Some cozy stays among Washington’s finest vineyards
BY ANNE SAMPSON
Finding a spot among the vines is easy. Follow the basalt formations and ancient lava flows that make up the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains before they spill into the greater Columbia Valley. The landscape here is wide, carved over thousands of years by the cataclysmic Missoula floods that dumped millions of acres of water across the Northwest, scouring the region, and then, as the waters receded, carpeting it with boulders, sand, and silt. This is one of the world’s most prolific agricultural environments, producing exquisite fruits, grains, and vegetables, as well as endlessly changing landscapes. From the Ancient Lakes near Quincy to the rolling hills of the Walla Walla Valley to Horse Heaven Hills high above the Columbia River, we’ve taken a look at three very different winery experiences, each as unique as its appellation.
CAVE B ESTATE
WINERY AND RESORT
The Ancient Lakes AVA boasts a cooler climate than much of the Columbia Valley, producing white wines with lovely aromatics and good acidity. It’s also home to some of the most stunning scenery anywhere. Cave B hugs the cliffs rimming the Columbia River gorge, and the spectacular views are the centerpiece of the accommodations. A dozen Cavern rooms are carved out of the basalt foundation of the estate, just above 15 free-standing suites dubbed the CliffeHouses, dotting the ridgeline above the river. The lodge occupies the highest point on the property and houses three traditional suites, as well as Tendrils Restaurant, The Spa, and meeting facilities.
But for a more adventurous escape, try one of the 25 Desert Yurts on the edge of the vineyard. These deluxe tents are outfitted with all the amenities of the hotel, including luxury linens, a full bath, and heating and air-conditioning. “It’s only camping,” says Assistant General Manager Della Gonzales, “in the sense that they’re covered in thick canvas walls.”
Activities at Cave B include a menu of outdoor experiences. Hike the Ancient Lakes trail, relax by the pool, or clear your head with a pre-arranged outdoor yoga session. Farther off site, you can boat the Columbia River at Crescent Bar or arrange for a guided fishing experience. Biking is a great way to see the area — bring your own or borrow one of the resort’s.
But Cave B is lauded as much for its culinary experiences as for its scenery. The estate vines are some of the oldest in the region, and winemaker Freddy Arredondo crafts a full array of reds and whites, available at the winery tasting room on the grounds. At Tendrils, Executive Chef Tyler Krost creates a seasonal menu of farm-to-table foods, prepared with herbs and vegetables grown in the restaurant’s garden.
BASEL CELLARS ESTATE WINERY & RESORT
Walla Walla Valley is home to more than 80 wineries, including some of the top-rated producers in the state. Rolling hills, warm sun, and a charming downtown make the area a favorite touring destination. But just outside of town, Basel Cellars offers a luxurious wine-country getaway as idyllic as a secluded Italian villa.
High on a hill, facing the estate vineyard, Basel Cellars’ tasting room occupies one wing of a rustic 13,800-square-foot wood- and-stone lodge. Originally built as a private estate, the lodge feels like a luxurious home, with amenities like a gourmet kitchen, private theater room, and huge swimming pool and water slide, as well as eight bed- rooms and four full baths. It’s a popular destination for groups such as family reunions and weddings.
Guests at Basel Cellars often take advantage of Walla Walla’s dynamic restaurant scene, in- cluding renowned restaurants like Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, The Marc, Brasserie Four, and Whitehouse Crawford — and Basel Cellars Hospitality Director Joshua Wood is also happy to arrange catering at the estate. Still, the lodge’s commercial-grade kitchen makes “cooking at home” a relaxing choice after a day of wine-tasting, and Wood can accommodate that as well, with a grocery-delivery service that brings the makings for a fabulous home-cooked meal right to the estate’s door.
Other activities include snow-skiing at nearby Bluewood in the winter or fly-fishing in one of the two streams that form the estate’s boundaries. When the weather cooperates, guests can relax on the patio and watch hot-air balloons oat across the vineyard. The estate is a popular launch spot for the balloons, and Wood can help guests book their own vineyard flight.
DESTINY RIDGE VINEYARD
About 70 miles southeast of Walla Walla, climb the rugged southern slopes of Horse Heaven Hills AVA to Destiny Ridge Vineyard. Warmed by the ubiquitous eastern Washington sun and cooled by the winds owing along the Columbia River, Horse Heaven Hills is famous for robust and flavorful Cabernets, Merlots, and Syrahs. Destiny Ridge is the flagship vineyard of the Boyle family — owners of Alexandria Nicole Cellars — and a beautiful spot to enjoy a night in the vines.
The winery’s tasting room in nearby Prosser, nestled at the base of Horse Heaven’s northern flank, is open year-round. But from May through October, the tasting room in the vineyard welcomes guests for an afternoon or an entire weekend. The Estate at Destiny Ridge is a popular wedding and event destination, with three suites that accommodate up to 10 guests. The former private residence offers all the comforts of home, with stunning views of the Columbia River valley.
But for the true love-your-grapes experience, choose one of the tiny houses nestled be- tween the vines. The two little structures are the result of a competition featured on HGTV that pitted two builders in a 10-day race to create the most unique tiny house experience. The outcome was two very different structures — one with an ultra-modern feel and the other emphasizing the cozy ambience of wine country, with an open-air sleeping space. Each overlooks the river and features a kitchen, bath, queen bed, and patio with a propane replace,
As with all vineyard experiences, the tiny houses book quickly. And although the back- to-nature experience at Destiny Ridge is currently limited to two tiny houses, Manager Stefanie Gamble says plans are underway to add more.
Anne Sampson lives in the heart of Washington wine country, where she writes about wine, food, and culture. She has written for Wines & Vines, Good Fruit Grower, Northwest Palate, Appellation America, and Salon.
A tour of eastern Washington wine country is as much about the food as the grapes. Farm-to-table dining is easy here. If you’re staying at Basel Cellars, you can find fresh produce at the farmers market at Crawford Park, corner of Main and Fourth, Saturdays from April through October.
En route to Destiny Ridge, take advantage of the farmers markets at Prosser City Park, 7th and Sommers, or in McKenzie Park, 320 S. 1st, on the south side of the Columbia River in Hermiston, Oregon. Both are open Saturdays, 8am–noon, through October.
At Cave B, one of the best dining experiences is at Tendrils Restaurant. Chef Tyler Krost makes good use of local foods, from the fresh herbs and vegetables grown on the estate to the artisanal beef from Snake River Farms in Boise, Idaho. For this sea- sonal salad, he recommends pairing with Cave B’s 2011 Cuvee du Soleil, an award- winning red wine.
SNAKE RIVER’S ZABUTON STEAK AND CHEF’S GARDEN TOMATO SALAD WITH MINT CHIMICHURRI
Serves 2 │start to finish: 35 minutes
2 8-ounce Snake River Farms Zabuton steaks, or substitute a tender, thin cut such as flatiron steak
8 ounces diced garden tomatoes
2 ounces mixed garden greens, such as kale, mustard greens, chard
1/4 cup quartered Kalamata olives
2 ounces red wine vinegar
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese
4 ounces pickled Walla Walla sweet onions (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons mint chimichurri (recipe follows)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Season the steak with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat to rare or medium rare, about 7 minutes. Let rest five minutes, then slice across the grain in thin slices.
Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Fine-julienne the greens. In a mixing bowl, toss tomatoes, greens, olives, pickled onions, blue cheese, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.
On two plates, arrange steak over greens and drizzle with mint chimichurri.
For the pickled Walla Walla sweet onions:
1 Walla Walla sweet onion
4 ounces red wine vinegar
1/8 cup salt
1/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon allspice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black pepper
In a saucepan, combine vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil.
Slice the onion into 1/8-inch rounds. Place onions into boiling pickling solution and turn heat off. Transfer immediately to a bowl and chill in refrigerator.
For the mint chimichurri:
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1/4 cup whole fresh mint leaves
2 whole cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon chopped shallots
1 ounce red wine vinegar
1 ounce extra virgin olive oil
1 ice cube
pinch of sea salt
pinch of Aleppo chilies or substitute red chili flakes
Blend all ingredients to a smooth puree.