It was a partly sunny and pleasantly cool afternoon in the Yakima River canyon, and a group of us were strolling along the river with glasses of wine in our hands, watching happy rafters spin by. Our birding guide, Deborah Essman, pointed upward, and we got a close look at an unusual sight — a nighthawk snoozing on a cottonwood branch 20 feet up. It didn’t stir even as we walked directly below. Someone in the group quoted Monty Python’s famous pet shop line: “It’s not dead, it’s resting.”
The bird walk last weekend (July 16) was part of a first-ever food, wine, and charity event at the Canyon River Ranch, a new, 10-unit residential community and lodge 13 miles south of Ellensburg. Nearly 200 people paid $25 a head to attend the event, which featured a dozen Washington wineries pouring their vino and offering a special food pairing for one of their wines. An Ellensburg band, Better Day, picked out bluegrass and Americana tunes. A sommelier talked about evaluating wines. There was a photography clinic. Local artists presented their work. Models showed off Patagonia outdoor wear. And a guide offered free fly-casting and fly-tying lessons.
The Canyon River Ranch is planning more such events in the future. That offers hope to those who’d like to see more pairings of Central Washington’s natural beauty with its bounty of locally produced food and wine. Attractions like the ranch, along with the new Swiftwater Cellars winery and Hoist House restaurant at Suncadia, may lure more Puget Sound-area visitors over the mountains for wine touring in the Yakima Valley.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s event, attendees selected the best pairing. The winning combination was Upland Estates’ Malbec and Big John Caudill’s grilled beef tenderloin in cilantro, cumin, and smoked sea salt. Other strong contenders were the pairings of Kana’s Lemberger with asparagus and cheese squares, Adytum Cellars’ pear and honey wine with cilantro pesto on French bread, and Cox Canyon Vineyards’ Bordeaux blend with Gary Cox’s delicious barbecued beef tenderloin and Yakima River-caught salmon.
The event raised about $3,000 for Yakima Specialties, a nonprofit group that provides work-skills training to people with disabilities. The group’s president is Tim Cook, who also serves as general manager of the Lodge at Canyon River Ranch and who organized the event. “The rain that morning kept attendance down, but I think we’ll have a lot more people there next time,” Cook says. He’s already planning another food-pairing event in September that will feature local beers as well as wines.
Even without any special events, the rustic-looking but upscale Lodge at Canyon River Ranch, which opened in 2009, is a nice place to go. It’s actually the only lodging in the gorgeous river canyon. The 20,000 square-foot facility, located on 34 acres, offers a pool, hot tub, conference room, game room, and library. The ranch also has a fully equipped fly shop, and offers fishing clinics, guide services, and raft rentals. Two-bedroom, two-bath suites cost $299 per night on weekends and $199 during the week. A restaurant will open next year.
And you never know what you will learn. As we walked along the river, birding guide Essman mentioned talk that the familiar American Robins we saw all around us could be renamed the American Thrush, since they actually belong to the broad thrush family. Good luck with that.