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Wine Scene: Love of place is evident at VanArnam Vineyards

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Falling in love with a place offers a constant desire for more; all you can think about is seeing more and embracing it — it consumes you.

That is how Kent and Allison VanArnam felt when they first became acquainted with the Yakima Valley. The people, the sunshine, the views, the hard work, the neighboring farmers — they loved the whole package.

The VanArnams live in Ridgefield. Kent, a marketing director in the Portland area, is an avid motorcyclist and journeyed to Washington’s wine country in the spring of 2007. Known to never take a main road, he was enjoying the scenery when he came upon a for-sale sign on an orchard in Zillah. The property had views, slopes and water, and it was on the wine trail. He called Allison immediately: “I found the perfect property.”

“We had just sold a house in Packwood for the same price as this non-producing 40-acre orchard. That was my convincing moment, we couldn’t pass it up,” says Allison. They moved a trailer on site and began clearing 6,500 fruit trees just west of Bonair and Gilbert roads in Zillah. That was the beginning of their weekly weekend commute to the Yakima Valley.

Allison and her neighbor were making small lots of wine in Ridgefield. “I knew just enough to be dangerous,” laughs Allison. “But I enjoyed it and wanted to explore it further.” The natural thing to do was plant wine grapes on their newly acquired parcel — and they did.

During spring break 2009, Kent and Allison recruited their family; grandma, grandpa, their two young children and others to help plant the first 1 1/2 acres of cabernet sauvignon. Today, they farm 7 acres of wine grapes, including cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, malbec, merlot and syrah, with another 15 acres to plant.

The tasting room/production facility opened in the spring of 2012, and “we grew out of that space quickly,” admits Allison. A stand-alone production facility was built in 2016, allowing the original building to be used exclusively for wine tasting.

As the VanArnam’s customer base continued to grow, they learned of the need for more places to stay in the area. This prompted Kent to add another aspect to his business, and he began building “The Cottage” in 2019. It’s a 1,000-square-foot, beautifully appointed house with amazing views, flat screen TV, full kitchen, dining room, outdoor living space and a spacious bathtub with a private, panoramic window overlooking Mount Adams. The building is on the same property as the winery and is available for rent year-round.

The latest project, a home for Kent and Allison, is ready for occupancy. They don’t plan on making their final move to the Valley just yet, though; the home will be used for private events and a place to stay every weekend.

The growth and hospitality offered at this winery is built around an excellent brand. VanArnam Vineyard wines are consistently recognized in publications and competitions as quality, award-winning wines.

Two wines to try:

2018 VanArnam Vineyard Reserve Syrah. This award-winning wine features flavors of blueberry and cranberry followed by a smoky, smooth finish. $38.

2018 Reserve River Red. This label features the VanArnam’s Labrador retriever River, who made a career change from guide dog school to being one of the friendliest winery dogs in the Valley. This Bordeaux blend is estate grown and beautifully balanced with flavors of black licorice, clove and strawberry. $32.

Warm and friendly comes in spades at VanArnam Vineyards. This winery is a must-stop for great wine, experience and friendship. Kent and Allison have fallen in love with this Valley, and it shows in everything they do.

• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries.

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