Go wine touring by horseback in the Yakima Valley
Add Old West adventure to a wine-sipping getaway in Zillah.
Special to The Seattle Times
If you go
The winery ride from Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast and Barn (3271 Roza Drive, Zillah) is $225 per person plus tax and tasting fees, with a two-person minimum. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays only. Stop for tastings at two or three wineries, with gourmet picnic-style lunch at Cultura Winery. Lodging is extra; you need not be a lodging guest to take the ride. 509-829-3500 or cherrywoodbbandb.com.
Yakima Valley wineries stage their annual Catch the Crush celebration Oct. 11-12. Each participating winery offers its own events, including grape stomps, harvest and crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and wine tasting. Premier Passes $35 at any participating winery, or $30 online by Oct. 9. Details: wineyakimavalley.org.
Yakima Valley Tourism: visityakima.com
Other offbeat wine tours
Horseback may be one of the more unusual possibilities for traveling among wineries in Washington, but it’s only one of many. Here’s a sampling of options around Yakima. Check with your destination’s visitors bureau or the wineries you intend to visit to explore the possibilities in other areas. And remember: However you’re traveling, don’t drink and ride unless someone else is driving.
Cycling: If two wheels are more your style than four hoofs, consider wine-country cycling.
• See three riding routes suggested by the Yakima Valley Visitors Bureau: seati.ms/cycle-wine
• David Lowe of Wineglass Cellars in Zillah put together a 60-mile cycle tour around Yakima: wineglasscellars.com/Local_Bike_Rides.htm
• The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy features a Winery Trail (for hikers, mountain bikers or horseback riders) connecting the Cowiche Canyon Trail with wineries in the Naches Heights area: cowichecanyon.org/trails/CowicheCanyonWineryTrail.pdf.
• An increasing number of Northwest wineries are adding walking tours, including Terra Blanca on Red Mountain: terrablanca.com/Tasting-Room/Tours--Hikes.
Special events: Like most wine-growing areas in Washington, the Yakima Valley hosts regular recreational events. Airfield Estates in Prosser holds an annual 5K Vineyard Run (with grape tasting), Oct. 11 this year: airfieldwines.com/events.
Northwest travel guides
ZILLAH, Yakima County — For most of Pepper Fewel’s guests, riding to wineries on horseback is a novel way to taste some of the Yakima Valley’s finest reds and whites. For Fewel, it’s about the horses.
Cherry Wood, her bed-and-breakfast and working farm, has funded the rescue of more than 100 horses, some literally saved from the slaughterhouse. The farm cares for about 30 horses at any given time, many former rodeo or ranch workers. Some of those horses carry riders on tours to a handful of wineries nearby.
A few days a week from spring through fall, guests sign waivers, accept or decline proffered helmets and swing their legs over horses for a gentle stroll down the orchard-blanketed hill to local wineries. It helps that at least a half dozen lie within a couple miles. (One of them, Cultura, belongs to Pepper’s son Tad, and Cherry Wood grows grapes for his voluptuous cabernet franc.)
Fewel, a petite blond powerhouse, oversees everything from fitting guests’ loaner cowboy boots to keeping things tidy to cooking breakfast in the morning. That’s on top of caring for the horses, some of which require months of rehabilitation. “Horses have a lot to teach us,” she likes to say. “I want to keep learning forever.”
The horses, most of them at least middle aged, are hard to faze, and they’re not interested in getting anywhere fast — qualities that suit the mostly greenhorn clientele. Pepper Fewel often rides along with her ranch hands, including her trail-boss daughter, Tiffany. Clinton Carl often helps out. His day job: raising bees and making honey, some of which Pepper Fewel uses in her giant breakfasts. Carl has the calm personality of a man who works with bees, horses and people.
Tiffany Fewel uses the gentle “natural horse” method featured in movies such as “The Horse Whisperer” to help bring rescued horses back to physical and mental health. As I watched her guide guests through the details of equine communication, I thought those tactics probably come in handy for soothing nervous riders.
A horse’s rolling gait might feel natural to a seasoned rider, but for the rest of us, it takes some getting used to. And you forget how tall horses are until you’re right next to one. When it came time for me to step up, the stirrup felt as high as my head. Fortunately, I clambered on fairly easily, if without grace. I reminded myself to relax as Tiffany and Clinton reminded me how to steer my horse, Banker, away from slapping tree branches.
Like me, Simone Hrycenko and Jerilee Thurston, friends and colleagues from Seattle, were a bit anxious when it came time to climb aboard. But their confidence grew, and by the end of their ride, they were feeling good. “It was awesome,” Hrycenko said the next day over a home-cooked breakfast pastry, adding: “The hospitality here is just amazing.”
The horseback option is open only to folks who can comfortably hoist themselves into a saddle. (You’ll get instruction, but not assistance, in that department.) For those who are less fit or want to take full advantage of generous pours, Cherry Wood offers winery tours in the “cowboy limo,” a utility-vehicle-pulled hay wagon.
You don’t need to ride to stay in one of the rustic-chic canvas teepees scattered about the property. Ours had a Mexican flair, with tile-covered side tables and mirrors, bright textile rugs and piles of fluffy bedding on the pine four-poster. We bathed al fresco in the (private) outdoor shower and tubs. During the night, the sounds of yipping coyotes and mother horses whickering to their foals waft through the air.
If you’re going to have a mostly outdoor B&B, Yakima’s weather — hot during the day, cool at night and almost always dry — helps. It’s the same weather that produces Washington’s famously robust red wines.
Aside from caring for horses, Pepper Fewel sees a secondary benefit to having guests on her property: she meets interesting people with a sense of adventure. On a recent weekend, most of her guests were women, including honeymooners, friends in pairs and trios, and a birthday-celebration group a dozen strong — all ready to have a good time outside.
“Anyone who’s willing to spend a night in a teepee, anyone who’s willing to get a little grit in their teeth, those are my kind of people,” Fewel said.
Seattle-based freelancer Christy Karras is a regular contributor to Seattle Times outdoors coverage.