North! To Washington.

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Kate & Dennis Rivera

When the Friday morning of President’s Day weekend greeted us with more of the same grey cloudiness we’d had all week, we shook our fists at the predictable Oregon sky and decided to hop in the car and take a little road trip. Somewhere with almost guaranteed sunshine — and if not sunshine, then guaranteed wine-tasting and new food to try. What luck! It turned out that the annual Yakima Valley Red Wine and Chocolate event was taking place that weekend.

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Yakima, Washington is an easy four-and-a-half hour drive from the mid valley. After a picturesque cruise along the Columbia Gorge, we crossed over the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge into Maryhill and continued on through the sagebrush-covered terrain of Goldendale. This looked like a promising place to return in the spring to look for wildflowers, so I added it to the growing list that lives in my phone. The rolling, horse-dotted hillsides gently gave way to the valley floor, with its cows and farmland; fruit packing facilities; and endless rows of grapevines. The Yakima Valley boasts more than 12,000 vineyard acres, which account for nearly half of all of Washington State’s wine production. (They also grow 70-75% of all hops for the United States here, something of interest for us beer-loving Oregonians.)

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The grapevines were in their winter dormancy during our visit, but their tidy, bare rows served as a strong reminder of the care and hard work they represent.

Our first stop in town was the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center to get our bearings and pick up passes and wine glasses for the weekend’s festivities. The visitor center was nicely appointed and chock-full of information about the wineries, lodging, events, sights, and activities throughout the valley. This is a haven for the brochure collectors among us. (Guilty!) We then headed downtown to visit some wine tasting rooms, before the anticipated crowds from Seattle arrived.

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Our stops downtown included the affable Kana Winery, and the more reserved shared space of AntoLin Cellars and Lookout Point Winery, which was showing paintings by Washington artist Larry Petry at the time of our visit. Next, it was off to to the hills to visit the biodynamic Naches Heights Vineyard, with grounds and a nearly full-kitchen perfect for weddings and other events. We also sampled the line up from Tieton Cider Works, and learned a bit about the history of their orchards. I could see Tieton ciders making a frequent appearance at our future backyard barbeques.

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After all this wine and cider tasting, dinner sounded like a great idea, so we drove back into town to Gasperetti’s Restaurant, a Yakima institution that opened its doors in 1966. We could feel some of the vintage vibe of the place, with an eclectic mix of diners filling the cozy booths. There were casual families alongside older couples dressed to the nines, and the owner and his sister roamed the dining room, chatting with guests. We tried an appetizer of roasted garlic and chevre with crostini, potato leek soup, and one of the evening’s specials, cannelloni langoustine, which was as rich and filling as you’d imagine.

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We wound down the evening at the amicable Gilbert Cellars for some live music and one last glass of wine. Although there are a few of the B&Bs and Inns one expects to find in an area devoted to wine tasting, on this trip we stayed at a Fairfield Inn, not too far from downtown.

I was determined to find good coffee and a pastry for Saturday morning, so I spent some time online the night before doing my homework and decided we had to go to Essencia Bakery. Two words: Cinnamon. Stack. A twisted cinnamon bun pastry with local honey. After caffeination, we wandered through downtown, nosing through antique and thrift shops and deciding where to have dinner later. (Road trips are all about food, you know.) Across from the old train depot, I spotted Garden Girl, a cute little shop that seemed to embody the idea of “garden shabby chic” and spent a delightful half hour browsing through the flowers, pottery, arbors, and home decor.

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Soon enough, wine and chocolate were calling our names. We decided to explore more of the valley, so we wound our way through Zillah — don’t spend half an hour looking for the teapot-shaped building like we did, I think it’s gone — and into Prosser, stopping at Desert Wind Winery for wine tasting and lunch. There’s a sort of extraneous southwest theme going on at Desert Wind, but it works for them. We made a note to be sure to visit their sister winery, Duck Pond Cellars, in Dundee.

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There was a jazz concert taking place Saturday night at The Seasons Performance Hall, a church-turned-music-venue with acoustics that make it a big draw for jazz musicians. That, plus a casual dinner of burgers at Second Street Grill and a late-night coffee at Northtown Coffeehouse rounded out a very full day.

The late winter weather in Yakima provided the perfect temporary escape we were seeking. The valley sits in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountain Range, resulting in a semi-arid climate. It was sunny and warm in the daytime during our two night stay, with a dry wind that kicked up whirling dust devils and sent tumbleweeds across our path. Evening temps dropped seemingly in the blink of an eye, so layers and coats were a must — especially when we found ourselves on the side of the road changing a punctured tire at dusk. (Ah, the small hazards of a farming community!) Yakima is a hospitable town, and everyone we met was extraordinarily nice. We look forward to returning for other events, like the Spring Barrel Tasting or Thanksgiving in Wine Country.

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