I have had a long fascination with the area of Washington state that lies "east of the mountains" -- a desert of slopes, hills and plateaus made green by irrigation, a land settled by families whose pioneering ancestors arrived here by wagon trains, a broad farm belt of waving grain and grazing sheep. More so than most places, there is a tradition here that blends agrarian culture, which at is simplest comes from planting seeds and working toward a harvest, and the older, basic hunting and fishing culture. Over the past quarter century, wine -- and very fine wine at that -- has been added to the mix.
On a recent visit to the Yakima Valley, I was able to experience the combination of all these threads as guest of the Hogue and the Mercer families, which earlier this year opened their new winery, Mercer Estates, in Prosser, the small farm town that is the center of activity in the region. In addition to visiting vineyards and wineries, I also went hunting with them -- pheasants in the woods and shrub-brush upland draws of Horse Heaven Hills --and fishing for steelhead trout from drift boats in the remote Klickitat River. Most of all, I was able to share two harvest dinners with the combined families, one a pheasant dinner a the home of Ron and Barbara Hogue Harle and the other a seafood fest, including steelhead trout, at the home of Mike and Dora Hogue. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Rob and Brenda Mercer and Rob's father, Bud. The game dinner was prepared by chef Frank Magana of Picazo 7Seventeen Restaurant, Prosser's one fine-dining eatery, and the seafood dinner by Anthony's in the nearby Tri-City area.
I will be working on various articles soon about the Yakima Valley and its 60 wineries and about my delightful visit with the Mercers and the Hogues of Mercer Estates.
PHOTO NOTES: From the top, Mike Hogue, grape grower and wine pioneer with Hogue Cellars; Chef Frank Magana prepares a harvest dinner using a Mercer Estates Merlot in a pheasant dish; Ron Harle and Rob Mercer with the first of six pheasants bagged earlier in the day in Horse Heaven Hills near the Mercer family vineyards; Magana's pheasant entree and Mercer Estates wines bring an active October harvest day to a beautiful close.
Until next time....