Columbia Valley & Yakima Wine Tours
Columbia Valley Wines
Washington’s single largest wine appellation is Columbia Valley. Encompassing roughly one-third of the entire land mass of the state, it contains nearly eleven-million acres within its vast borders. Six of Washington’s nine AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) are contained within the Columbia Valley designation, including Walla Walla Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills and Horse Heaven Hills.
For wine tourists, the Columbia Valley designation can sometimes be confusing because the AVA is so massive and contains so many others appellations. It is best to think of Columbia Valley as the umbrella that covers all of eastern Washington’s major wine growing areas. Over time, as specific growing regions have become better defined, the larger appellation has been carved into smaller portions that have meaningful differences.
Yakima Valley Wineries
The Yakima Valley AVA was the first of Washington’s nine federally recognized viticultural areas. Established in 1983, it contains roughly one-third of all the vineyard land in the state and over fifty wineries. The Yakima Valley is located in the south-central portion of the state stretching from roughly the Tri-Cities area of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, following the Yakima River east to the foothills of the Cascades near the city of Yakima. For visitors, the seventy-five mile drive on Highway 82 provides easy access to virtually every winery in the valley.
In the Tri-Cities area, a longtime favorite is family-owned Barnard Griffin Winery. Technically it is just outside the official Yakima Valley AVA, but is a pleasant introduction to the low-key, relaxed environment of the valley. Continuing west to Highway 82, the very eastern edge of the appellation contains the wineries of Red Mountain. Please see the Red Mountain page (insert link here) for details on this unique sub-appellation of Yakima Valley.
Continuing west towards the town of Prosser, Hogue Cellars is one of the state’s largest volume wineries. Nearby is a cluster of boutique wineries housed in the 32-acre Vintner’s Village development. One of the more impressive wineries in the valley is Desert Wind, a sprawling Southwestern Pueblo-style hospitality complex that includes a gigantic tasting area, patios, restaurant, banquet facilities and guest rooms. Prosser is also home to many important vineyard sites.
Rattlesnake Hills Wineries
Wineries in and around of the town of Zillah fall into the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, another Yakima Valley sub-appellation. Vineyards tend to be planted on the ridges at higher elevations. Approximately fifteen wineries are located here including Yakima Valley pioneer, Portteus Winery. Over 1,200 acres of vineyard are planted in Rattlesnake Hills. Tourists should not expect to see any rattlesnakes. The area is named after the shape of the hills.
Horse Heaven Hills Wineries
To the south of the Yakima Valley, another important growing area and newer AVA is Horse Heaven Hills. This windy, sparsely populated area is bordered to the south by the Columbia River and is a major location for prestigious vineyards, but contains only a sprinkling of wineries. However, it is home to the single largest winery in the state, Columbia Crest.
Wahluke Slope Wineries
One of the state’s newest viticultural regions is the Wahluke Slope, established in 2006. Located in a remote area north and east of Yakima, it is more important as a grape growing area than a wine tour destination. Rocky soil and very warm growing conditions that are ideal for ripening grapes make this one of the most productive areas in the state, but it is rather desolate country with few tourist amenities. While there are only three wineries operating in the Wahluke Slope, there are over 5000 acres of grapes in production. Some highly respected vineyards in the area include Milbrandt Vineyards, Indian Wells Vineyard, Rosebud and many others. Grapes from this area are the source for wineries all over the Northwest.
Other Washington Wine Areas
Many wineries are available to visit in other parts of the state. Lake Chelan now boasts seventeen wineries and has applied for an official AVA designation. From Spokane in the east to Bellingham in the west, almost every town in Washington has a winery or two. With over 550 wineries now in operation, wherever your travels take you in Washington, a wine tour will be waiting close by for you to enjoy.