The approach to Prosser, in the from the south on Highway 22 brings you to one final hill ascent, and the top of that hill rewards you with a view of the city and farmlands below and sets the scene for your visit to the birthplace of Washington wine.
Yakima Valley became the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the state of Washington in 1983. In 1983, there were only a handful of grape growers and wineries, but grape growing and wine making quickly became big business in Prosser and the rest of Yakima Valley.
Just a Sampling of Wine Tasting in Prosser
Today, there are more than 80 wineries to visit in the Yakima Valley, many of which are right in the Prosser area. The highlight to a wine tasting trip in Prosser, an agricultural town of 5,500, will no doubt be the wines—but there’s much more to keep you busy. Charming downtown Prosser has some shops, including antique, there are two wine tasting bistros, a brewery, restaurants, coffee shops, and the the truly great collection (and fabulous curator Benton County Historical Museum.
Each trip to the region takes me to one or two favorites, as well as the discovery of some new wineries and wines. Let’s take a look at just a few favorites of these from a recent trip. Regarding of which wineries you visit, one things remains certain–you’ll enjoy wine tasting in Prosser. Charming downtown Prosser offers a great main street with antique shopping, wine bistros and a brewery, a great coffee house, restaurants, and a fabulous County museum. Don’t miss a visit to the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. There are endless outdoor activities in the area as well.
Alexandria Nicole started growing grapes in 1998 on land in the Horse Heaven Hills; one of the Yakima Valley AVA’s most sought after areas. Overlooking the Columbia River, grapes from their Destiny Ridge Vineyard continue to make some of the best wines in the area. Owners Jarrod and Ali (Alexandria Nicole) Boyle make guests welcome by allowing them to fully become immersed in the wine culture. Their company includes three tasting rooms, lodging options (including their Tiny Houses), event facilities, and a wide range of merchandising, as well as wines available to businesses on tap. They were named the third best tasting room in the U.S. in 2016 by USA Today, and the #1 tasting room in Washington.
The focus, however, remains on growing excellent grapes and making lush, sophisticated wines that span a wide range in profile and personality.
- Crawford Viognier Reserve, 2015. Like walking through a field of flower blossoms, a wonderfully versatile white. Citrus and stone fruits, crisp, great acidity, this wine sets the tone for a flavorful meal and energetic gathering.
- Jet Black Syrah, 2014. Pepper and licorice, oh my. Multi-layered, robust flavors, great tannins, light oak, and tobacco. A special dinner wine, but also great for cheese and charcuterie plates, nuts, and more.
- Pepper Carménére, 2013. While the Jet Black Syrah has definite pepper flavors and aromas, the initial peppercorn scent of the Sgt. Pepper made me laugh out loud—how did they bottle this? But this is no one note bottle of wine; it’s spicy and lively, but bright and well-balanced. Mixing fun and sophisticated is no easy feat.
Brothers Roger and Bob Gamache have been growing premium grapes for winemakers from their vineyards since 1982. Grapes from their vineyards in Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and Red Mountain are highly sought after and in 2002, they started producing wines for their own label as well.
Roger’s daughter Jessica introduced us to their wines and they became some of my favorite of the trip. Jessica said the family loves good food and they structure their wines to be good food wines. Yes, absolutely, these reds from their Heritage Reserve series are great for the Sunday dinner and holiday dinner table, but they’re great for sipping slowly and really enjoying each complex flavor that emerges from the glass.
Their tasting room is located in Vinter’s Village. Enjoy a tasting at the bar, then relax with a glass of your favorite on the outdoor patio.
- Heritage Cabernet Franc, 2012. Jessica Gamache said they “were seeking out dark fruit aromas and herbals with this wine.” They succeeded.
- Heritage Nicholas, 2011, a Cab Franc-Merlot-Malbec blend. Velvety smooth, lots of dark fruit, acidity that really accentuates flavor at each stage of your sip. Long-lasting flavors.
- Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011, brings together grapes from all three of their vineyards to create what I felt was their most cellar-worthy wine. The flavors are warm, savory, jammy yet crisp. A classic Cab.
- Heritage Red Mountain Blend, 2013, is 50% Cab Franc and 50% Cab Sauvignon. This 4-barrel blend is everything a “big red” wants to be. A wine that can stop conversation as you notice the full, complex flavors.
Wit Cellars bring poetry and art not just to their wines but also to the personality of their winery. New kids on the block, Wit released their first wine vintage in 2013. The three founding partners, Flint Nelson, Cat Warwick and Gina Adams-Royer, have years in the Yakima Valley wine business. (I first got to know Flint and Cat’s work when they were winemakers at Kestrel, another terrific Yakima Valley winery.)
The winery maintains three wine clubs: Founders Club, which sold out at 100 memberships, and the Quick Wit and Half-Wit clubs. Their Prosser tasting room opened in May of 2016; the space is fun, bright, and modern; again capturing the team’s personality.
Cat says, “It’s kind of a playground here in Washington; we can do anything we want with wines.”
- Pinot Gris, 2015. This is a light, citrus-y (dried orange peel) wine, with some mineral and stone, and just wonderful acidity. A very versatile white, great with so many foods and also for sipping, this one is both creamy and crisp.
- Chardonnay, 2015. This finely-crafted Chardonnay has all the right mineral complexity and level of acidity that makes a good Chardonnay special. The grapes come from the cooler weather Ancient Lakes AVA. They didn’t want it “naked” and decided to ferment the wine in stainless steel, and then age it for eight to ten months in neutral oak. Excellent mouth feel.
- Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013. Deep, garnet color, earthy, with coffee and vanilla and a really nice finish. Very nicely balanced. This wine embodies everything I enjoy in a Washington Cab.
More Discoveries Await
Naming favorite Prosser wineries and wines on a visit to such a stellar wine region is incredibly difficult, so let’s be clear that this is a look at just a few of those favorites. Make a trip to the region yourself, where you can try these recommendations and make a few more of your own discoveries.
- Prosser Wine Network, prosserwinenetwork.com
- Tour Prosser, tourprosser.com
- Alexandria Nicole Cellars: alexandrianicolecellars.com
- Gamache Vinters, gamachevintners.com
- Wit Cellars: witcellars.com
- Yakima Valley Tourism, visityakima.com
- Yakima Valley Wine Tourism, yakimavalleywinecountry.com
- Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, theclorecenter.org
- See our article on vineyard harvesting.
- See our article on unique places to stay in Prosser.
– All photos by Nancy Zaffaro. The cover landscape photo was taken at Domanico Vineyard in North Prosser.