The Grape Escape – Gilbert Cellars and the wine terroir of Yakima, Washington
Just a quick 25-minute pondskipper flight from Seattle, you’ll find yourself in Washington’s Yakima Valley. The area boasts a litany of bragging rights. For example, the area is the world’s largest producer of mint (mojitos, anyone?). And nearly 77% of the nation’s hops is also cultivated in the valley (craft beer, anyone?).
But along with a slew of orchards, you’ll also find grapes galore (uh, Chardonnay, anyone?). Sure, California might have Napa Valley, but Yakima is also dotted with vineyards. And for one local wine producer, the entire business is a family affair … a five-generation family affair.
See, the folks at Gilbert Orchards know a thing or two about fruit. The Gilberts have been dutifully growing apples, peaches, pears and cherries in Yakima for nearly a century. What was originally a cattle ranch back in the 1920s has evolved into a massive orchard – one that had a smattering of grape vines. “We bought a property with old vines – with no intention of starting a winery,” said Laura Rankin-Gilbert, National Sales Manager and one of the winery’s partners. Fortunately, two of the family’s cousins had an interest in wine production and got the ball rolling. “Now we’ve been growing grapes since 2000,” said Rankin-Gilbert.
The Gilberts have turned their love of vino in to a full-fledged and full-family operation – one you’ll want to visit. They’ve opened a modern retail space located near the city center where you can partake in wine tastings or just enjoy a casual happy hour. “Downtown Yakima is going through a renaissance,” said Rankin-Gilbert. “We just wanted to make our presence known.”
Meanwhile, a little further outside the city you’ll find Gilbert Cellars and the Hackett Ranch.The mothership is a massive 300-acre ranch and home to the winery. Walking around the grounds, you’ll see some spectacular views – including acres and acres of blooming lavender (be prepared to duck and dodge from some overzealous honeybees doing their thing). The family even incorporated a lawn style music venue complete with amphitheater in front of the vineyard’s pond. Concerts can range from folk to indie rock to opera. You can even visit the massive “Cave” where the fermenting wine is housed.
But, of course, the winery’s claim to fame is all the different varietals they offer – all from the same ground. “Creating a winery that has all sorts of wines from one site is tough,” said Gilbert’s head winemaker Justin Neufeld. “When you put all your eggs in one basket, it better be an excellent site.” Turns out, the winemakers were on to something. The vines continue to thrive. It’s the perfect trio of “soil, microclimate and wine-making practices,” said Neufeld. “The French call it ‘terroir’.” The winery’s flagship (and most distributed) wine is the Left Blank Blend … a “Cab-dominant” Bordeaux. Even better? Gilbert Cellars wines are handcrafted -- using up to 70% of the family-grown fruit. All in the family, indeed.
The ranch remains a bit of a hidden gem. Even though the locale is perfect for special occasions, family/class reunions or outdoor concerts, the grounds remain a tad underutilized outside of weddings. As they mention on their website – it’s “the gravel road less traveled.” So if you find yourself eager for a place with both vines and views, be sure to visit either location for a little slice of homegrown hospitality.
For more information or to join their Gilbert Peak Wine Club, visit www.gilbertcellars.com
More Fave places in Yakima, Washington:
North Town Coffeehouse – 32 North Front Street. Converted from an old train depot, this enormous coffee house boasts plenty of windows and is both spacious enough for groups and cozy enough for a coffee date.
Yakima Valley Info Center – 101 North Fair Area. The helpful staff inside have tons of insight on the who/what/when/where of Yakima and surrounding areas. They’ll be glad to clue you in on their fave places.
Zesta Cucina Restaurant and Bar - 5110 W Tieton Dr # 210. Sure, it may be tucked inside an unassuming strip mall, but the homemade Italian food here is a carbo-loaders or culinary snob’s dream. You may quite possibly find some of the best Chicken Marsala of your life here.