It is known as the cradle of the Washington wine industry. After nearly 100 years of viticulture, the Yakima Valley is stronger than ever.
Nearly a century ago, William Bridgman began planting wine grapes around Sunnyside, and that sparked what has become one of the state's strongest industries.
Today, the Yakima Valley is a diverse agricultural region. Yet amid the hops, apples, pears, juice grapes and row crops, wine grape vineyards continue to thrive. Today, the Yakima Valley is the largest growing region in the state at more than 16,000 acres of wine grapes.
While the Yakima Valley is thought of as somewhat cooler than other regions, it thrives with all varieties of grapes, from Merlot to Syrah to Chardonnay to Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon. Within the Yakima Valley's borders are three additional American Viticultural Areas: Red Mountain, the Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain. Each of these adds diversity to the grapes being grown in the valley.
Many of the Yakima Valley's wineries are clustered together, making touring fairly easy. They are grouped around the towns of Zillah, Prosser and on Red Mountain near Benton City. Learn more about the Yakima Valley wine region by going to www.wineyakimavalley.org.
Here are a few wines we've tasted recently that use grapes from the Yakima Valley. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Rulo Winery 2012 Boushey Vineyard Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley, $25: Walla Walla winemaker Kurt Schlicker makes wine from this somewhat-rare white Rhône variety. It is loaded with citrus flavors, leading with grapefruit and lime juice. It is a fun alternative to a green and snappy Sauvignon Blanc. (13.2 percent alcohol)
Reflection Vineyards 2011 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $33: This boutique winery in the Rattlesnake Hills near Zillah has crafted a superb Syrah loaded with aromas and flavors of blackberry, dark plum , boysenberry and blueberry. (13.7% percent alcohol
Mercer Canyons 2012 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $13: This slightly off-dry Riesling opens with aromas of lime peel, Granny Smith apple, gooseberry and lemongrass. The flavor profile is lush and delicious with Bartlett pear and more Granny Smith apple. (12.9 percent alcohol)
Capstone Cellars 2009 Capstone Red, Yakima Valley, $15: This blend of Merlot (80%) and Cabernet Franc leads with notes of raspberry, black currant, cherry and milk chocolate. Inside, there are flavors of plum juice and dusty blueberry with sandy tannins and solid acidity. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Westport Winery 2012 Captain Gray Gewürztraminer, Yakima Valley, $25: The Roberts clan has turned Grays Harbor into wine country in Washington with its family-friendly operation. This off-dry Gewürztraminer carries classic aromas of rosewater, grapefruit, lychee and clove with a bit of petrol and cinnamon stick and flavors of fresh pear, peach and yellow grapefruit. (12 percent alcohol)
Wilridge Winery 2012 Crawford Vineyard Pinot Grigio, Yakima Valley, $17: Seattle attorney Paul Beveridge crafted this white wine with aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apple, lime, white pepper, anise, fresh hay and minerality. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Stottle Winery 2012 Elerding Canyon Vineyard Viognier, Yakima Valley, $25: Olympia winemaker Josh Stottlemyer has put together a delicious Viognier with aromas and flavors of dusty pear, Golden Delicious apple, orange and a twist of lemon. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Owen Roe 2011 Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block Syrah, Yakima Valley, $55: Longtime Oregon winemaker David O'Reilly uses some of the Yakima Valley's best grapes for this superb Syrah. It opens with intense aromas of dusty blueberry, dark plum, enticing dark chocolate and bacon fat. The fluid is rich and thick on the entry with dark plum and boysenberry flavors that are met with plump tannins. Its finish brings bright acidity that hints at juicy boysenberry and pomegranate. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greathnorthwestwine.com.