Have you ever wondered who planted the first grape vine in
Washington? Was it the Italian immigrants, German settlers or
French fur trappers that roamed the eastern part of the state? Was
it in East Wenatchee, Walla Walla or Grapeview?
When we opened Grape Expectations in the fall of 1985, there
were somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 Washington wineries.
Today, some still exist, in one form or another and others are no
longer. There are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 980
wineries in Washington and over 600,000 acres planted to vitis
Two of the most influential wine pioneers in the early
1900s were Dr. Walter Clore and Canadian immigrant, William
B. Bridgman, who encouraged the young Dr. Clore to plant
grapes in Yakima Valley Research Center in addition to other
fruits, vegetables and grains.
When W.B., as a young attorney, arrived in Sunnyside,
he set up shop, bought some acreage and also played an
important role in the development of irrigation laws in the Yakima
Valley. As manager of the Sunnyside Irrigation Canal, he
authored the guidelines to develop and share water resources.
Dr. Clore was an assistant horticulturalist at the Irrigated
Agricultural Research and Extension Center just outside of Prosser.
Initially, the research center was 200 acres of sagebrush planted
to corn, millet, potatoes, wheat and clover. That all changed when
vitis vinifera came to town.
Sunnyside, where Bridgman settled in, was founded in the late
1890s by some Midwestern folks from the Progressive Brethren
Church. They were determined to keep the sins of the world at bay
in their new community. Wine may have been ok for Jesus at Cana but
not in the backyards of these Sunnyside residents.
Sunnysiders survived, for a few years anyway, on the produce of
their truck gardens but shipping outside the area was beyond their
scope of work. So, they discovered the best way to make money was
to sell land to unsuspecting newcomers. W. B.’s arrival in the
“holy city” of Sunnyside in 1902 was definitely a blessing the
residents weren’t counting on.
As his law practice thrived, it allowed him to purchase land.
Being from a farming community, farmland was a top priority. He
also had viticulture in his background. Back home on the Niagara
Peninsula, his family grew Concord grapes. So, in 1917, Mr.
Bridgeman planted a vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima
These were the first commercial wine grapes in a region that has
been the center of the Washington wine industry ever since. The
place, called Harrison Hill, turned out to be a great place to grow
Bridgman became the local celebrity, two-time mayor, and
Sunnyside’s biggest promoter. He encouraged the business of farming
throughout the valley and the agricultural bounty of the irrigated
After Prohibition, Bridgman took advantage of the opportunity
and opened Upland Winery on Snipes Mountain. In 1934, the winery
produced 7,000 gallons of wine from his vineyards planted to a
smorgasbord of vinifera grapes. He had 165 acres of Semilion, Pinot
Noir, Cabernet, Palomino, Thompson Seedless, Sultana, Black Muscat,
Carignane, Zinfandel, and Mataro under contract with more than 70
While he wanted to focus on table wines using European grape
varieties, he found most of his success in sweeter fortified wines
that were popular in the ’40s and ’50s. Bridgman sold the winery in
1960 and died eight years later.
Of all his contributions, one of Bridgman’s greatest
achievements was convincing young Dr.Walter Clore at the Washington
State University Experimental Station in Prosser that wine grape
production was viable in Eastern Washington. Looking back,
that was sage advice.
Al Newhouse, a second-generation Yakima Valley farmer, purchased
Bridgman’s vineyards and expanded the plantings over the years to
four hundred acres. His grandson, Todd Newhouse, joined the family
business in 1996 and relaunched Upland Estates Winery in 2006.
In 2009, the federal government recognized Snipes Mountain as an
official American Viticultural Area. At 4,145 acres with over 800
planted to vinifera grapes, it’s small but making a huge
And those vines Bridgman planted in 1917? Astonishingly, several
of them survive to this day, including Thompson Seedless and Muscat
of Alexandria. There is also Black Muscat and Cabernet from the
1950s and ’60s.
Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne, before he struck out on
his own, have made award winning wines from those vineyards. Other
winemakers have too. DeLille Cellar’s Harrison Hill and Thurston
Wolfe’s Black Muscat were made from Bridgman’s early planting.
On a recent trip to Yakima Valley, I became reacquainted with
Upland Estates Winery over lunch at the Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and
Ice House. The place would have made W. B. smile. It’s a “polished
American Tavern” constructed in the fashion of an old fruit
warehouse, all concrete and wood décor to reflect Yakima’s
Lighting, walls and flooring are re-purposed materials. With an
open kitchen, a wood fired oven, smudge pot and ice block lights,
concrete walls ingrained with wood and a steel warehouse door that
opens to outside dining, the place has wonderful ambiance with so
much to see and enjoy. Which I did with glass of Uplands
Sauvignon Blanc and a dish of Ahi Tuna with Mango Salsa. It was a
And while your in Yakima, do stop by the Walter Clore Wine and
Culinary Center in Prosser. Named for the Father of the Washington
Wine industry, it is a learning center that promotes Washington
State wines and foods.
You’ll be dazzled when you visit this spacious tasting room,
where you can taste wines from across the state and learn about the
wide variety of grapes, soils and climates that make our wines so
Established at the request of wineries and other petitioners,
boundaries for the thirteen Washington AVAs are defined by the
federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Each month
at the Walter Clore Center, one of the 13 AVAs are featured for a
month. The decision on the featured AVA is decided by drawing a
name out of a hat.
You’ll learn to really appreciate the work, quality and
diversity of wine and food produced in the state through the
Center’s seminars, programs and events. There is even a Legends of
Washington Wine Hall of Fame where you may stumble upon who planted
the first vineyard and where in Washington State it was
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