A Journey Around the State’s Eastern Reaches
By Susan McKee
In one day, you can sample top vintages from award-winning wineries and contemplate museum exhibits chronically the development of the atomic bomb. No doubt about it: there’s something for everyone in the southeastern corner of Washington State.
Washington State is more than its Pacific Coast with Seattle and Puget Sound. In its eastern half, you’ve entered another realm. Instead of the lush, green rainforest of the Pacific region, you’ll find the dry brown open spaces of the high desert.
Yet, this region is a viticultural paradise, one of the best areas in the country for growing grapes. Why? The latitude is the same as the great wine-growing regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux in France. The rich volcanic soil combines with long sunny days and cool nights and produces an environment great for grapes. And, perhaps most important, vineyards require less of that most precious of all desert commodities, water. (Although, apple trees and wheat fields are disappearing fast.)
The wineries in the area stretching from Yakima to Walla Walla rival the more established estates in adjacent Oregon. If you lunch at the Barrel House Wine Bar in Yakima, as I did, you can preview many of the labels glass by glass.
When I was in Washington, I tasted my way through quite a few wineries, although not all in one day! My favorites were: Claar Cellars, in Zillah; Washington Hills Winery in Sunnyside, located in a former creamery; Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla; Hinzerling Winery, in Prosser (try the Lemberger); and the stunning chateau-style Hedges Cellars at Red Mountain in Benton City.
When you’re done sampling wines and ready for dinner, consider the Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant in Walla Walla. In a renovated 1905 woodworking mill, it boasts an enormous wall of glass providing a clear view of the inner workings of the Seven Hills Winery, which occupies the remainder of the building.
Grapes aren’t the only tasty crop in eastern Washington — yet. They still grow some great fruit. I was there during cherry season, and eating ‘em the same day they’re picked can’t be beat. If you have a chance, stop at Chukar Cherry Company in Prosser and see what I mean.
TriCity History, Lore and More …
Hanford is known these days for two major sites: Hanford Engineer Works and Hanford Reach National Monument. The latter encompasses a 51-mile stretch of the Columbia River with its adjoining landscape of white bluffs, dunes and desert plateaus. Bird watchers and geologists alike are drawn to its pristine beauty, preserved because it served as a security buffer for what’s now called the Hanford Site of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Remember the bombs the United States dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The Manhattan Project was started in New York, tested at the University of Chicago and developed at Hanford Engineer Works, which resulted in a spectacular and deadly climax to the conflict in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
Wandering through the Columbia River Exhibition History, Science & Technology Museum in Richland I was astonished to learn about the top secret work that was completed nearby, in what certainly back then was “the middle of nowhere,” by people who couldn’t even discuss what they were doing with their families. In fact, the TriCities area has much hidden history.
If Kennewick causes dormant synapses to fire in your brain, you’re probably remembering Kennewick Man, a 9,200-year-old skeleton. It surfaced there in 1996, setting off a battle over ownership that wasn’t resolved until 2004, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a cultural link between local Native American tribes and the skeleton was not met, allowing scientific study of the remains to continue. Kennewick began centuries ago as a Native American settlement (its name means “Winter Paradise”) and now serves as a retail center for the region.
Across the river, Pasco just finished its 15 minutes of 21st Century fame as a stop on the Lewis and Clark expedition, which camped here in October 1805. The modern settlement started in the 1880s as a railroad town – it was a division point on the Northern Pacific Railway on its transcontinental journey. Now it’s the largest city in the million-acre Columbia Basin Irrigation Project.
The third of the tri cities is Richland, where many of the employees at the Hanford Engineer Works and their families lived in what became known as the Alphabet Houses. This was a company town that had ballooned rapidly as the Manhattan Project grew during World War II and continued to flourish in the Cold War Era. Spokane architect G. A. Pehrson designed “cookie cutter” houses that could be erected rapidly, with the uniform floor plans separated into A, B, and C categories according to one’s rank within the company.
Not far away is Walla Walla, with two unique attractions: Mark A. Anderson’s Foundry and the Whitman Mission. The Foundry handles the technical stuff of sculpture. It takes the artist’s ephemeral creation and turns it into permanent form using an alchemy that’s fascinating to the observer. This unique workshop can produce bronze, of course, but also stainless steel, copper, fused glass, silver and more.
Watching skilled workmen translate Deborah Butterfield’s ethereal horses from the original open lattice of driftwood into bronze, for example, made me realize that expert casting and assembly was as crucial to the creative process as the original design.
Whitman Mission is right on the Oregon Trail. The National Park Service staff demonstrates frontier skills every weekend in the summer, including flint knapping, adobe brick making and writing with a quill pen. The mission takes its name from its 1830s founder, Dr. Marcus Whitman, who’s also the namesake for Whitman College, located in Walla Walla, which means the place of many waters.
When I returned to Seattle, wine remained on my mind. Driving a bit north of the city, I stayed in Woodinville at the Willows Lodge. There are tasting rooms for two wineries literally within walking distance – Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia. But, by then, I was all tasted out.
The hotel? Well, it was divine. But frustrating – because it turned out to be (literally) next door to the Herbfarm Restaurant, the only AAA five-diamond restaurant north of San Francisco – and, I couldn’t get in. They’re routinely booked up months in advance, and I was there on a weekend. Maybe next trip!
For more information on Washington State wineries visit:
The Barrel House
Washington Hills Winery
Three Rivers Winery
White House Crawford Restaurant
Hanford Engineer Works
Columbia River Exhibition Science and Technology
Mark A. Anderson Foundry
Dr. Marcus Whitman
The Herb Farm Restaurant
You may reach Susan McKee at Susan@globalfoodie.com.