What once was a World War II military training base in the Yakima Valley has evolved into a great vineyard site and provides grapes for one of the region's best wineries.
Airfield Estates is part of a four-generation farming family. Don Miller, the family's second generation in the valley, began planting wine grapes in 1968 on the advice of Walter Clore, a Washington State University researcher known as "the father of Washington wine."
Today, son Mike Miller’s 900 acres of vineyards include 27 grape varieties. Marcus Miller, Don's grandson, is the winemaker for Airfield Estates, which launched in 2006. Miller learned winemaking at Walla Walla Community College's vaunted Center for Enology and Viticulture, then went to work as a winemaker at Tsillan Cellars in Lake Chelan before returning home.
Miller's wines for the family operation tend to be not only universally delicious, but also nicely priced.
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The winery and tasting room at the Vintners Village in Prosser is built to look like an old airplane hangar, resembling those that once existed at the vineyard after World War II.
In addition, Airfield also has a tasting room in Woodinville, not far from Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Here are a few Airfield wines we've tasted in recent weeks. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Syrah, Yakima Valley, $18: The Runway tier at Airfield Estates denotes its lower-priced reds, but the price should not be mistaken for lower quality. This Syrah includes a bit of Grenache and Mourvèdre, and it offers a sweet and spicy nose of blackberry, black cherry and raspberry with dark chocolate, allspice, nutmeg and clove. The drink is luscious with plum and ripe blackberry flavors swirling in milk chocolate, backed by cherry-skin tannins and a touch of minerality in the finish. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2012 Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $28: Fascinating aromas of dark cherry, blueberry, pomegranate and plum pick up notes of chocolate shavings, brown sugar and blue corn tortilla. Inside is a bright entry of red currant and cherry, followed by a rich and juicy midpalate of purple plum and huckleberry. Fine-grained tannins are tucked beautifully in the background. (14.4 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2012 Dauntless, Yakima Valley, $18: This blend, named for the World War II dive bomber, is an assemblage of four Bordeaux varieties: Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Rich oak tones of molasses and toasted walnut lead to bold flavors of blackberry and chocolate-covered pomegranate. (13.7 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2012 Barbera, Yakima Valley, $28: Endearing aromas of purple fruit such as blueberry, huckleberry and pomegranate lead to flavors that are juicy, plump and tasty with dark cherry and plum as acidity takes a decisive lead over tannin. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2012 Viognier, Yakima Valley, $15: Aromas of pink grapefruit, cotton candy, orange Circus Peanut candy and fresh-cut celery lead into a striking structure of Asian pear, quince, honeydew melon and lime. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2013 Vineyard Salute Ruby Rosé, Yakima Valley, $15: The nose on this luscious pink wine brings hints of raspberry, cherry, strawberry/rhubarb compote and Red Haven peach. The peppy palate is dominated by that compote and those peaches, making for a clean, bright and dry structure and finish. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $18: This fall marks the 25th anniversary of the planting of this block of Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was complemented in this bottling with Merlot (16%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Cabernet Franc. It is a pleasurable drink that begins with attractive aromas of black plums, dark blackberry, cocoa powder and black pepper. Ripe purple fruit flavors bring back those hints of blackberry and plum juice with Marionberry. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.