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CrabFest 2021


Yellowhawk Resort and Sparkling House

Open minds grow big ideas

Yellowhawk Resort, Walla Walla's only exclusively sparkling winery. released their first four wines on July 15: Yellowhawk Bubbles in white, rosé, and red, and a 2019 bottle-fermented sparkling Semillon. An announcement like this sounds like it's been in the works for some time, but you might be surprised.

The former 84-acre Basel Cellars Estate was purchased in December 2020 by Dan Thiessen, Chad Mackay, Scott Clark, Philip Christofides, and Paul Mackay, becoming Yellowhawk Resort, part of the Revelers Club collection of properties which also includes the five El Gaucho locations, AQUA by El Gaucho, and Aerlume. The property contains 26 acres of vineyards. There have been a number of ideas on how to use the vineyards, including as an incubator location. As it turns out, the vines were originally planted more as a visual, as in, how do they look from the front door? "To get the right amount of brix in grapes, vines have to be planted in a certain way. Although good wine has been made from these, many of the grapes never reach the right brix," explains Dan Thiessen. "With sparkling wines, the brix needs to be between 17-19, so we'll be able to hang more fruit that will reach the sweet spot."

In addition, the ownership group thought about how they wanted to fit in and celebrate the Walla Walla South Side wine district and valley in general. With six different wine districts in Walla Walla, the largest being the South Side, there are plenty of great still wines being made. Did they need to make more? "People are doing sparkling wine in the Valley, but they're not dedicated solely to it," says Dan. "With our focus on sparkling, we can get the party started, then showcase others in the winemaking community through wine dinners and events."

Winemaker George-Anne Robertson is a graduate of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) and a former estate director of Walla Walla Vintners. "Her projects and internships were about her passion: sparkling wine," notes Dan. She intended to move to Japan to become the sparkling winemaker for Fuji-San, then the pandemic hit. While in limbo, Yellowhawk ownership decided to go sparkling. Match made in heaven. "George-Anne is awesome!" says Dan. "She fits us and who we are: genuine, fun, real. She started in April. Tim Donahue was the Director of Winemaking at WWCC and one of George-Anne's teachers. He has left the college, so we asked him to be a technical advisor/consultant for us. They've become a powerful duo."

Yellowhawk has their own mobile kitchen serving guests in the tasting room, on the patio, and poolside in the cabanas coming soon. "The food we're doing is meant to be paired with our sparkling wines, so we have blinis and caviar, togarashi spiced fries, panna cotta with local berries, a smash burger that goes with the sparkling red. There are about ten items on the menu." The wines are available for sale on their website and at Walla Walla Steak Co. Availability at other Revelers Club locations is coming soon.

Five or six years ago, Dan was talking to a broker about the possibility of creating an event center on his farm that would connect everything to the property (food, wine, etc.). When the Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing opportunities came along, the idea went to the back burner. A year ago, that same broker reappeared to talk to him about the Basel Cellars Estate property. Patience is a virtue.

"This is the most exciting part to me," says Dan. "We can transform this property into an agricultural experience for guests. Our long-term plan is to have a place where guests can walk through the garden, kids can scatter grain to chickens, and collect eggs. They'll learn where the food they eat comes from. We'll be pressing grapes for ver jus, and growing things we will sell at our farm stand. People can buy what we grow and produce onsite, and we can serve these items in the restaurant. It will be a fun, interactive experience. By going sparkling, we can be inclusive to other winemakers in the community. There's nothing like what we have now in the Northwest and as we work toward the longer-goal, it will be unique."

Currently Yellowhawk is set up like a VRBO. The estate house can accommodate 16 guests (8 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms). They hope to expand that in the future and have applied for a Type 3 Winery license. Any licensing approvals will take 6-12 months.

One idea that will happen this summer is The Shindig. "We've pitched the idea for years of creating a food and wine event in Walla Walla, showcasing local ingredients and producers, but just never got traction. With Yellowhawk we can get it going, but this year, we're just going to have a party because we can! On Friday, August 27, we'll showcase four wineries from each of the six districts, paired with heavy hors d'oeuvres. On Saturday, August 28, we'll have a multi-course family-style dinner, live entertainment, dancing, and an auction to benefit the local workforce and culinary and wine programs. We're partnering with Blue Mountain Community Foundation on a Raise the Paddle portion to help fund kids of families that were hit hard by COVID. As we go forward, we'll create a three-day event with daytime programs, food and wine pairing, panel discussions - all to showcase the Walla Walla valley."

Yellowhawk salad

The name Yellowhawk Resort was chosen because Yellowhawk Creek is nearby and is a tributary that flows into the Walla Walla River. "For me, it's a sense of place," explains Dan. "Basel Cellars was always the gateway to the South Side, just as the Creek is a tributary to the South Side. Yellowhawk Resort is a smaller piece that leads to the larger community."

Watching what happens as the Resort transforms will keep us all glued to Walla Walla.

Connie Adams/August 2021

Yellowhawk Resort
2901 Old Milton Hwy
Walla Walla, WA 99362

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