The Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Yakima is a beautiful drive. Basalt cliffs, shrub steppe plateaus and the river as it meanders and rushes at various turns; a fisherman’s paradise. Just outside of Ellensburg, at the northern edge of the canyon we found Gary Cox and Cox Canyon Vineyard where he makes his wine under the label of Ellensburg Canyon Winery. We must have ridden by his place a dozen times or more in the last couple of years we lived in Ellensburg, but we didn’t see his then nine-year-old 17 acre vineyard. Now that the vineyard is in its fifteenth leaf we discovered it.
The current President of the Vineyards & Wineries of Kittitas Valley (started by Troy of Thrall & Dodge Winery), Gary taught Ag for the Yakima Valley Community College EV program for seven years before retiring. He is a staunch advocate of ‘Terroir’ and the singularity of place, vintage and process that manifests itself in the wine that comes from a generations old vineyard or from the north end of the Yakima River Canyon. We discussed the fact that Washington State has been phylloxera-free due to the soils and climate making the own-rooted vines more like the old French/European wines before the need to graft phylloxera-resistant rootstock. It is his belief that the soils his vines are planted on, with the multiple layers of ash from the Cascade volcanic eruptions (about 16% of the soils according to Gary) and the micro nutrients they provide are distinct. He grows Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc at Cox Canyon Vineyards. I came away with a reading list that will have to wait until I graduate so I can do justice to the information they contain.
- 2013 Chardonnay, ‘The Climax’ – a stainless steel Chard at 12.4% ABV that reminded me of pineapples on both the nose and palate!
- 2013 Ralf Rae Rose’, ‘Alpen Glow’ – 14.2% ABV, is 95% Cabernet Franc and 5% Viognier is red berries on the nose and palate (Ralf Rae is the vineyard dog, a German Spitz Mittel rescue)
- 2008 Ralf Rae Red is Cabernet Franc aged in 1/2 French and 1/2 Hungarian oak for 12 months
- 2012 ‘Canyon Orange’ – a 100% Cabernet Franc done in a white style with minimal skins and no oak at 14.3% ABV it is lychee and citrus aromas and tastes of raspberries with a great, long acidic finish.
- 2012 Late Harvest Riesling – 12..9% ABV, 9.8% RS the honey and light floral aromas don’t prepare you for the apple tart palate that lingers nicely
- 2007 Cabernet Franc Port Style dessert wine – smelling of tobacco and prunes, tasting of black cherries. Gary suggests pairing this with a fine cigar; as long as all I do is smell said cigar, I could probably do so.
Pack a picnic lunch and head on up to taste his wines, it is a lovely location.