Malbec from VanArnam Vineyards in Yakima Valley

Photo Credit: Mount Adams from @VanArman Vineyards

My second state for March is Washington State thanks to the #WinePW blogging group. I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting this amazing state and its’ wine country. I do have a number of close friends from the state though, including my college roommate freshmen year. They are all no nonsense, peaceful, kind people and that’s how I’ve always thought of this state. On a couple of occasions I was slated to go and then life happened and I still haven’t made it out there yet. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to receive wines when Robin Bell Renken of Crushed Grape Chronicles, this month’s host of #WinePW suggest a virtual jaunt. Her preview post of the event is here, chock full of information and memories of a trip to visit the area.

Photo Credit: @WineYakimaValley website

I was lucky enough to be part of the group who received wines from Yakima Valley from their organization Wine Yakima Valley. Yakima Valley is located not far from the cities of Seattle and Portland with gorgeous views of the Cascade mountains. It was the first AVA in Washington State, established in 1983, and today is home to more than 152 wineries together with Benton county. They can count on more than18,580 acres of vineyards, over a third of Washington’s total vineyards. Yakima Valley provides fruit for its own wineries and wineries in other parts of the state. Discovered and studied for many years before becoming a designated wine growing AVA, the valley has a long history as a producer of quality fruit. The area is celebrating 40 years of prominence and the coming of age of third generation players too. All this combined to make it a perfect time to focus on the Yakima Valley, my thanks go to Robin, the VanArmans, and the Wine Yakima Valley association for making this possible.

My wines came from VanArman Vineyards, owned by Kent and Allison VanArman. The couple who have been married since 1988, built the vineyard as a dream project, a place where friends and family will visit for generations, customers too. They are hard at work expanding parts of their offering which started in 2007. Their first grapes were the Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, specifically. They are located in Zillah. The Yakima Valley, with its rich soils, is a leading producer in Washington State of wine grapes, among other crops. Their winery sits on a hilltop overlooking their vineyard and the Yakima Valley with stunning views of Mount Adams and Mount Rainer in the distance.

Photo Credit @VanArnamVineyards

The Yakima Valley AVA is broken down into smaller areas, each with their own AVA. VanArnam is the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, around 15 miles southeast of Yakima.  The area is blessed with wonderful soils and a great microclimate of long, sunny days and fine, shallow, silt loam soils left over from the ice age. Most vineyards in the Yakima Valley, sit on hills or ridges and therefore avoid spring rains and fall frosts. Another salient factor is that sitting on a hill affords both drainage and good air flow which keeps the vines’ feet dry and protects against parasites. Vines hate wet feet. Their winery is at 1000′ feet and is all hand harvested.

I asked Allison about their planting of Malbec in the area. Via email she said that “Malbec was our break from the regular choices. We love the fruitiness and as a Bordeaux varietal, it too loves the warm weather. Malbec is a robust grower. It loves the heat and the long growing season allows the dark fruit flavors to develop slowly.”

Photo Credit: Grapes @VanArnamVineyards

I also wondered how she saw this grape in Washington State as opposed to Argentina where it is so famously grown. She told me that, “We have silty type soils that drain well and make the grapes work resulting in intense flavors. This is similar to the sandy soil in Argentina where popular Malbec is largely grown.”

I also wondered what their plans were for the next period of time and found out that they will be experimenting with another grape that likes warm weather, Tempranillo.  “We are about 1/3 planted compared to our goal. We began by planting grapes we knew loved it here and would flourish, like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This spring we are adding some Tempranillo as we love those wines,” Allison noted.

I love the way Allison talks about the grapes and seeing if they are happy in their location, overlooking the mountain ranges and flourishing in the soils. It is all about the grapes at the end of the day and whether they thrive. It was great to have someone put it in such an easygoing manner, anthropomorphizing the grapes.

Photo Credit: @VanArmanVineyards

They also make Syrah and Allison said, “We love Syrah and we were doubly happy to discover that Syrah thrives here in the Yakima Valley. The hot days and long growing season allows it to ripen fully to develop the well rounded fruit flavors that Syrah is famous for. Few varietals can withstand temperatures of over 100 degrees and Syrah is one of them. Cabernet Sauvignon grows really well also as it loves a long growing season to develop.”

Here too, I wanted to know if she saw similarities between their grape choices in Yakima and those of other areas known, in this case, for Syrah. While, “we have silty type soils that drain well and make the grapes work resulting in intense flavors, whereas the Rhone valley can have more clay soils that hold water and create a brighter flavor profile. ” Allison was so readily available to answer my questions, it confirmed my thinking about people from the state, kind and easygoing.

Photo Credit: Grape Cluster @VanArnamVineyards

My tasting note: I tried their 2018 Malbec yesterday, both on its own and with a frittata and a mushroom dish I had made. The wine was a gorgeous deep ruby, almost purple in the glass. On the attack, I perceived black rather than red fruit but as it evolved in the glass more red fruit came through. I also got a brambly note and some grass undertones. The second wave of aromas was more spicy with a hint of anise. It had fine silky tannins and rather than a warm climate, I might have thought it came from a cooler one because it was restrained and not over the top either with the fruit or alcohol.

The winemaker is Branden Seymour who is from the Yakima Valley. He was born in Zillah and has been working with VanArnam since 2017. I love this story he tells of himself on the winery website, “My family will tell you they knew I would end up in wine as I was 5 when I told a teacher that Winnie the Pooh likes Cabernet because it has a fruity nose.”

Winnie the Pooh is a central character in my current life, so naturally, I feel even more of a kinship with the good folks at VanArnam. Winnie has never once been a reference when writing or reading about wine in the past 20 years that said, guess who lives at my house.

Our good friend, Winnie the Pooh

My pairing: I had wanted to make a steak with chimichurri sauce but my ambitions and my six year old do not always match. I opted for a frittata with zucchini and onions and a side dish of mushrooms cooked in garlic and was happy both with the food and the ease of cooking as well as the pairing which is of paramount importance. The wine enhanced the flavors of the frittata, complemented the mushrooms and didn’t overpower the aromas and flavors. I am saving my second bottle for that steak though. I’ll let you know how that works.

I’m longing even more to make the journey to Washington State and my first stop will be the Yakima Valley and my kind virtual hosts for this tasting, the Van Arnam Vineyard family.

Photo Credit: @VanArmanVineyards

Join us on Saturday Morning March 13th as we chat about the Yakima Valley and its wines on Twitter.  Just follow and use the hashtag #WinePW to join the conversation.


  1. “My ambition and my six year old do now always match” – probably the most truthful parenting sentence I’ve read in a long while. Don’t worry, you’ll blink and that six year old will be off to college. Thanks for the introduction to VanArnam. I’ve never heard of them, but I will keep my eyes open.

    • I cannot believe how fast you comment on posts. Impressive. Yes I know it is going to go fast. I am so excited about this valley and these wines. Cheers Camilla.

  2. I have yet to visit Washington either except for a quick jaunt to Mt St. Helens when we were in Portland, Oregon. It is on my list, especially the Yakima Valley.

    • Hi Wendy,
      I cannot wait to go. I’ve been to Portland but never to Seattle and wine countries. This valley has moved to the top of my list. Cheers and thanks for reading.

  3. You win the prize this week for having a Pooh Bear tie-in! Amazing! I love that they are planting Malbec. This wine sounds delicious. They are definitely a winery I will search out on our next visit!

    • Robin – You are so funny. Yes Winnie the Pooh is a big person in my life again. The wine was delicious and the whole event truly eye-opening to this East Coaster. Cheers to you.

  4. As an East Coast girl myself, I’m learning new things everyday about Washington terroir and wines. For example, the variety of grapes in the Yakima Valley – incredible, right? Looks like you had fun tasting and pairing this wine!

  5. Truly amazing all the different grape varieties that thrive in the Yakima Valley. I hope you get your chance soon to visit the region and have that second bottle with a steak!

  6. I haven’t been WA either but it’s at the top of my list. I love the tie in with Winne! How fun. And the pairings look delicious too.

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