Vineyards thrive among the orchards and hop fields.

In addition to being a vibrant wine-tasting destination, the freakishly fertile Yakima Valley is the nation’s top hops producer. It is also a leading source of cherries, apples, pears, spearmint, peppermint and Concord grapes. In 1983, it became home to Washington first federally recognized growing area, aka AVA. And few years later, Mike Sauer planted the state’s first syrah vines in his Red Willow Vineyard.

[Top photo by Francois Dereeper]

Geographically speaking, the Yakima Valley comprises its eponymous AVA and a half-dozen or so neighboring regions and subregions. Together, these areas are home to about 120 wineries, spread out across rolling farmlands and shrub-steppe landscapes along a roughly 80-mile stretch of Interstate 82 that runs alongside the Yakima River.

Thanks to its diverse topography, the Yakima Valley and its surrounding growing areas sustain a wide range of grape varietals. The most common include cab sauv, merlot, chadonnay and riesling. But syrah and mourvèdre are on the rise. And growers and winemakers continue to adjust their respective offerings. As a result, they are discovering new opportunities to produce quality alberiño, tempranillo, sangiovese, cab franc and others. Because of these efforts, additional varietals seem to find their way into bottles and tasting rooms with each vintage.

Beyond wine

You’ll find restaurants and hotels throughout the valley, but primarily in the main towns on either end. The city of Yakima, the region’s largest population and commercial center, anchors the upper valley. Its convention center, hotels, restaurants and pubs keep things lively downtown, where a few area wineries operate tasting rooms. And several other wineries are just a short drive away. Additional wine venues are located off Interstate 82 in Zillah, Sunnyside and Prosser. This latter town anchors the lower valley, offering casual restaurants, a small downtown, motels and a convenient RV park. These and other amenities cater to the ever-growing crowds of wine lovers who keep filling the tasting rooms.

Downtown Yakima is about 140 miles southeast of Seattle. And Alaska Airlines offers four daily flights to Yakima Airport (YKM). As a bonus. Alaska waives baggage fees for mileage-plan members on up to one case of wine and offers other benefits in select wine regions, including Yakima Valley. Map it.