Imagine parking your car for the day and strolling door-to-door to visit multiple wineries in one afternoon. Whether you are new to the wine tasting world or an experienced wine and food traveler, Vintner's Village in Prosser Washington has what you are looking for. The village has more than just wine, it also includes restaurants, retail shops, and is host to events throughout the year. I had the opportunity to tour the village in April 2022 while attending a travel blogger’s conference (TBEX - https://tbexcon.com/) held in Tri-Cities, WA. We spent the afternoon visiting several of the wineries, meeting the owners and winemakers, and hearing first hand about their passion for great wines and great food.
We were greeted at our table by Susan Bunnell who shared the story of how her family all works together to create their wines, three labels to focus on three aspects of Washington Wine: Wine o'Clock (whites and light bodied reds), Newhouse Family Vineyards (features fruit from Snipes Mountain AVA located in the Yakima Valley), and The Bunnell Family Cellar (Rhone and Bordeaux varietals). Their Wine o'Clock Bar & Bistro offers wines from all three labels along with a selection of hand crafted dishes and wood fired pizza. The menu changes often which provides a great experience to anyone local who wants to visit frequently.
We started with a pear and bacon wood fired pizza paired with their wine o'Clock labeled whites. Next up was a crostini duo: first, a mushroom, thyme and chevre; and the other crostini, an olive tapenade. These were both paired with a blend from their Newhouse label (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre). Last up was a spectacular steak dish called "Bit o'Beef" - a filet with gorgonzola, walnuts, shallot, asparagus, and fire roasted mascapone. This one was served with a Syrah from their Bunnell Family Cellar label. I'm a huge Syrah fan and this one paired beautifully with this steak dish. Even though I'm not a huge asparagus fan, I found this one was cooked perfectly and I actually really enjoyed it.
Next stop was the winemaker's loft, an Italian style villa housing multiple wineries. The shared patio out front is perfect for enjoying your wine while soaking up that desert sunshine. All of the wineries in the Winemaker's Loft are family owned and have ties to the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.
The Martinez family has been growing grapes in Horse Heaven Hills since 1981 and making wine since 2005. We tasted their 2018 Carménère and their 2020 May Mae Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon - both were deliciously paired with pastries. I think enjoying these wines with sweet breads on that shared patio might be the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday morning!
Located right next door to Martinez & Martinez, this winery has been cultivating it's vineyard in the AVA since 1994. The owner, Mike Andrews, shared the story of their brand and their family history. The wines were paired with a delicious meal from El Buen Gusto Restaurant. Generally one thinks of pairing a beer or a margarita with a meal like this, but the wine was a great compliment to this authentic mexican dish. I have since found carménère to be one of my favorite things to drink with street tacos!
The first grapes for Airfield Estates were planted over 50 years ago. At that time there were only 3 wineries in Washington State. To set some perspective, Washington now has over 1,000 wineries and is the second largest wine producer in the United States!
We were greeted here by brother-sister duo, Marcus Miller and Lori Stevens, who oversee the day to day operations of the winery. Their passion and energy were contagious and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing their stories about their family, the vineyards, and the business.
This is a fourth-generation family farm, founded by H. Lloyd Miller in 1920. As the name hints, there is a history of aviation tied to this vineyard. Prior to farming, a portion of the property was leased out and served as a training base for hundreds of pilots during World War II. Today a few of those WWII buildings are still standing on the farm.
The first grape vines were planted in 1968 and today all of their wines are crafted from 100% estate grown fruit.
We tasted three different wines from Airfield, the 2021 Sangioviese rosé, the 2021 Pinot Gris, and the 2018 Founders which is a co-fermented Rhone style red. This was the first time I heard about co-fermented blends and I found it fascinating. In the standard blend, the wines are fermented separately and the winemaker can then blend them to create the final product. This allows the winemaker to taste and adjust percentages of the blend prior to finalizing, for example reducing the amount of Syrah or adding more Merlot. With co-fermenting, the fruit is placed in the vats together at the start and fermented together - the blends are "locked in" from the beginning. I think one must either (1) really know what they are doing, or (2) be really brave to take on co-fermenting. With Airfield it seems they are both - the wine was spectacular.
Whitstran Steak & Spirits provided appetizers and in-house smoked pork sandwiches for us to pair these wines with - that smoked pork was delicious and went terrific with all three wines.
The Airfield Estates tasting room here has plenty of space both indoors and outside to relax and enjoy a picnic lunch while tasting through their selection of wines.
Our last stop of the day was WIT Cellars. This winery was started by three friends who have a passion for wine, and a great sense of humor. The names on their wine clubs give you a clue: the Half WIT Society and the Quick WIT Society. WIT has several varietals to choose from - on this day we tasted the Sparkling Rosé (who doesn't love a bubbly rosé?!!), a bright and citrusy Chardonnay, a Cab Sauv , and a Petit Verdot.
It was at this last stop that we learned why sloping vineyards are preferred and the advantages to both northern and southern facing slopes.
The Cab Sauv came from Painted Hills Vineyard which is a north facing slope near Horse Heaven Hills. Slopes allow cold air to drain into lower areas reducing the risk from frost. Northern facing slopes get the morning sun to quickly dry off dew and prevent rot or mold. Additionally, northern facing slopes get less direct sunlight which creates a fruit with more acidity and less sugar - a desired component for Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Petit Verdot was sourced from a southern facing Olsen Vineyards that generally gets 2 more hours of sunshine. Since Petit Verdot ripens later than other Bordeaux grapes, the extra sunshine helps enhance the ripeness of this grape varietal.
These wines were delicious and paired beautifully with the spicy vegetable Ceviche and Cajun China Roasted Chicken Sliders from The Prosser House.
WIT Cellars hosts several fun events through the year from salsa dancing and live music to dinners. If you live local or are planning to visit the area you may consider following them on social media.
If you live near Eastern Washington or are planning to visit this area you may want to check out our other blog posts about the area and follow us on social media (@Experience46Degrees) to learn more about wineries, restaurants, tours, and events.