Wine o’Clock Wine Bar & Bistro in Prosser’s Vintners Village features the culinary work of Napa-trained Susan Bunnell and the winemaking of her husband, Ron Bunnell. (Richard Duval Images)

Wine o’Clock Wine Bar & Bistro in Prosser’s Vintners Village features the culinary work of Napa-trained Susan Bunnell and the winemaking of her husband, Ron Bunnell. (Richard Duval Images)

Prosser showcases wine history in heart of Yakima Valley

The town has been the focal point of the Washington wine industry since its early days.

In the past decade, the Yakima Valley town of Prosser has solidified its historical position as the focal point of the Washington wine industry.

It is here, in this sleepy little town along Interstate 82, where much of Washington’s wine history began. This is where Walter Clore lived and did much of his work on recruiting farmers to grow wine grapes in the 1950s and ’60s, and where Washington State University established a research station to support agriculture in the Yakima Valley.

The opening of the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in 2014 created an event center and centralized tasting room in Prosser that showcases wineries throughout the state.

Nearly a decade before, the Port of Benton’s Vintners Village gave wine lovers a number of tightly clustered tasting rooms — and the delicious Wine o’Clock Wine Bar & Bistro — in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Vintners Village now is home to a dozen tasting rooms, and the port has more expansion planned.

Here are four wines from Prosser wineries that performed well in last fall’s 19th Platinum Judging. Complete results are at www.winepressnw.com. Ask for the wines at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2013 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: Tennessee native Ron Bunnell, recruited to make wine in Washington by Chateau Ste. Michelle in the 1990s, became one of the Northwest’s top producers of Rhône varieties with the advent of his own winery in Prosser. His work with grenache from grower Art den Hoed is pure Platinum. Magnificent raspberry and spice aromas up front continue to build as the wine meets your lips. Raspberry jam, ripe pomegranate seeds, juicy red cherries and cinnamon stick glide across the palate. The perfect level of acidity and soft, silky tannins create a gorgeous mouth feel. It is simply scrumptious. Enjoy it at Wine o’Clock paired with Susan Bunnell’s Composed Entrée Salad, which features rice and tea-smoked duck, Napa cabbage, carrots, snow peas and slivered almonds with sesame soy vinaigrette.

Thurston Wolfe 2015 Zephyr Ridge Vineyard Petite Sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: One of the Northwest’s wine industry’s most respected figures is winemaker/viticulturist Wade Wolfe, who became the first tenant of the Vintners Village in 2006. He probably knows Zephyr Ridge Vineyard better than anyone, helping to oversee the 1997 planting of this vineyard when he worked for Hogue Cellars. Now, this site at the southern edge of the Horse Heaven Hills provides half of the production for his Prosser winery. The fragrant floral aroma is charismatic — wow! Powerful while elegant, it broadcasts purity all the way through. Blackberries, purple plums, fresh tobacco, spice box notes, hint of black olive, and underlying toasty oak provide a kaleidoscope of flavors on the palate. Rich, smooth, bright and complex through the long-lasting finish. It ranks among the best examples of petite sirah produced in the Pacific Northwest.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 The Estates Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $26: From the middle tier of Butch Milbrandt’s five-tier portfolio, this luscious syrah from The Estates project was constructed by Ivy League-trained Josh Maloney, who built his reputation as one of Washington’s top talents with reds during his days with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. There’s no disappointment on the palate after sniffing hints of black cherry, black plum and olive. Medium-soft tannins make for a beautiful structure, capped by a long finish of pomegranate juice.

14 Hands Winery 2015 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Keith Kenison first rose to prominence when he headed up the white wine program at Columbia Crest. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates promoted him to the role of head winemaker at 14 Hands, and he’s helped build the Prosser winery into the second-largest brand in the state thanks to the popularity of his value red blends. This marks the third straight vintage in which he’s checked in with a gold medal or better at one of the West Coast’s top judgings for his reserve cab. Dusty berries and savory aromas provide a captivating entry. The velvety texture comes with lavish purple plum, mulberry and boysenberry fruit, a splash of orange, accents of licorice, cocoa bean, and vanilla extract — a combination that weaves a colorful composition of flavors on the palate. A kick of savoriness adds depth through the finish.

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

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