11 Jan Third-generation farmers reinforce the long-standing legacy of Yakima Valley winegrowing
The Yakima Valley was the first winegrowing appellation north of California. Across the following three decades, the Yakima Valley wine industry has consistently justified its status as the “first growth” of Washington State.
Today, Yakima Valley’s legacy continues with third generation farmers carrying the torch. From the earliest vintages until today, the Yakima Valley has grown more wine grapes for Washington wineries than any other appellation. As a result, Valley farming families have cultivated young, savvy farmers who have grown up learning about the land and how to farm it.
Farming runs deep in the veins of Todd Newhouse, who currently grows wine grapes, juice grapes, cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, prunes, pears and apples in the Yakima Valley.
The family began growing alfalfa in the Yakima Valley in 1913 and started the valley’s first dairy in the 1920s. Al Newhouse planted his first wine grapes — chardonnay — in 1968. After acquiring Upland Vineyards and renaming it Newhouse Farms, Newhouse planted Riesling and cabernet sauvignon.
In the early 1970s, Steve and John Newhouse, Al’s sons, became involved full time in the operation. Al Newhouse and his six brothers farmed together until 1982. The family was focused on hops, and Al wanted to move to wine grapes and tree fruit, so they amicably split the operation, and the name changed to Upland Farms.
In the mid-1990s, Todd Newhouse joined the operation, followed later by his two younger brothers. Today Upland Vineyards distributes fruit to more than 25 wineries and produces more than 35 grape varieties.
In Benton City, the approach was slightly different, but the outcome remains the same. The year was 1975, and John Williams had the perfect plan. The 84-acre patch of desolate sagebrush and cheatgrass nestled between Benton City and the Yakima River was perfect for growing grapes. It didn’t matter that he had to bring electricity in from 3 miles away or dig a well on his own dime. He was going to plant a vineyard, and it was going to be good.
Turns out it was a great decision. He planted four acres of vineyard. He employed what one of his children would jokingly call “slave child labor” and the rest is history.
The first fruit was ready in 1978, in 1980 Kiona Vineyards became Kiona Vineyards and Winery and produced the first wine under the name.
Today, the Williams family manages over 300 acres of vineyards. Grandson JJ Williams was raised in the vineyard and currently oversees all aspects of the vineyard and winery operations.