Marcus Miller is the winemaker for his family’s Airfield Estates Winery, which relies on its 830-acre vineyard in the Yakima Valley near Prosser, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Airfield Estates)

Yakima Valley thrives as historical heart of Washington wine

The Yakima Valley is where the Washington wine industry got its start, as we like to say, “the cradle of the industry.”

This valley, which stretches from Union Gap to the western edge of Richland, is home to more 13,000 acres of vineyards and 60 wineries. The Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area was the Yakima Valley, approved by the federal government in 1983. Since then, several AVAs have been carved out of the Yakima Valley — Red Mountain (2001), Rattlesnake Hills (2008) and Snipes Mountain (2009).

There’s a rich history in this valley, including:

Walter Clore, “the father of Washington Wine,” lived and conducted much of his research here. His life is now celebrated at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.

William Bridgman, two-time mayor of Sunnyside, planted grapes here in 1914. He started Upland Winery after repeal of Prohibition, and it operated into the 1960s. If you know where to look, you can find his concrete fermentation tanks.

The oldest cabernet sauvignon vines in the Pacific Northwest are at Otis Vineyard, north of Grandview, planted in 1956.

In 1986, the first syrah planted in Washington went in the ground at Red Willow Vineyard.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s largest and oldest winery, established its original winemaking facility in the town of Grandview.

Here are several wines made from Yakima Valley grapes that we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

Airfield Estates 2015 Moscato, Yakima Valley, $15: This year, Marcus Miller continues to toast the 50th anniversary of his grandfather, Don, establishing Airfield Estates near the base of Rattlesnake Mountain. The delightful and light expression with muscat canelli, one of the seven white varieties planted across their 830 acres, is nicely done without any fizz. Classic aromas of jasmine and rosewater include peaches and apricots. There’s follow through to the palate as pleasing acidity, and a nibble of peach skin balance the residual sugar. Suggested pairings include massaman chicken, roasted duck breast, savory cheesecake and a wedge of Cougar Gold. (10.4 percent alcohol)

Cloudlift Cellars 2015 Lucy Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley, $14: There are more than 20 wineries among the Seattle Urban Wineries group, and furniture craftsman Tom Stangeland beat most of them, setting up shop in Georgetown well in advance of his debut commercial vintage in 2009. Cabernet franc has been a signature variety for him, and he works with Wise Brothers Vineyard for this rose designed for pairing with salmon. It begins with a salmon orange color and follows with aromas and flavors of grilled peach, apricot and butterscotch. Rewarding acidity akin to tangerine and cherry juice marks the farewell. (12.7%)

Wind Rose Cellars 2016 Rosato, Yakima Valley, $17: Olympic Peninsula winemaker David Volmut, a product of Yakima Valley College’s winemaking program, stays true to his Italian-themed program with this rose of dolcetto from the Yakima Valley. Red cherry and rose petal aromatics are followed by watermelon, montmorency cherry and cranberry flavors. (12%)

Armstrong Family Winery 2015 Dineen Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley, $18: Pat Dineen grows his riesling in caliche, and Walla Walla winemaker Tim Armstrong takes advantage of that soil type in the cooler Rattlesnake Hills to produce a bone-dry riesling in a rather fascinating style reminiscent of some from Australia’s Clare Valley. Its steely approach opens with white peach, tangerine and gooseberry aromas followed by clean and crisp flavors of Asian pear, lime and slate. (13.1%)

Noviello Vineyards 2015 French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, $28: Bellevue plastic surgeon Fredric Stern has planted chardonnay at his young vineyard above the Columbia River near Chelan, but in the meantime, he continues his relationship with Damon LaLonde’s French Creek Vineyard near the Yakima River. Their latest barrel-fermented chardonnay is replete with fruit that hints at Wenatchee Valley orchard with apple blossom, bosc pear and gala apple. The crisp finish offers a touch of jasmine for finesse. (14.08%)

Balboa Winery 2016 Bloxom Slope Vineyard Grüner Veltliner, Yakima Valley, $30: Walla Walla winemakers Tom Glase and Tyler Grennan continue to harvest gold medals with this Austrian white grape that has found a home near the Yakima Valley community of Moxee. Aromas of creamy lemon, dusty bosc pear and white peach are reminiscent of a dry riesling. There’s a match on the palate with delicious structure from front to back that includes mouthwatering lime pith and Granny Smith apple tartness. (13.3%)

Cairdeas Winery 2014 Counoise, Yakima Valley, $36: This year, we’ve given our highest rating to five Rhône-inspired wines by Charlie Lybecker, including this counoise from Meek Vineyard near Red Mountain. The bright red fruit aromas of cranberry and lingonberry include cinnamon oil and white pepper. It’s a juicy drink of boysenberry and cherry, backed by soft golden raspberry tannins that finishes with cherry cola and more pepper. (14.3%)

Sparkman Cellars 2013 Darkness Syrah, Yakima Valley, $62: Christian Sparkman shines here with cool-climate syrah, once again reaching into two of the state’s top sites for seemingly any variety — Boushey and Olsen Brothers. Blueberry and pomegranate tones, along with milk chocolate and vanilla barrel notes, gives it a dusty and racy profile that opens the door to lamb or eggplant parmesan. (14.5%)

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

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