The 360-degree view is beautiful, even on a late winter day. In a few short weeks the surrounding fruit orchards will be in bloom and by summer, the view becomes breathtaking.
The home of Robert Valicoff, Jr. sits among the orchards of Valicoff Family Farms and is now also the base for Valicoff Estates Wines. That venture began in 2010 when Valicoff and his late wife Stephanie began a new “hobby” by planting four acres of red wine grapes. The first vintages, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and syrah, were crushed in 2013 and bottled as Valicoff Estates Wines from the Yakima Valley AVA. That plot soon turned into a 30-acre vineyard and became a business, including a label change to indicate the more specific Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Soon they added a red wine blend to the menu.
“We were buying wines, collecting them, and I said, ‘I’ve got to plant some grapes,’” Valicoff said.
There are several vineyards within eyesight of his Konnowac Pass perch. He remembers as a child riding the school bus past rows of grapes and, as is often the tradition in families of European heritage, he began drinking a small glass of his grandfather’s homemade wine with meals before he was a teenager.
That grandfather, Stoyan Valicoff, came to the U.S. as a 15-year-old Bulgarian immigrant. He eventually opened a produce stand in the Lower Yakima Valley and the family business was born.
“I learned a lot from Granddad,” Valicoff said. “We used to sit by a shade tree in the afternoon after we finished work and he would tell me that if you are successful in business you will go through a minimum of three valleys. I figure I’m on five or six,” he chuckled.
But other lessons he learned from his grandparents and parents have carried Valicoff through those rough patches.
“They taught us a hard work ethic and to be frugal,” he said. The 1972 Wapato High School graduate is proud to say his home is on the original 80 acres his granddad carved out of the sagebrush. However, living there by himself since Stephanie passed suddenly two years ago, he is happy to have the company that wine events, weddings, birthdays and retirement parties provide.
The estate is 1,300 feet above sea level, which provides a spectacular view of Mt. Adams, Elephant Mountain and the rolling hills from Sunnyside to the far reaches of the reservation. This unique venue in quiet farm country is able to accommodate hundreds of guests.
With 5,000 square feet inside, plus decks and a garage, the former family space now boasts a bar, tables and cooler space. The ample acreage includes a vast lawn where Valicoff sets up tents, tables, chairs, dance floors and even a stage for live music. Guests for larger parties park below and are shuttled to the hilltop by bus. While he has already hosted events for up to 350 people, Valicoff’s largest event so far will be a 400-person wedding planned for this fall.
Valicoff does most of the setup work himself and works with several private consultants, including Jeanene Sutton, who “took over what Stephanie did and ramrods the wine events.”
Sutton is also helping him build the Valicoff Estates Wines Club, a membership that comes with numerous discounts and incentives.
Valicoff’s reds are featured at several area restaurants, including Yakima Steak Company, Norm’s, Public House of Yakima, Sea Galley, Second Street Grill, Provisions, WaterFire, Gasperetti’s, and Mickey’s Pub as well as at Wray’s Thriftway on 56th Avenue.
Valicoff said several restaurants in the Seattle area will begin offering Valicoff Estates wine this spring. The expansion in wholesale accounts and club memberships is good news for any vintner in the middle of the current slump caused by a glut of red wine grapes.
“I have been affected some by the glut,” Valicoff said. “I didn’t crush last year, but I did sell some grapes to others. The 2018 crop will be ready to bottle in July but I’m going to leave it awhile.”
Never one to rely on one crop or one enterprise, Valicoff opened a tasting room in Prosser last year in conjunction with two partners. 3 Farmers Tasting Room at Vintners Village was formed by Valicoff, Paul Wollman of Roxboro Vineyard and Robert Smasne, an award-winning winemaker. Smasne is the winemaker for all Valicoff wines, including the first blend, named Ivan de Isla Red Wine Blend after the grower’s two oldest grandchildren.
Those youngsters, now joined by a third, are part of the reason Valicoff pushes forward with his venture. While he jokingly claims he will retire only when he is horizontal, he pointed out that work helped him through some “valleys” during the past couple of years. He also admits that much of his efforts now are to leave something for his four children and their growing families.
“My goal is to get to where the family can carry it forward if they want,” he said. “For that to happen is has to be profitable and it has to be fun for them.”
Because it is certainly fun for the farmer turned online fruit-seller turned vintner. Valicoff still farms with his brother in the business they began in 1976 and added his son Brett to the management team. But he was ready for a new project.
“Like anything, after 30 or 40 years of doing the same thing it’s nice to have a different challenge,” said Valicoff. “There are two things you’ve got to have — grapes from the right AVA and a good winemaker, then you have quality stuff. And I like associating with the folks that come out and knowing it’s healthy for you as long as you don’t overindulge in it. This is too much fun to think of as a business!”
But a business Valicoff Estates Wines is and one day it may come full circle, just as Valicoff Farms did. One day it may be Isla and Ivan and Brynn, and perhaps others, sitting in the shade of the grapevines surrounded by acres of peach, apricot, apple and pear orchards, listening to Granddad Rob tell his stories.
For more information, visit the Valicoff Estates Wines Facebook page or website. Or call Robert Valicoff at 509-949-5050 for information on the wedding venue at 3081 Konnowac Pass Rd., Wapato.