We recently made a trip to Eastern Washington to take in The Great Prosser Balloon Rally in late September.  This annual event coincides with the harvest of the grapes involving thousands of acres of vines.  Dozens of huge hot air balloons are launched on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the Prosser Airport.  It is quite a sight to see!  It was interesting to note that a good half of the pilots were women!  There is also a street fair with a sidewalk chalk event, music, crafts and kids activities.  All the wineries hosted tastings and many offered tours.  This is Washington State Wine Country.

Prosser Balloon Festival

Prosser Balloon Festival

For those of you who have not been to Washington, it’s not all about the rain.  (The rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula gives the state a bad rap!)  This eastern valley was an arid desert blessed with rich volcanic soil laid down thousands of years ago. The railroad came through and harvested water from the Cascade Mountains.  This combination made wonderful growing conditions for all manner of crops.  Heading east through the cascades you drop into rolling hills with farms and lots of hot dry days to ripen the harvest.  The region has apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, vegetables – and now thousands of acres of red and white grapes. 

Wine Country!  In late September, the air was sweet with ripe fruit!  The Yakima Valley boasts over 100 wineries in the 100 mile stretch and there is something for every wine lover out there!  From the light crisp Sauvignon Blancs, all the way to Malbecs and Cabs, it all grows here. Some of the smaller estate vineyards harvest their grapes, make wine, and sell a few wonderful bottles only at that site.   Then there are the larger operations that produce millions of bottles and sell to Safeway and Costco.  But even these huge operations produce Reserve wines, only available on site, through the internet, and to club members. 

There is usually a wine tasting fee, but waived if you buy a bottle.   My husband likes reds and I like the whites, so we usually share a tasting and end up buying a bottle or two anyway.   We’ve seen plenty of people haul away cases of their favorites.

img_1435Wineries Galore!  Prosser, our home for 4 days is part of the “Horse Heaven Hills” area.  More than 100 years ago, one of the founding fathers saw great herds of horses running through the valley and remarked “This must be Horse Heaven!” and the name stuck. One of the first tasting rooms on our list was “14 Hands” – referring to the height of a horse.  This is a familiar brand and a huge operation.  We left with several bottles of Sauvignon Blanc Reserve and my husbands favorite red.  We stopped for lunch at Bunnel Winery after visiting Gamache, Milbrandt, Willow Crest and Airfield.   Over the course of 4 days, between the Balloon launches, we visited more than a dozen wineries – ate grapes right off the vine, and learned about the wine making process. 

And Beer!  This area is also home to more than 30 varieties of hops.  The Valley is becoming a craft brewers paradise!   The hop vines are grown on very tall poles and can be seen through out the area.  Hops provide the aroma and balance the sweetness of the malt with their own bitter flavor.  “The Fresh Hop Ale Festival” is held the first Saturday in October in downtown Yakima.  Those who enter the competition must use Yakima hops that come from the vine to the brewing vat in less than 24 hours. 

Many of the wineries and breweries welcomed our little dog and had water bowls for her.  The hosts are more than happy to tell their story, share their harvest and sell you a bottle or two.   We will definitely be back next year!    We stayed at Wine Country RV Park in Prosser.   

Who cares if we’re tasting wine at 10 am?  We’re retired!