When you live in Seattle WA, you have to be creative. A week ago my partner and I did just that when figuring out how to find summer. While the rest of you were sweltering in 100+ degree weather, the Pacific NW was cool and rainy. Sure that sounds good if you are sweating buckets and going for that 10th glass of lemonade, but when you live in it, it can get old. Thanks to the Cascade range of mountains, the coolness from the Pacific, that carries the water rich air tends to stay on the West side giving Seattle its year round temperate climate. Ok, you get the picture… Early Saturday morning we packed the car, destination Yakima WA. A quick 2.5 hour drive and we were in summer. Road Trip!
I wanted to call this blog post “Yakitty Yak” as in that old song where it then says “don’t come back.” For some people that is how they view Yakima, but not me. I say go back as often as possible and I’ll share with you why. For one, they really get a summer out there, their geology and climate is “one eighty” that of Seattle. The high desert with sage brush hills formed when a large ice age lake’s ice dam broke and sent billions of gallons of water to scour the lava rock, to create rolling hills and amazing gorges cut into the earth. Without the Ocean tempering the weather, they get harsh winters and hot summers, so any creative Seattlite will head to the “east side of the mountains” to find weather opposite of Seattle.
My first trip to Yakima was about 15 years ago, when I first moved to WA state. I heard that it was the “wine country” of WA, I was thrilled since one of my favorite places in the world is Napa valley in CA. But that first trip found amazing wines, but no lush bed and breakfasts, yummy cafes or gourmet markets to buy things for a picnic. Nope this was ag land – a place where it was all work and not so much play. On this trip, our first stop was to pick cherries. The Yakima valley is one of the most fertile valleys in the U.S., as is most of Eastern WA. It is the top producer of cherries, apples and hops in the U.S. So if you are eating cherry pie or drinking a beer, you are probably consuming a bit of Yakima.
Did I mention wine? During that first visit to Yakima, I wasn’t impressed by the scenery, but I was impressed by the wines. Back then there were a fraction of the number of wineries there are today, some were bad but some were really good. I remembered a winery where I fell in love with their Merlot, and that was before I knew that same Merlot was being served as the house wine at the restaurant Merlot in NYC. I had thought this winery was gone because it wasn’t on any of the wine country maps I had picked up in the past, but this year, we stumbled across it, thanks to those road signs that tell you when a winery is coming up.
Since I last tasted their wines, Yakima River Winery, with their award winning wines went through some tough times. Their east coast distributor died during the 9/11/01 attacks, then the movie Sideways came out with it’s anti-Merlot message (it is still a good movie) and then July of 2012 WA liquor was privatized. From this, they don’t sell their wines on the East coast anymore, the demand for Merlot dropped and now you can’t find their wines in Western WA Safeway, QFC or Fred Meyer stores because those stores dumped a lot of their wine selection to make room for cheap booze. Yikes! What stories we heard as we tasted their out of this world wines. I walked out of their with 2 cases of wine, a $100 case of their 2008 Merlot (thanks to the overstock) and several bottles of their Malbec (watch out Argentina, Yakima valley Malbec is out of this world!) and a couple of bottles of their Cab Sauv. I love this place, it is not pretentious, there is no view, the tasting room looks more like a nice garage, and there is a moose head trophy on the wall, plus a few other taxidermied animals. This is a place that is focused on making great complex wines, not kowtow to the simple palates of the common winery tourist.
Alas, we had to do more than drink wine. We went to the Sunday Farmer’s market, to oogle and purchase produce at prices much lower than the farmer’s markets in Seattle. We had the best tacos adobados I have ever eaten, for breakfast, washed down with a glass of strawberry horchata (rice milk). We had found heaven in Yakima!
It was time to head West and we decided to go through Mt. Rainier National Park. This state is full of wonder and it is so excruciatingly beautiful when the sun shines! It was a quick road trip but it was a great escape from the daily grind in Seattle. Did I mention that there is finally good coffee in Yakima? Go to Northtown Coffeehouse, they brew stumptown coffee and it is good!
I’ll leave you with a few images from our drive through Mt. Rainier. It was a lovely day and the beauty breathtaking!