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Sunnyside is no longer an also-ran when it comes to taprooms and wineries

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — It’s not even quitting time on a recent Friday and already the seats at the Varietal Beer Co.’s taproom bar are filling up.

Varietal, which opened last year, is the latest in a new run of craft beverage joints in this Lower Valley city, and its family-friendly downtown taproom has quickly become a popular gathering place. A couple of blocks away sits Co Dinn Cellars, one of the Yakima Valley’s most talked about small wineries since opening in 2017. And a few blocks beyond that there’s Cote Bonneville winery, which opened its tasting room in 2015 and has since become a destination for wine tasters in the know.

Together they signal a new era for Sunnyside, which is Yakima County’s second-largest city with an estimated population of 16,407. For decades it has been a city that wine tasters passed on their Interstate 82 drive between the more established tasting-room clusters in Zillah and Prosser. Maybe they stopped at Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, which is north of downtown Sunnyside on the old Yakima Valley Highway, but they rarely ventured farther into town.

Now they have a reason, and the Yakima Valley’s craft beverage tourism trail has one fewer gap.

“Having another brewery in town is more reason to pull off,” Varietal co-owner Chad Roberts said. “We’re halfway between Tri-Cities and Yakima, and there’s increasingly a reason to take a little detour into Sunnyside. It’s a five-minute round trip to get here. So we’re really well-located.”

That’s a big reason Co Dinn opened his namesake winery there after starting the business at the Yakima Valley College teaching winery in Grandview. Dinn, who had worked for 17 years at mammoth Hogue Cellars in nearby Prosser, wanted to be close to the vineyards he’d buy grapes from, and those were in or near Sunnyside. And he liked that Sunnyside was on the way from a lot of places to a lot of other places.

“I came to realize over the years, working near here, that this is a great physical location,” Dinn said. “It’s right in the middle of the Yakima Valley (wine region), and I focus on the Yakima Valley. You can go north up to Vantage and the Wahluke Slope or you can go south down to the Horse Heavens or the Gorge. It’s easy access to Portland and Seattle. Logistically, it’s a great spot for all of those reasons.”

He also had a relationship with Cote Bonneville’s owners, the Shiels family, having done some consulting for them. They encouraged him to open in Sunnyside, seeing Co Dinn Cellars as a potential complement to Cote Bonneville in what they hoped would become a new wine-tasting hub.

“It’s always helpful to have a cluster,” Cote Bonneville winemaker Kerry Shiels said. “It helps get people off the freeway. We don’t view each other as competition. They’re very complementary for people who are going to go wine tasting.”

In fact, Shiels said, both wineries and the Varietal taproom consistently recommend each other to customers. If there’s someone from out of town, she’ll make sure they hear about Co Dinn on their way out of Cote Bonneville, she said.

The five co-owners of Varietal — Roberts, Chris Baum, Karl Vanevenhoven, John Cope and David Paulson — are all-in on that collaborative spirit, too. They’re quick to credit Snipes Mountain, where Baum and Roberts previously worked as brewers, for helping them establish Varietal. And they rave about how helpful Dinn and Shiels have been. They’ve gone so far as to join the local industry group Wine Yakima Valley and have collaborated on events and marketing with Co Dinn and Cote Bonneville.

“We’re collaborating just to bring more notoriety to Sunnyside specifically,” Baum said. “We’re trying to get people to come down and go to Co’s, walk down here and have a beer, go over to Kerry’s and maybe stay at the Sunnyside Inn, maybe have lunch over at Bon Vino’s and just enjoy Sunnyside.”

That scenario was made possible in large part by help from the Port of Sunnyside, an economic development agency funded by tax revenue. The port helped Varietal and Co Dinn get off the ground. Owners of both say they couldn’t have opened in the spaces they did in the way they did without financial help from the port. The port’s vision matched their own, Dinn said.

“They realized what the benefit to the town could be by bringing another winery in, so I worked with the port to look at buildings that might be suitable,” Dinn said.

Co Dinn Cellars and Varietal lease their buildings from the port. That sort of support, combined with a city government that has become more welcoming to wineries and breweries over the past decade, have laid the groundwork for what Shiels hopes is a growing group of craft-beverage businesses in Sunnyside.

“There are so many advantages to Sunnyside over Zillah or Prosser,” she said. “It’s a bigger community. There are more opportunities for amenities. We’re centrally located for wine tasting in the Yakima Valley. Sunnyside is the perfect place geographically.”

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