By Jeff Wicklund Special to The Herald
Prosser is percolating. Have you been over to this burgeoning Washington wine mecca lately? It’s amazing to see the vision of so many winery owners and winemakers come to fruition so quickly – and many within the past few months.
I’d been hearing lately about this blooming wine community and the many new, beautifully appointed and architecturally stunning wineries gracing this sleepy little historic town about a dozen miles west of the Tri Cities. This piqued my interest and made it obvious that it’s definitely time to expedite an expedition to the prospering Prosser area.
I remember hanging out in the back yard of Kay Simon and Clay Mackey’s Chinook Winery (one of the “old guard” wineries in the region) a few years ago, sipping some of their sublime wine, and discussing the potential of the area for growth in new wineries, lodging and dining options. Little did we know at the time just what was on the horizon for Prosser and the surrounding Yakima Valley area.
One of the wineries stirring up much of the hubbub lately is Desert Wind Winery, on the eastern fringe of Prosser. It possibly could be the most stylistically apropos winery in the region. Housed in a beautiful adobe-style building, it blends in seamlessly with the rugged terrain of the area.
There is so much more than a winery and an elegantly appointed tasting room occupying Desert Wind Winery’s stunning property. There’s very fine dining to be had at the newly opened La Mesa Restaurant, which occupies a portion of the first floor and handsomely embraces a functioning barrel room motif, which I found to be warm, inviting and romantic. Executive chef Gene Soto offers a broad and ultra-creative array of dishes, using fresh local ingredients that seem to personify the bounty of the Northwest – and the Southwest vibe of the winery.
On the top floor are four guest suites that are awesome. Here’s where I have to disagree with the old saying, “the devil is in the details,” as this facility is heaven sent, and there’s no detail left unattended. From the raised-platform feather bed with thread-count linens that would make Oprah envious, to the mondo-plasma satellite home theater system, to the cozy patio deck overlooking the Yakima River, to the totally correct basket breakfast discretely delivered to your door at an appropriate morning hour, to the… I think you get the picture.
Desert Wind Winery is not the only new and exciting thing percolating in Prosser. Back toward the Prosser epicenter, along Interstate 82 on (fittingly) Merlot Drive, are several new wineries (or relocated established wineries) worth visits. Olsen Estates and Air Field Estates are two new wineries evolving from longtime area farming-turned-winery families, each one with stories worth revisiting.
Adjacent to these two newbies are a couple of relocated oldies in shiny new digs. Willow Crest and Thurston Wolfe wineries continue to produce what we all have to come to know (or should know) as high-quality wines year in and year out at great prices. It’s just now they are plying their craft in beautiful facilities with inviting tasting rooms and patios. I’d say hooray for the new canvas on which these old masters can apply their art, and that they’re making it so easy to share.
Near Thurston Wolfe is a new project that may a sign of the times. The Winemaker’s Loft is a consolidation of potentially six wineries, all sharing a center courtyard, grandiose Tuscan-style tasting room and winemaking equipment. The facility is somewhat like an incubator for prospective wineries to have everything they need to launch their dreams, except grapes and barrels (two key ingredients). Currently you can sample from two wineries here, Masquerade Winery and the Winemaker’s Loft Winery, with other wineries following in the coming months.
Occupying several store fronts at a nondescript strip mall east of downtown Prosser are a few wineries not to miss on any proper Prosser pilgrimage. Alexandria Nicole Cellars has a tasting room that, once you enter, you immediately forget the industrial exterior. This place is just about as warm and inviting as the wines are delicious. Rich dark colors, twinkling lights and a secret passageway behind a sliding bookshelf to their Reserve Club tasting room all scream, “This is one hip joint.” Flanking Alexandria Nicole are other wineries so worth a stop and a sip, such as C.R. Sandidge Wines, Farm Boy &Smasne Cellars – and a micro brewery in the middle of it all.
It all makes me ponder, is Prosser a native American term meaning Shangri-La? Maybe not, but the way Prosser is percolating as of late, that seems to be the general direction that this little corner of our ever-grape state is heading.
Jeff Wicklund can be reached at 425-737-2600, 360-756-0422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.