Vineyard Recon

Hwy 241 between Mabton and AlderdaleOn the way to a wedding over Labor Day weekend, I set up appointments with the two Eastern Washington vineyards we’ll be working with this year: Elephant Mountain Vineyards and Coyote Canyon Vineyards. It was a long, long day of driving, but it was great to get a picture in my head of what the vineyards look like, and to walk the rows with the owners before the chaos of harvest.

Looking south toward the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyards
Elephant Mountain is in the upper Yakima Valley, so named for the peak above the vineyard which supposedly resembles a reclining pachyderm. The Hattrup family, however, hasn’t been lying down on the job, hiring Denis Gayte to manage their vineyards: Gayte just recently came back to the states after managing vineyards and making wine in the Côtes du Rhône, where his family has deep roots. Yakima Valley is a long way from Portland, so casual trips to taste fruit for ripeness just aren’t going to happen. Having Denis’ experienced palate out there is a huge compensation.

Gayte and owner Joe Hattrup took me on a quick tour of the vineyards, starting with the syrah, cabernet franc and merlot we’ll be sourcing from them, but also through a number of other luscious varietals like petit verdot, counoise, roussanne, and sangiovese. The merlot was clearly closest to ripeness, but still a week or so away; the syrah was also surprisingly juicy.

Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyards
Merlot ripening in Elephant Mountain Vineyards
Cab Franc in Elephant Mountain Vineyards
The view south toward the Gorge from Coyote Canyon Vineyards
Next, I headed south back toward the Columbia River Gorge and the Horse Heaven AVA, dropping in on Jeff Andrews of Coyote Canyon Vineyards. Jeff’s third in the line of vine growers in his family, and he took me on a tour through a mouth-watering number of varietals (Mourvédre, Tempranillo, Viognier, Zinfandel, Grenache, Marsanne… please stop, I give up!) to sorely tempt a greedy winemaker (ahem). We’ll be sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon from him.

The Cab was still a few weeks away, so given what I’ve learned and tasted so far, my guess is that we’ll harvest in this order: merlot, syrah, the two cabs, pinot gris and then pinot noir.

Cab Sauv ripening on the slopes of Coyote Canyon Vineyards
A cross section of soil at Coyote Canyon Vineyards
Jeff showed me a part of the vineyard where they’ve been doing some digging, revealing the layers of soil that make up this area. I’m not sure what we’re looking at here, but it sure seems chalky and well-drained.

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