with 300 days of sunshine, an average of 8 inches of rain, in the same state as Rain City (that’ll be Washington’s state capital, Seattle)
- Over 100 wineries in the valley (click here to check out some of them listed by Yakima Valley Wine Country)
- Over 14 craft breweries located in the valley alone!
- The leading county in the U.S. for apple production. Get your Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Honeycrisp varieties right here folks (as well as hundreds of antique apple varieties)!
- Situated at the same latitude as Bordeaux, France
- One barrel of wine makes around 240 bottles, which equals 1,200 glasses. Okay, this is more than just Yakima Valley, but it’s a fact that we all should know!
Soilage Is Good in The Yakima Valley
And when I say good, I mean GREAT! In fact, their soil dates all the way back to the Ice Age with volcanic activity and a flood. We’re talking 50 million years of pre-wine history! Windblown loess with gravelly or sandy soil implies some well-drained land. And with many vineyards being planted on the south-facing slopes, the ancient terroir permits original rootstock to be used on all their Vitis vinifera fruit – no grafting needed here.
With the remarkable soil and different sediment available, sometimes within the same block of land, farmers can grow basically whatever type of grape they want. And they do: Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Syrah, to name just a few. I can attest that I did taste a few of these wines and my wife said they were great!
Elephant Mountain Vineyards Excursion
To discover the wine variety that you like the best it should make perfect sense that tasting the wine is the best way to start that journey. However, getting to visit the winery, walk the vineyards, talk with the winemaker and farmer allowing you to really understand the terroir and effort that goes into each and every bottle that you taste, well, that appreciation makes the wines taste so much better.
Of course, every now & then the character of the farmer needs to be called into question. In this instance, Joe Hattrup, owner & farmer for Elephant Mountain Vineyards, invited us up to View Point Lookout. On a cold, windy day. And he knew what he was doing!
Remember, this area is like a desert, it’s October, and the Canadians are sending some sub-polar wind our way. Don’t believe me? Check out these happy faces!
Of course, Joe did the obligatory spiel on how the terroir and weather affect each of his plots and which grape variety was planted in each – very interesting information as we gazed over the farm. He may even have mentioned the diurnal factor so important to grapes… but I know the real truth….he really wanted us to feel the cold!
Overall, the Yakima Valley wine industry is only three decades in the making, but as the wines that we tasted can attest, the effort & future for this region is looking quite good!
Remember, it’s all about having FUN with wine!
Drink Wine – Drink Wisely!