Mark Ryan Winery. DeLille Cellars. Seven Hills Winery. Andrew Will Winery. It’s one thing to see these names on labels. It’s another see the vineyard blocks where the grapes for these producers’ most-esteemed bottlings are grown. That’s what I discovered on a bike tour with Red Mountain Trails. About a minute into the ride, we were passing through the famed Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain. And signs posted among the rows identified their clients, including the ones listed above. Feeling the sun and breathing the air that nourishes these grapes offered a whole new way to appreciate the wines they produce. Like wine tasting through osmosis. I’m going to dedicate this post to those who offer cool wine country tours across the Northwest. But before I do, I’ll share a few interesting tidbits I’ve picked up since my last post.
[Photo: Trail rides on Red Mountain, courtesy of Red Mountain Trails]
• Red Hills Kitchen is open for business in McMinnville’s Atticus Hotel. The property’s new restaurant is run by chef/owner Jody Kropf, who also owns Dundee’s beloved Red Hills Market. His new hotel restaurant offers an array of Northwest foods, from vegan and gluten-free options to hearty indulgences, all made with super-fresh local and regional ingredients. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, the restaurant’s specialties include meats and seafood dishes cooked in a Josper charcoal oven. Plus fun, hearty indulgences, such as a bacon-wrapped meatloaf sandwich. The bar serves craft cocktails, craft brews and an Oregon-heavy wine list.
• The Atticus also hosts tastings of Antica Terra‘s wines three times a day. The 50-minute Core Tasting ($35 per person) offers a rotating selection of winemaker Maggie Harrison’s Antica Terra and Lillian wines, accompanied by duck liver terrine. You can visit the winery’s barrel room in Dundee for a more in-depth tasting. The 90-minute Collective Tasting ($75 per person) offers a taste of Harrison’s creative journey. The pours can include current and former releases, based on what’s available, with comparable wines from other producers also available. (Reservations are required for both tasting options.)
• And, in non-Atticus news, a group of Red Mountain–area wineries is hosting their first-ever MayFest celebration on Sat., May 18. The highlights include live music at Col Solare, an outdoor market at Hedges Family Estate, a library-grenache tasting at Tapteil Vineyard and more. The event occurs on the same day as the Yakima’s Roots & Vines Festival. So plan accordingly.
And now, on to the wine country tours …
Saddling up on Red Mountain
Teresa Owen grew up riding horses on Red Mountain. So, after she and her husband, Jeff, purchased her family’s home from her mother’s estate in 2011, it didn’t take them long to start offering guided trail rides. Now in its seventh year of operation, their company, Red Mountain Trails, offers wine country tours by horse, bike and in a horse-drawn wagon. They also offer sunset tours that culminate with a gourmet cookout in a nearby vineyard. The tours begin at the Owens’ property. Their neighbors include Ciel du Cheval, E&E Shaw Vineyard, Col Solare and Hedges Family Estate. In other words, it’s a special place.
The winery tours visit three tasting rooms. The itineraries vary from tour to tour. And the stops can include such revered properties as Kiona Vineyards, Hedges, Fidélitas, Hightower, Tapteil, Frichette Winery and others.
“Our wagon and our horses are on more people’s Facebook pages than I could ever imagine,” Teresa says. “Especially at Kiona, because the road passes the deck in front of the tasting room. When the wagon pulls up, people will come out and take pictures.”
The dinner tours include four courses, each paired with local wines, in Artz Vineyard. The view from your table includes Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Mountain and the Yakima River. The Owens’ change their locavore menu about once a month. (This May, the selections include rhubarb bruschetta, a salad, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin medallions and lemon pie.) They limit group sizes on the winery tours to six people, to retain a sense of intimacy. The dinner tours can accommodate up to 16, with 12 in the wagon and four on horseback.
[Photo courtesy of Red Mountain Trails]
Willamette Valley by Horse
In the Willamette Valley, Equestrian Wine Tours (EWT) has been providing wine county tours on Tennessee walking horses in the Dundee Hills for more than a decade. “The Tennessee walkers are a gaited horse, which make them very comfortable to ride” explains head wrangler Sarah Ann Hahn. “Their first gear is a walk, and their second gear is a running walk, which makes it very safe and comfortable.”
EWT’s most popular tour is the 2.5-hour ride to three wineries. Along the way, you pass through vineyards, hazelnut groves, orchards and woodlands. Though the itinerary changes, the stops can include Sokel Blosser, Stoller Family Estate, Durant Vineyards, The Family Coppola’s Domaine de Broglie (formerly Vista Hills Vineyard) and others. EWT also offers tours in a horse-drawn carriage.
Electric Bikes at Lake Chelan
When you think of the iconic images of summer at Lake Chelan, the wake of a speed boat cutting through pristine waters probably comes to mind. Or a young child building a sandcastle on the beach. But thanks to Merick Hill, aka Merv, a pack of bicyclists pulling up to a winery has become another signature sight.
Now in its eighth season, Chelan Electric Bikes offers one of the most enjoyable wine country tours you’ll find anywhere, thanks to a combination of factors. Foremost among these is the lake’s natural beauty. Then there are the bikes. Hill uses a fleet of electric-assist Pedego Comfort Cruisers to get his groups around. An electric motor powers the bike for you when you want (or need) a break from pedaling. And the wineries you visit provide leisurely opportunities to literally drink in the flavors of this awesome setting.
Hill’s half-day tours begin at Chelan Riverwalk Park, for a safety talk and orientation. Then it’s off to the south shore’s bike-friendly roads. And when the weather heats up, they’ll stop at one or two of the beaches along the way for a refreshing dip. (Wear your bathing suit). Over the course of the nearly 20-mile ride, groups stop at three south shore wineries. These change from tour to tour, but can include Karma Vineyards, Tunnel Hill Winery, Tsillan Cellars, Nefarious Cellars, Fielding Hills Winery, Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery, One Wines Inc., and others.
“It’s a chance to experience Chelan with all your senses,” says Hill. “And since the bikes are electric, you’re not exerting yourself super-hard. When you get hot, you can jump in the lake. And by the time you get to the next winery, you’ve dried off.”
[Photo courtesy of Chelan Electric Bikes]
Electric Bikes in the Southern Okanagan Valley
In the southern Okanagan Valley, Heat Stroke Cycle offers a few different options for pedaling—or not pedaling—an electric bike to area wineries. Its guided Black Sage Road tour includes stops at the southern valley’s premier east-slope wineries, including Black Hills Estate Winery and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. The guided Golden Mile wine country tour visits several of the southern valley’s west slope wineries.
On either tour, you’ll see and feel how the terrain influences the vineyards. On Black Sage Road, for example, the afternoon heat makes it clear why cab sauv, syrah and other big reds ripen better on the eastern side of the valley. In contrast, the western slope’s vineyards get more shade in the afternoon, after the sun passes beyond the valley’s western ridge. And seeing is believing. Heat Stroke also offers hourly and daily rentals of electric and conventional bicycles, as well as guided road and mountain bike tours.
Driver for Hire
It always helps to have a local insider show you around. And this is the premise behind Walla Walla’s Wine Country 2Go. This one-man operation was established about eight years ago by Tom Olson, a former Whitman College ski coach and PE instructor. One of the things that makes his service unique—and affordable—is the fact that he drives you around in your car.
Olson has lived in Walla Walla for about 30 years. In addition to coaching and teaching at Whitman, he’s also worked in tasting rooms and in the vineyards. And he uses his contacts and familiarity with the area to help customize itineraries.
“I like to take people to smaller, boutique wineries, where they can get an intimate experience,” he says. “I go to places where they might be able to sample out of a barrel. Or meet the owner or winemaker and learn the story of a particular winery.”
Embracing the Trend
The idea of paying others to drive your car for wine country tours has been gaining global steam. I’ve seen such services offered in Italy and Northern California. And one New York– based company now offers such service in four Northwest wine-tasting regions.
This latter enterprise, Main Street Drivers, was founded by James Hirstenstein in 2011. After launching his boutique ride service in the Hamptons, Hirstenstein found strong demand in the nearby North Fork winery region. “We quickly shifted gears and decided to follow the wine,” he says.
He soon added service in New York’s Finger Lakes. And, when customers began asking him about Willamette Valley, he visited the area to learn more about it. Main Street Drivers now offers its services to those interested in wine-tasting in the Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Woodinville and Seattle’s SoDo district. Many of the drivers the company contracts are aspiring winemakers or sommeliers, Hirstenstein says. And those with an inherent familiarity with the areas they serve.
Wine Country 2Go charges $35–$50 an hour, depending on group size. Main Street Drivers charges $40 an hour on weekends (Fri.–Sun.) and $35 an hour on weekdays, plus a 20 percent service/gratuity fee. Both offer their services for personal vehicles and rentals.
What is your favorite wine country tour? Send us an email (info@thegrapenorthwest,com) to let us know about it. Submissions will be posted on this website and, when appropriate, shared on social media.