PROSSER At first glance, the sand-colored stucco tasting room seems out of place in the middle of the lush Yakima Valley.
But as Desert Wind Winery tasting room associate Stephanie Carty explains, it quickly becomes clear its owners are on to something.
“This area was, after all, once a desert,” she said.
Wild sagebrush still grows just a few yards from the property line.
And while the Russian Olive trees are an import to the valley, they blend right into the winery’s landscaping.
Stucco and its cooling property begin to make perfect sense for a winery that prides itself on creating age-worthy red and terroir-driven white wines, made from grapes grown on Wahluke Slope.
Perched above the Yakima River, Desert Wind Winery has carved out a niche in the area’s wine culture.
Even its tasting room has cool cavern-style feels, perfect to take a respite from the hot desert sun.
Stepping into the Wine Country Road winery’s cool tasting room any day of the week gives visitors a clear picture of what Doug and Jo Ann Fries must have envisioned more than 20 years ago.
Desert Winds’ wines have been bottled in the Valley since 1994.
Early on, the wines showed a potential for intensely concentrated fruit produced in their vineyard, according to the winery’s official website.
In 2001, the family introduced its wines to showcase its vineyard through its own wine brand.
The original lineup consisted of just four offerings — an elegant Semillon and three refined reds:
• Cabernet Sauvignon
• Ruah, their flagship red blend
Each had three to five years of barrel aging.
The Ruah is the only wine that has a national distribution, Carty said.
“Visitors to the winery are surprised to find their favorite wine is bottled here,” she said.
Since 2007, Desert Wind Winery has become not only a great winery, it’s become a Santa Fe-inspired destination housing a tasting room, restaurant and luxury overnight accommodations, Carty said.
The winery’s four suite bed-and-breakfast is always booked, she said.
“Year round, our guests enjoy not only a luxury suite, but the view of fabulous Valley sunsets from their balconies,” she said.
They also have full access to the facility’s two patios, and fireplaces.
The winery also houses a large gift shop and hosts special winemaker dinners at least three times a year.
In recent years, Desert Wind’s lineup has expanded to include many additional varieties, many of which are available only to wine club members or through the tasting room and website.
Originally from California’s Central Valley, lifelong farmers, Fries (pronounced “Frees”) moved to the Northwest in the early 1980s.
They farmed along the banks of the Willamette River in Dundee, Ore., where they planted a 500-acre hazelnut orchard.
As devoted wine aficionados, they also planted a small 13-acre vineyard with the hope of producing a few hundred cases of wine.
On Memorial Day weekend 1993, the family opened the doors to their first winery, Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee.
The tasting room was managed by Doug and Jo Ann’s daughter, Lisa; son Greg took over winemaking after earning his enology degree from University of California-Davis in 1994.
Over the past two decades, the family has grown the brand into one of the leading producers of Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
The Fries family’s passion for full-bodied red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah brought them to Prosser in 1992.
The acquisition of a 540-acre parcel on Wakluke Slope, an area particularly suited to growing hot-climate varietals, is now the winery’s flagship vineyard.
The winery’s Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a handful of other varieties are grown on the high desert plateau.
The slope’s bounty has repaid the family for its vision so many years ago, the family said.