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Yakima Valley: the original Washington wine

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The Yakima Valley is the first, and largest, appellation in Washington State. Officially recognized in 1983, it was already home to dozens of major wine producers. The region currently dwarfs the second-largest appellation (Walla Walla), with more than 16,000 acres under vine – more than 10 times as much as Walla Walla. The wineries that inhabit Yakima Valley are generally much larger producers – although the region has ten times the grapes as Walla Walla, it has only half the number of wineries.

Wineries from Yakima Valley are some of the best-known names in Washington wine, such as Columbia Winery, many producing exceptional wines, although few with the cult status of those found in Walla Walla or Columbia Gorge.

Because of its size and elevation shifts, in the past decade the Yakima Valley has been further sub-divided into three smaller appellations. These are the Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain, and Red Mountain. All three boast unique terroir when compared to one another and the Yakima Valley at large, and are generally home to smaller, more terroir-focused winemakers.

Located on the western side of the Columbia Valley, up against the Cascade mountain range, the Yakima Valley is (aside from the newer, and significantly smaller Lake Chelan, and the less-prestigious Puget Sound AVA) the most accessible major wine-growing appellation. Not far south-east of Seattle, Yakima Valley is where most day-trip wine tasters visit – saving the more eastern Walla Walla and the more southern Columbia Gorge for longer trips.

In Washington State, the tasting culture in Columbia Valley is the most like that of California. Larger wineries, formal tasting tours and tasting shuttles, and a proliferation of restaurants with high-end wine lists all make it the clear ‘wine country’ of Washington. In spite of this, for those looking to get off the beaten path and sample rarer, harder-to-find wines, there are a handful of boutique wineries with tastings by appointment only, at which one may tour the vineyard, speak with the winemaker, and taste wines rarely found on a restaurant list or for sale abroad.