This Is Patterson. You Will Be Shocked.Posted: December 23, 2011
When people ask where I’m from, they naturally assume that I’m from Seattle. Wrong! I’m from miles away and the polar opposite of Seattle, actually. I’m from an area right outside the Yakima Valley in southeastern Washington, a little town called Richland.
Southeastern Washington is an amazingly beautiful region of the state, despite its lack of culture and strongly conservative attitudes. The eastern side of the state is completely devoid of the lush greenery that flanks the other side of the Cascade mountains, instead home to endless rolling hills and abundant sunshine most of the year. We grow plentiful grains, apples, cherries and grapes and export a great number of our youth with ambitions outside of working in agriculture or nuclear engineering. I was one of those exports.
Despite my claustrophobic mixed feelings about my native region, there’s no denying that this section of the state has quite a bit to offer in terms of under recognized top notch foods and world class wines. I could never really figure out why this area of the state never took off like the Napa Valley or parts of eastern Long Island, but I have a strong suspicion that aside from its remote location, the complete void of culture and uptight nature is the sticking point of the region.
Yet I digress.
Of course I took all the beautiful agriculture and vinification for granted before I left. Growing up, we would get the best of the apple crop, the freshest robust asparagus, the sweetest cherries by the handful. I went on winery tours a full decade before I reached the legal drinking age, remembering the basics of how to swirl the wine, how to slurp it, how to look for the glow. (Just to note, they serve children grape juice on those tours. It does happen to be really good grape juice though.) As I moved away and settled impermanently on the other side of the country, my interests focused on school and the excitement of New York, not focusing on where my Cabernet Sauvignon was coming from.
It wasn’t until recently that I’ve really come to appreciate what the Yakima Valley has to offer in regards to its wines . Anywhere else in the world these tiny little wineries would be marketed as a destination place to visit with boutique hotels, spas and Thomas Kellerish eateries in tow. Not the Yakima Valley! It remains unpretentious and unassuming in the area, favoring instead to churn out glass after glass of beautiful wines.
One such case is Columbia Crest winery, which I visited on this trip. The Columbia Crest winery is located literally in the middle of nowhere and yet produces award winning wines annually. Located in the
wide gap in the road hamlet of Patterson, which is a generous 30 miles from the county seat of Prosser, the vitners are left with little else to do but singularly focus on creating ideal growing conditions for their grapes and perfecting their wines. It shows.
Since Columbia Crest started selling their wines in early eighties, they’ve received numerous awards for their wines. Columbia Crest has, since its first press in 1982, focused exclusively is on small batch wines. They began selling their first varieties of white wine in 1986 and their first reds the following year. In 1994 Columbia Crest won its first gold medal at the Challenge du Vin in Bordeaux, France- edging out 38 other countries for the honors with the 1990 Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1997 they won the medal again with the 1994 Estate Series Merlot. That same year they were also voted “”Best Winery for Value in The United States” by Wine Spectator magazine, the only one outside of California. Impressive.
Columbia Crest has consistently been on the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast top 100 best wine lists for something every year since 2000, which isn’t an easy feat to pull off. They have four distinct categories of wines, the Grand Reserve series, the H3 Series, the Grand Estates series and the Two Vines series. Within each major category there are subcategories as well. In addition to each label’s individual white and red varieties, the Grand Reserve wines feature their Petit Chai wines (representing 1% of the wine produced by Columbia Crest), the Walter Clore Private Reserve wines.
On top of all of this, Bobby Flay is their culinary spokesman. They must have had to pay some good cash to get that man out there to take a good look at things. Bobby Flay!
I have to say that I was slackjawed when I read all the awards that Columbia Crest has received (and the whole Bobby Flay thing). For years it had just been there, the strange little French château looking winery ten miles from the middle of nowhere. They weren’t over the top expensive, so most people could enjoy a bottle whenever they pleased. It was just good wine from somewhere out there in the horse heaven hills, somewhere that I rarely ever went by choice.
This trip, I went to visit the winery on a day that they weren’t touring, but I got a chance to photograph the wine barrels and read about the process. The tasting room was open, just as it had been in the grape juice days and the ladies behind the counter were still as saccharine sweet as I had remembered. Should you happen to visit the winery, more extensive guided tours are offered on weekends and are highly recommended as opposed to the self guided tours which take about three minutes to fully grasp.
All this in the middle of where I considered nowhere and I couldn’t wait to get away from. Amazing. I’ll never move home again, but I can say I’m impressed.