The buckboard wagon I am riding in sways gently over the landscape, the padded seats working to smooth out the bumps in the well-trodden trail. The dust raised by the wagon’s wheels slowly meanders into the late afternoon shadows, giving an earthy aroma to the fresh spring air. I am deep in the heart of the Red Mountain AVA, touring the wineries and vineyards that make up this breath-taking region from the back of a horse-drawn wagon, thanks to the guidance of Red Mountain Trails. It’s been a quiet, comfortable ride, with only the sounds of the clip-clopping of the horses’ hooves and the birds settling in the vineyards. Time seems to have slowed down as I gaze over the countryside, basking in the glow of the fading sunlight shining over the expanse of vineyards.
Teresa, our guide and the owner of Red Mountain Trails, has kept up a steady narrative about the history of this beautiful region. Growing up on Red Mountain, she has watched the sagebrush transform into vineyards over the course of her life. She was raised in an old one-room government building her father bought in 1973, and grew up riding horses over every square inch of the countryside. This land is her home, and she’s quick to share her insights and knowledge, not to mention her love of horses and the beautiful vineyard landscapes. She possesses a wealth of knowledge about the wineries and their family history on the mountain, the grapes they’ve planted, the vineyard types, and so much more.
Our tasting tour began at Kiona Winery and Vineyard, where we were picked up by Teresa and her wagon. I particularly enjoyed their Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold Cab that celebrates Kiona Estate Vineyard's 40th anniversary and their legacy of working the Red Mountain soil. From there we clip-clopped from one vineyard to the next, stopping at Cooper Wine Co. to be greeted by Bud, the resident chocolate lab and official greeter. After this wonderful tasting, we were off again, heading to Frichette Winery to sample their vintages. Our group tended to become absorbed in the wonderful wines, and thus we were only able to stop at three wineries, but it’s not uncommon to hit four or five wineries on the Red Mountain trail. The vineyard owners have graciously allowed these rides to traipse through their vineyards, emphasizing the country hospitality of this unique wine-growing region.
Following our tastings, we rode up to an out-of-the-way knoll just as the sun was beginning to set. Waiting for us was a delectable dinner of crab quiche, Cowboy quiche (bacon and cheese), Marcona almonds, fresh Pico de Gallo, rosemary crackers, dry salami, Cougar Gold cheddar, pickled green beans, stuffed grape leaves, and strawberry tartlets with crème fraiche, basil, and a balsamic glaze. All these culinary delights were punctuated by the amazing view of the Yakima River winding through Benton City, with Rattlesnake Mountain looming in the background and the sun just dipping below the horizon.
All in all, I’ve never gone wine tasting and felt so connected to the environment I was in. The soil, the air, the vines, the sky; all of them mingled together to form an experience that defied any of my expectations. I left the tour with a newly acquired knowledge of the intricacies of Red Mountain wines, not to mention a newfound respect for the winemakers and grape growers who make their living in this beautiful place.
Want to experience Red Mountain for yourself? Here’s all the details on everything Red Mountain Trails offers:
Trail Rides - Enjoy the peace and quiet of wine country from the back of a gentle horse. Reservations are required.
Meet at Kiona Winery to begin the tour. Ride out through the vineyards of Red Mountain and visit a total of three wineries, stopping for a picnic lunch among the vines.
Wagon Rides – If horses aren’t your thing, there are several different options for a wagon ride: from a fun 20 minute ride through the vineyards to an exclusive wine-tasting excursion. Reservations are required.
Full Moon Feasts - $150. Full Moon Feasts are five course dinners catered by the acclaimed chefs at Fat Olive’s Restaurant, and paired with Red Mountain wines. It includes a horse-drawn wagon ride to and from the venue. The dinners are served among the vineyards, on a secluded knoll overlooking the Yakima Valley and Yakima River. Each event is carefully timed to land on a day when you can observe both the sunset and the moonrise during your dinner. It is the absolute, very best of all that is wonderful about Red Mountain. May, the Flower Moon. June, the Strawberry Moon. July, the Buck Moon. August, the Sturgeon Moon. September, the Harvest Moon.
Bicycle Rentals - $50.00 for a full day, which I learned is plenty of time to taste at every one of the amazing wineries on Red Mountain. Rentals must be reserved in advance and are available Thursday through Friday. You must pick up between 10:00 am and 10:30 am, and must drop off between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm.