Are you looking for a great weekend away where you can taste lots of amazing wine from the Columbia Valley and eat the best foods? We’ve got you! Prosser, Washington Wineries and Restaurants have it all!
One of the best things we’ve done lately is to take some time to explore the small southeastern Washington city of Prosser on a recent road trip. We weren’t sure what we would find, and we couldn’t have been more surprised. Not only does Prosser have a wonderful historic downtown area full of fantastic eateries and boutique stores, but there are over 30 wineries within or very near to the city.
While we were there we tasted around 14 wines, more than anyone should in such a short time, but boy was it fun! The tasting venues were beautiful, the people knowledgeable and friendly, and the wines were sublime. We highly recommend you taking a weekend, reserving a hotel, and just immersing yourself in Washington wine country for a weekend. You won’t regret it.
What is it about Prosser wine that makes it so good?
Established in 1889, thanks mainly to the Northern Pacific Railroad, Prosser has always been an agricultural center. At the beginning, farmers concentrated on stock animals, then feed for those animals. However as early as the 1930s, Concord grapes were being grown in the area. Soon, thanks to improved irrigation techniques bringing water to the desert, many varieties of grapes and several wineries were contributing to Prosser becoming the birthplace of Washington Wine.
Prosser is unique in the many different types of soil that is found there. Called “terroir,” the soil determines much of the taste and which varietals will grow best. Now, Prosser and its surrounding Washington communities make up the second largest grape growing region in the United States. Prosser alone has over 30 wineries creating unique and distinct vintages.
Where can you do Prosser wine tasting?
With plenty of wineries to choose from, there are many tasting rooms and vineyards to visit. Several tasting rooms are located at the wineries around town, with a few of them offering accommodations and restaurants on-site, and they are certainly worth a visit. However, one of the best places to start is an innovative part of Prosser called Vintner Village.
Prosser Wine Village or more aptly called Vintner Village
Prosser Wine Village is the perfect location for those interested in the wineries and culinary delights of the Prosser area. The village is a business park unlike any other in the country, at least that we’re aware of. Started as a destination location to showcase Prosser wines by the Port of Benton, Vintner’s Village has grown to include 10 wineries, three restaurants, a bed and breakfast, and a bakery and it’s still growing.
Located just off Interstate 82, Vintner’s Village is only one mile from historic downtown Prosser, and a 30 minute drive from the Tri-Cities area. Beautifully manicured gardens, strolling paths, and plenty of parking has transformed a once desert-like scrubland into a wine lover’s paradise. However, with some of the best food in the area, you don’t need to enjoy a great glass of wine to find happiness here.
Martinez and Martinez
The Vintner’s Loft was our first stop on our wine tasting stroll in the Wine Village and they certainly set the bar high. Sergio and Kristy Martinez were in the shop and they were happy to share their story and wines with us. They have a small vineyard on the eastern slopes of Horse Heaven Hills where Sergio lovingly tends to the grapes while the wine production and tasting is done right there in Vintner’s Village. My favorite here was the Dion Carlo Carménère, a beautifully deep red wine full of cherry and raspberry flavors and a spicy finish.
Coyote Canyon Winery
Our second stop in the Village was downstairs in the Vintner’s Loft building where we met up with owner Mike Andrews and winemaker Justin Michaud. Mike’s ebullient personality was infectious and we were all really getting into his fun stories surrounding the different wines we would try.
Justin’s enthusiasm and love of wine was just as obvious as he described the different grapes that go into making their award winning H/H Estates Michael Andrews Spanish Red. Absolutely delicious, especially paired with the amazing carne asada tacos provided by El Buen Gusto, a local Mexican restaurant, popular in Prosser.
Bunnell Family Cellar
It’s hard to choose a favorite in Vintner’s Village, but for me, that distinction has to go to the Bunnell Family Cellar wines. While all of the winemakers in and around share a passion and love for their craft, Susan Bunnell’s hands-on excitement just puts their wine over the top. They specialize in crafting perfect small-lot wines that have garnered several awards.
We had our tasting with Susan at their beautiful Wine o’Clock location right there in Vintners Village. Here they specialize in food and wine pairing, which may have had a small influence on my taste buds. Regardless, I just couldn’t get enough of the 2015 Scion from their Newhouse Family Vineyards label. This ruby red blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes hit all the right notes.
The three friends that came together to form WIT Cellars winery were on hand at their Prosser Wine Makers Village to welcome us into their fun and casual tasting venue. The relaxing and tasteful surrounds are the perfect locale for showcasing local musicians and artists.
Here we enjoyed what I found to be the best of the day’s Rosè wines, with their “Unleashed” Rosè Sparkling. Fresh and bright with plenty of fruity notes, this delicious wine seemed to embody Wit Cellars’ spirit and love of crafting delicious, approachable wines.
Last on our stop, but certainly not least, Airfield Estates is actually one of the oldest grape growing farms in the region. Four generations have been lovingly tending the land at the family farm in the heart of the Yakima Valley and this long-standing dedication shows through in their wines.
Of course, with our ties to the Air Force, we were excited by their background story explaining how they came up with the name, Airfield Estates. During World War Two part of the property was used by the Army Air Corps as a training base for Army Air Corps pilots. How cool is that?
But back to the wines, here we tasted their Sangiovese Rosè, a Pinot Gris, and their showcase Founders Michael L. Miller red blend. All were excellent.
Some More Amazing Prosser Wines
With only a short time to visit Prosser, we were hard-pressed to get as many tastings from as many of the local wineries as possible. Luckily, our friends with Historic Downtown Prosser, the Prosser Chamber of Commerce, and the Prosser Economic Development Association, had worked out all the details to help us out. For this visit they had arranged for some of the more popular wineries to join us at a tasting room near the Chuckar Cherries site(more on that later) on Wine Country Road.
One of the original farmers in the area, the Mercer family first started growing grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills in the early 70s. On this occasion we were able to taste their 2021 Rosè and their “Best of Class” award winning 2018 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve definitely added this Cab Sauv to my shopping list!
This family owned and operated winery puts a personal touch in every step of the wine making process. From hand harvesting the grapes to fermentation and bottling, owners and operators Joan and Gordon live up to their reputation of making ultra-premium wines at a modest price. We were lucky enough to sample their 2017 Temranillo and a 2017 Durif with a smooth, velvety long finish.
Desert Wind Winery
One of my favorite wines from this tasting group was the Ruah from Desert Wind Winery. Ruah is a Hebrew word meaning wind or spirit. This full bodied red blend does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Desert Wind’s passion for wine. Desert Wind Winery has their main location in Prosser near the banks of the Yakima river where guests enjoy an immersive wine, food, and entertainment destination. It’s certainly on our list of places to stay on our return trip.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
Here we tasted their signature white blend, a 2020 Sheperds Mark, and a 2019 Petit Verdot. Both were excellent, but the Shepherds Mark was my favorite white wine of all of our tastings. The fruity aromatics of pineapple, pear, and mango really caught my attention. This is another destination winery where guests can stay in glamping-style tiny homes right in the vineyards. Definitely another must-stay spot on a return trip to Prosser.
What else is there to do in Prosser?
While it’s true Prosser is known as the birthplace of Washington wine, there’s so much more going on to round out a visit to this historic eastern Washington town. Of course, with the fertile soils, plentiful water and irrigation, and ample sunlight grapes aren’t the only thing happening in the fields around town.
In fact, I had no idea until this visit that the Yakima valley, and the area around Prosser in particular, is the number one hop growing region in the country. Just like in Bend, Oregon breweries are part large part of the scene. There’s also apple, cherry, and other fruit tree orchards providing colorful springtime colors on the surrounding hillsides.
Visitors to Pike Place Market in Seattle will probably be familiar with this chocolate treasure, but not many of them will know the origins of Chukar Cherries. The company started making their popular chocolate-covered cherries in 1988 when the family realized there was always a sizeable number of cherries left on the trees after the harvest. These slightly dried, almost raisin-like cherries were extra sweet and delicious but were usually just left on the trees. Why not do something with them?
The rest is history, and now Chukar Cherries produces their delectable fruit-based treats in a dizzying array of styles and tastes. Their flagship store can be found right there in Prosser and is must-visit stop for any chocolate lover visiting the town. Stop in for a free sample and then load up on all the favorites, like dark and white chocolate cherry blossoms, milk chocolate cherry bings, or, my personal choice, dark cherries.
Take the Historical Downtown Walking Tour
From the late 1800s and on into the 1900s Prosser has been one of the largest cities in Benton County, Washington. The climate, perfect for many crops, has sculpted the area into a profitable place to live, and more recently vacationers have succumbed to its charm as well.
The walking tour through downtown takes you past many old buildings, and the stories are reminiscent of many a western town, especially with railroad beginnings. Along with all the beautiful brick architecture and colorful histories, it’s fun to stop in and try out some of the beers and ales produced in the local craft breweries, as well as chocolates, ice cream, and places to get a good burger.
You can download the Historical Walking Tour here.
Look for Painted Horses
While you parents are reveling in the history, have your kids walk with you and look for all the painted horses. Walking the downtown area will be a lot more fun for them as they go on a painted horse scavenger hunt. There are 20 painted horses to find, all beautiful and representing different characteristics of the Prosser community. For you moms and dads, download the map so your little ones can find them all.
Search for Mini Critters
Mini Critters are another bit of artwork in historic Prosser that will make both children and adults smile. They are tiny pictures of cartoon characters painted on buildings by local artists. There are 12 of them, including frogs, mice, and rascally rabbits. Download the brochure.
Visit a Local Brewery
As we mentioned before, hops make up as much, if not more, of the growing season here than grapes. It’s only fitting that these aromatic and flavorful blossoms should be put to good use right here at home. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find several excellent local small breweries in and around town.
They are all happy to share their love of the craft and tell a story or two while you sample their magical brews. Our favorites, however, were Horse Heaven Brewery and Brewminatti. Horse Heaven Brewery beers can be sampled at the brewery or at the nearby Horse Heaven Saloon. My personal favorite here was the Ruby Spur Amber and the Honey Girl.
Brewminatti, on the other hand, is a combination craft beer tap room and coffee house. They showcase local artists and musicians in their spacious and hip location in the historic Mercer Building downtown. Be sure and try their backroom brews and have a snack; the hand pies are savory and delicious.
Take in a Show at the Princess Theater
The jewel of historic downtown Prosser has to be the Princess Theatre. With its roots going back to the roaring 20s, the Princess has the distinction of being only one of a few historic theaters still offering live performances. The beautifully restored space brings the visitor back in time to an era before smart phones and modern technology. In the connected Green Room at the Princess, you can experience live music and spotlight menu tastings. Check the calendar for events happening during your visit.
Saturday Farmer’s Market
In summer, from the beginning of June until the end of September, you can visit the fun and fresh farmer’s market right downtown. We were there in spring, so I guess we’ll have to go back and try it out.
As a major wine tourism destination, of course food is an important part of the experience in Prosser. The town has a number of acclaimed restaurants to choose from. So whether you are looking for a tasting menu with wine pairings, or just a simple yet amazing Mexican meal, there’s sure to be something to tantalize the taste buds.
Wine O’Clock Wine Bar
We thoroughly enjoyed everything about Wine O’Clock Wine Bar owned and operated by the Bunnell Family Cellar. To start with, this is an open concept restaurant with a beautiful wood burning oven in one corner of the restaurant next to the bustling show kitchen where chef and her staff are busily putting out the most incredible seasonal food. Flights of wine with small plate food pairings is the name of the game here and everything is superb.
Horse Heaven Saloon
I have to admit, Horse Heaven Saloon really surprised me. We had already stopped in at owner Gary’s brewery around the corner, so I knew the beer would be good. I wasn’t ready for the incredible Western Saloon decor and beautiful Horse Heaven bar. They are known for their burgers and steaks, of course.
El Buen Gusto Restaurant
While we didn’t get a chance to stop in for a meal in the restaurant downtown, we did sample a few of the popular menu items while tasting wine in the Vintner’s Loft. The carne asada was too die for and they had the best frijoles and arroz on the side.
The Prosser House
Located in a historic building that was once home of Prosser’s first mayor, Prosser House is Chef John’s passion project. Here you’ll find a bright seasonal menu that showcases regional ingredients and resources. We had a sampling of items in our wine tasting at WIT’s Winery and loved each delectable mouthful.
Whitstran Steak and Spirits
We were introduced to Whitstran Steak and Spirits while at sipping the wine Airfield Estate’s tasting room. I was blown away by the roasted Brussel sprouts with candied bacon and pecan, dried cranberries, carrots, red onions and parmesan cheese. It’s time to make plans for dinner at the restaurant where prime cuts of steaks wait for us on the menu.
Prosser Wineries and Other Things to Do Map
Best Time to Visit
The absolute best time to visit Prosser is during the height of the grape picking season in the fall. The weather is a bit cooler than summer, and there are plenty of fun events to keep you busy.
Even though we visited in early spring and had a fantastic time, it was still a bit cold and windy. By late spring the temperatures are warming up, and the many growing fields for fruits, hops, beans, and of course, grapes are starting to really grow.
Prosser summer promises beautiful weather, dry and warm, and the landscapes can be breathtaking where things are growing. However it truly is in the desert, so some areas are barren, and the dust storms can be brutal.
We don’t really recommend going to Prosser in winter, but honestly, if you are going to do what we did and spend the whole weekend eating and tasting wine and just feeling pampered, anytime would be great.
Where to stay in Prosser
Prosser has a handful of good hotels near the highway for those stopping for a night or two on a road trip. Two of them we recommend that are close to Vintner’s Village, so you can walk home after all that wine, are the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and The Inn at Horse Heaven (a Best Western Plus Property).
How to Get to Prosser
While Prosser does have the first airport built in the area, it is only used nowadays for private flights. The rest of us will need to plan on flying into nearby Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Wa. With nonstop flights to and from several major US cities, Tri-Cities is surprisingly well connected.
Another option, however, is train. The Empire Builder route by Amtrak carries passengers from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago, Illinois. The four and a half hour stretch between Portland and Tri-Cities runs right along the banks of the Columbia river through the spectacular scenery of the Columbia River Gorge.
Of course, we love a road trip, and driving to Prosser takes about four hours out of Seattle. This can be part of truly scenic road trip through the Cascade mountains on Interstate 90, down the Yakima River valley on Interstate 82, and returning through the Colombia Gorge on Interstate 84 and then back to Seattle on Interstate 5.
Prior to our visit, we had no idea that Prosser was actually the birthplace of Washington wine. Happily, Prosser embraces their heritage and is proud to share it with the world. A visit to this historic town in the heart of the Yakima valley should be on any wine lover’s road trip wish list.
Author Bio: Jim Vail, is an avid traveler and explorer. He’s been to all fifty states and traveled around the world. He’s happiest shooting wildlife photography, camping, and hiking in the mountains, or fishing on the side of a river in Alaska.