Northwest Wine

Northwest Wine: Washington wines roots firmly planted in Yakima Valley

We’re fond of referring to the Yakima Valley as “the cradle of the Washington wine industry.” We say this for many reasons:

• The state’s earliest vineyards were planted here, primarily because of the work of Walter Clore, who was based in Prosser.

• The Pacific Northwest’s first federally approved American Viticultural Area was the Yakima Valley on April 4, 1983, eight months ahead of the establishment of the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon.

• Some of the state’s first vines were planted in the valley, as early as 1914 along Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside by W.B. Bridgman.

Today, the Yakima Valley remains an important region, with nearly 20,000 acres of wine grape vineyards and more than 60 wineries. While it nests within the expansive Columbia Valley AVA, there are three sub-appellations within the Yakima Valley: Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain and Red Mountain. This simply means the Yakima Valley is a diverse growing region.

At this spring’s seventh annual Cascadia International Wine Competition, 22 wine professionals judged more than 1,000 wines sourced from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia or Idaho.

Here are several gold-medal winning wines from 2019 Cascadia that used grapes from the Yakima Valley. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery. See the entire list of medal winners at

Muret-Gaston Wines 2015 Olsen Vineyard GSM Red Wine, Yakima Valley, $45: This Rhône-inspired blend consists of Grenache (44 percent), Syrah (15 percent) and Mourvèdre lots from the expansive vineyard near Prosser planted by Dick and Larry Olsen, brothers who were fêted as the Honorary Growers for the Auction of Washington Wines in 2014. Kyle Johnson, who served as their winemaker for now-closed Olsen Estates, used 90 percent whole-berry fermentation to develop opulent aromas of black plum, chocolate, saddle leather and chorizo. A good acid structure with stylish tightly woven tannins are a superb foundation for the blackberry fruit flavors infused with pepper, Scandinavian black salt licorice and deep florals. A pleasant medium length finish would pair well with barbecued spareribs and all the fixings.

duval-Sherman 15 Grenache 9175
The Sherman Winery 2015 Grenache Reserve showcases the prowess of Snipes Mountain and earned a gold medal at the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition. Courtesy of Richard Duval

Sherman Winery 2015 Grenache Reserve, Yakima Valley $38: Brad Sherman of Michael Florentino Cellars in Woodinville recently opened a Seattle tasting room and launched his eponymous brand to focus on French varieties. He made quite a splash at the Cascadia for his work with Snipes Mountain fruit to craft this lush, two-barrel release. Aromas and flavors of raspberry sauce, plum and dark cherries harmonize as raspberry-plum chutney fills out the palate. Balanced acidity and smooth tannins allow the finish to continue with raspberry.

WIT Cellars 2016 Olsen Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley $50: Old block Cab from the Olsen family, which established its vineyard in 1980, shines in the hands of longtime Prosser winemaker Flint Nelson and his team at WIT, which stands for their “whatever it takes” approach. The complex nose opens with spice and a medley of black fruit. In the mouth, flavors of late summer blackberries, Van cherries, a dollop of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and smooth tannins end with a long, satisfying finish.

Eleven Winery 2016 La Ronde Red Wine, Washington, $37: Bainbridge Island winemaking cyclist Matt Albee strikes a delicious balance with his wide-ranging blend led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot sourced from the Yakima Valley. Fascinating aromas of black cherry, fig, vanilla wafer and sandalwood leap out. The texture is akin to satin with a tad bit of naughtiness that gives it a kick in the midpalate. Its finish is long and slow with echoes of paté, incense and Chukar Cherries enrobed in milk chocolate.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at