Washington State has it all: You can surf the coast, ski the pass, hike the rainforest, and sail the San Juans. But across the mountains, the desert terrain of Eastern Washington is often overlooked, and with it, the unspoiled wine country of the lower Yakima Valley where I grew up in.
Though small in population, my home sweet home Zillah is the birthplace to over twenty wineries. Zillah’s wine country may be a little rougher around the edges than Napa Valley, or even Woodinville for that matter, but that’s what makes winetasting here such a fun and unique experience.
Instead of highfalutin sommeliers and tasting fees that break the bank, you’re treated to laidback, old-fashioned hospitality. But don’t misjudge Zillah’s lack of grandiose for being inferior in viticulture. This region is home to award-winning wines, and provides the ideal climate for some of your favorite Washington vino.
Whether you come for the wine, awe-inspiring views, or you simply want an escape from the Seattle rain, here are a few of my favorite wineries to explore in Zillah and the lower Yakima Valley.
Bonair Winery has old world charm, right down to the Bavarian-style architecture and adorable duck pond. If you’re a newbie to the wine experience this is a good place to start since they offer a wide variety of both red and white varieties. Have a sweet tooth? You’ll be in heaven with their port and dessert wines!
J Bell Cellars
I just discovered this hidden gem on my last wine country excursion and fell in love with the adorable courtyard, surrounded by lavender fields. If exclusivity is your thing, you’ll appreciate the boutique-style feel and limited availability of their handcrafted wines.
Knight Hill Winery earns a spot on my list for its breathtaking views, overlooking the valley below. Pull up a seat on the patio and sip away, or venture over to the grassy plains for a lawn game with a buzz.
Silver Lake Winery is a personal favorite of mine for the lush vineyard setting with the Rattlesnake Hills as their backdrop. The friendly staff will make you feel right at home, and if you’re lucky you might just hit one of their many special events that include food pairings and live music. Come for the wine, stay for the entertainment.
Remember that award-winning wine I was talking about? You’ll find it at the family-owned Portteus Winery. Sample Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Orange Muscat, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Viognier, Zinfandel, and everything in between. A wine-lover’s utopia!
How to get around?
Even though the pours may seem small, tastings accumulate fast. Play it safe and hire a driver. If your group is the laidback, fun-loving type, I recommend the reasonably-priced Yakima Valley Tours (seats eight comfortably, nine if you don’t mind getting a little cozy). Or go all out with limo, town car, or party bus depending on the size of your crew.
Where to stay?
Lodging options in Zillah are limited, but if you really want the full experience, stay in a deluxe Teepee at the Cherry Wood Bed Breakfast and Barn and ask about their horseback wine tours.
The list above is just a small sample of what Zillah and the surrounding wine country has to offer. Other favorites include Cultura, Hyatt Vineyards, and Steppe Cellars, just to name a few. Visit the Yakima Valley Wine Country page for more info and events.
Have a favorite Yakima valley winery? Comment below!