May 1, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Explore Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail

Yakima Valley now known for great wines
Judy Fulkerson Awayfinder Correspondent
 

Looking to make a wine run that’s fun and off the beaten path? Time to hit the trail – the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail in the lower Yakima Valley.

Located off Interstate 82 near the rural towns of Wapato, Zillah, Granger, Outlook and Sunnyside, Rattlesnake Hills is one of three AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) within the larger Yakima Valley AVA. Sixteen wineries comprise the trail which can be found off the freeway between Exit 63 (Outlook) and Exit 44 (Wapato.)

To begin your journey from the Spokane-North Idaho area, head west to the Tri Cities and take I-182 to I-82. Drive about 60 miles to Outlook, which represents the trail’s southern end.

Once you’ve left the interstate, you’ll intersect with the Yakima Valley Highway, a picturesque, two-lane road which runs through apple, pear, and cherry orchards. Signs point the way to wineries but beware of driving too slowly while enjoying the scenery or studying your map – traffic is light but the speed limit is still 55.

If you start at Outlook, about 4 miles up Outlook Road and left on Independence Road is Tefft Cellars, dedicated to producing handcrafted wines. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Italian varietals, ports, sparkling wines and dessert wines.

A tasting room and picnic deck overlooking the vineyard provide a pleasant setting. If you decide to make a day (or a night) of it, you can stay at the Outlook Inn Guest House.

Back on N. Outlook Road, taking a right on Chaffee road will bring you to Steppe Cellars. This year, the owners feature a limited bottling of Tempranillo/Grenache, plus Riesling, Gewürztraminer and a selection of fine reds and whites.

Most of the wineries along the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail are found out in the country. Two exceptions are Severino Cellars and Claar Cellars, each in Zillah. Once a sleepy little burg, the town is now home to Zillah Lakes, billed as a ‘wine country village.’ This upscale development is centered around a planned golf course and manmade lake, which is under construction just a few miles from the city center.

Severino Cellars, situated in a homey-looking, turn-of-the-century farmhouse, can be found east of the town’s main drag. Guests are invited to sip wine on the comfortable porch while enjoying a view of Mount Adams.

At the other end of town near the freeway interchange on Vintage Valley Parkway is Claar Cellars, an estate winery which offers award-winning Johannisberg Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah.

Zillah is also a good place to take a lunch break, perhaps at the Cherry Patch, a popular mini mart a stone’s throw from Claar Cellars. A mid-afternoon energy slump can be cured by fueling up at nearby Scott’s Fuel Yard, once home to a coal business, but now a small building which dispenses good espresso.

Those traversing the Rattlesnake Hills Trail won’t likely encounter slithery reptiles as they visit the various rural tastings rooms and vineyards.

Shannon Bird, trail executive director, said AVAs are named for geography, not local fauna. In this case, the Rattlesnake Hills are a nearby land mass.

Despite the economic downturn, wineries in this group continue to bring in visitors and sell wine. She credits aggressive advertising, a cooperative effort between Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities wineries, which all aim to bring more visitors from the Inland Northwest.

People are also traveling shorter distances, so trips closer to home are to the advantage of local wineries.

“People are deciding, ‘we’re not going to Sonoma or the Napa Valley this year,’ so they come here,” Bird said. “Once they’re here, they think, ‘well, we don’t know how soon we can get back, so we’ll buy more.’”

Positive stories about the state’s increasing wine offerings, including the many awards won by local vintners, won’t hurt either.

Speaking of promotions, the folks at Zillah’s Portteus Winery have created another unique way to draw attention to their chosen field. Washington Wine Trails, a board game, is billed as a fun and educational way to learn about the state’s wine industry.

A link on the Portteus site promises the game will provide information, pronunciation, and more importantly, what not to do while on a wine tour.

The game is available at Portteus as well as local wineries, or online at www.washingtonwinetrails.com

For more information on the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail, visit www.rattlesnakehillscom.

Getting there: Choice 1: Take I-90 west to Ellensburg. Turn onto I-82 east (really south) toward Yakima (Milepost 0). Drive about 35 miles until you reach Yakima. Continue east-southeast on I-82 for about 10 miles. The wine trail can be reached from Exit 44 (Wapato) to Exit 63 (Outlook.) Choice 2: Take I-90 west to Ritzville. Turn onto Highway 395 south toward Pasco. From the Tri-Cities, take I-182 to I-82. Follow signs to Yakima and Seattle. Once you pass Sunnyside exits 69 and 67, look for Exit 63 (Outlook.) This is the beginning of the trail.


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