Weekend in Washington Wine Country: Red Mountain, Tri-Cities, Yakima Valley

By Kori ~ July 6th, 2009.

We recently spent a wonderful weekend in Washington wine country. We visited vineyards and wineries on Red Mountain, in the Yakima Valley, and near the Tri-Cities. We met some wonderful people, tasted some great wines, and spent time in some of the state’s best vineyards.

View of Red Mountain from Chandler Reach VineyardsOn the way from Seattle to our hotel in the Tri-Cities, our first stop was at Chandler Reach Vineyards in Benton City, founded in 1997 by Len and Jane Parris. Built to look like a Tuscan villa, the winery has a beautiful setting overlooking their estate vineyards with a view of neighboring Red Mountain. My favorite of the wines we tasted was their 2004 Syrah.

Next we had the pleasure to visit with owner Patricia Gelles, affectionately known as the “Baroness of the Mountain,” at the famed Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. We met Patricia at Taste Washington in April and were glad to have the opportunity to interview her again and tour the vineyard in person. Patricia and her husband David founded Klipsun Vineyard in 1984. Klipsun means “sunset” in Chinook Indian jargon and is an appropriate name because the vineyard faces west.

The next morning we drove back to Yakima to meet with Sean Gilbert at Gilbert Cellars in Yakima. We tasted through barrels of both the soon-to-be-bottled 2007’s and the 2008’s. We had tasted the 2007’s in barrel last summer so it was great to be able to taste them again with another year of barrel age. I am really looking forward to their 2007 releases, particularly the Syrah, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. The Cab Franc was the biggest surprise for me; it was fabulous and I haven’t been able to say that about many Cab Francs. The grapes were sourced from Indian Wells Vineyard from 1985 vines. The bad news is that they will never be able to make this same wine again as the vines were ripped out after they bought these grapes.

Cote Bonneville winesWe spent the afternoon with Hugh and Kathy Shiels at their DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville Winery. We had been quite impressed with their wines at Taste Washington this year so we were anxious to visit and learn more about their operations. The Shiels planted their first wine grapes in 1992 and started their own winery in 2001 after their last child left home. They are running a first class operation: amazing fruit, amazing wines, and amazing people.

The following day we visited five wineries that we had not previously visited. We visited Airfield Estates, Tasawik, and Masquerade in Prosser, Sandhill on Red Mountain, and Tagaris in Richland. Tasawik and Sandhill were exciting discoveries. We tasted all four Tasawik wines from their first vintage, 2005. Our favorite was their Reserve which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. We found some great QPR wines at Sandhill Winery on Red Mountain. Our favorites were their 2003 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. On top of having some excellent wines at great prices, the folks working in the tasting room were very nice too. Sandhill was purchased by Corliss Estates earlier this year.

Vineyard manager Ryan Johnson at the top of Grand Rêve's estate vineyardWe wrapped up our trip by spending the following morning on Red Mountain with vineyard manager Ryan Johnson touring Grand Rêve, Cara Mia, and Ciel du Cheval. In addition to being vineyard manager, Ryan is also a partner in Grand Rêve. The Grand Rêve estate vineyard is planted on the upper slopes of Red Mountain, and their first harvest is planned for next year. Meaning Great Dream in French, Grand Rêve boasts a revolutionary and exciting concept of focusing on the fruit first and then selecting Washington winemakers whom they feel can get the best expression of that fruit. (For more info on Grand Rêve, please refer back to my Grand Rêve: New Washington State Winery Bursts onto the Scene post.) Cara Mia is the estate vineyard of Cadence Winery, owned by talented winemaker Ben Smith. The first vines on this 10.5 acre vineyard were planted in 2004, and their first harvest was in 2006. Our final stop was at Ciel du Cheval, one of the premier vineyards in the state. Planted in 1975, Ciel du Cheval is owned and operated by Jim Holmes, Ryan’s mentor. We learned a ton from Ryan during our tours of these three vineyards. He is a knowledgeable guy and his enthusiasm for his work is evident. These traits are already paying off for Cara Mia and Ciel du Cheval, and I expect that his own Grand Rêve project will be a success as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that we tasted on this trip. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Côte Bonneville Carriage House DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50, QPR: 5
2004 Côte Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $120, QPR: 2

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2003 Sandhill Merlot, Red Mountain, $25, QPR: 5
2004 Sandhill Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $25, QPR: 5

2004 Chandler Reach Syrah, Yakima Valley, $28, QPR: 4
2005 Tasawik Reserve Barrel Select Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $34, QPR: 4
2007 Côte Bonneville Chardonnay DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $50, QPR: 3
2005 Côte Bonneville Syrah DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $65, QPR: 1

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Tasawik Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $26, QPR: 5
2007 Tagaris Rhon-za Syrah Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12, QPR: 4
2006 Chandler Reach Corella (Sangio/Cab/Merlot), Yakima Valley, $18, QPR: 4
2007 Airfield Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, $20, QPR: 4
2005 Tasawik Merlot, Columbia Valley, $24, QPR: 4
2008 Airfield Late Harvest Riesling, Yakima Valley, $28 [375ml], QPR: 4
2007 Airfield Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $32, QPR: 4
2007 Airfield Aviator Red (Bordeaux-style blend), Yakima Valley, $28, QPR: 3
2004 Chandler Reach Estate Parris Reserve Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, $36, QPR: 3

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2005 Sandhill Ridgefield Cinnamon Teal (Cab blend), Columbia Valley, $14, QPR: 4
2007 Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $22, QPR: 4
2007 Sandhill Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $12, QPR: 3
2006 Chandler Reach Merlot, Yakima Valley, $18, QPR: 3
2007 Airfield Merlot, Yakima Valley, $22, QPR: 3
2005 Tasawik Groovy Red Blend (Syrah-based), Columbia Valley, $22, QPR: 3
2008 Airfield Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $15, QPR: 2
2004 Masquerade Merlot, Red Mountain, $28, QPR: 2
2002 Tagaris Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 2
2006 Tagaris BoarDoe (Bordeaux-style blend), Wahluke Slope, $30, QPR: 2

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Airfield Riesling, Yakima Valley, $14, QPR: NR
2003 Tagaris Syrah, Columbia Valley, $16, QPR: NR
2006 Chandler Reach Viognier, Yakima Valley, $18, QPR: NR
2003 Tagaris Kokkino RTW (Merlot/Cab), Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: NR
2005 Masquerade Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $22, QPR: NR
2006 Tagaris Red Roan (Rhone-style blend), Wahluke Slope, $30, QPR: NR
2007 Masquerade “Effervescing Elephant” Sparkling Wine, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2007 Airfield Thunderbolt (Sauv Blanc/Sem), Yakima Valley, $12, QPR: NR
2008 Airfield Gewurztraminer, Yakima Valley, $14, QPR: NR
2008 Airfield Foot-Stomped Syrah Rosé, Yakima Valley, $14, QPR: NR

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Red Wine, Riesling, Rose Wine, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz/Syrah, Sparkling Wine, Vineyards, Viognier, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

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