Colby and Kristen Rider moved their young family from Woodinville to Selah in 2016 after purchasing a small vineyard in Selah. The vineyard, originally planted in 2000, was poorly managed and needed a little overhaul to improve quality and productivity.
It had also been planted with grape varieties not often seen in America’s Columbia Valley wine region. Yes, Rider Cellars grows Riesling, which is a common grape in Washington, but they also grow Pinot Blanc, Zweigelt, and Pinot Gris.
Zweigelt is a red grape variety whose ancestral home is in Austria, while the others are white grape varieties originating in France.
All four varietals happen to be surprisingly well suited to the cooler climate that Selah offers compared to the more well-known Yakima Valley AVA – and that’s where the magic happens.
The cool nights Selah experiences chill the grapes, slowing the ripening process. This in turn increases the acidity of the resulting wine, giving it freshness, brightness and a vibrant, juicy strength, making the wine pairing a dream.
Gilbert Cellars Chief Winemaker Justin Neufeld, along with his own label, JB Neufeld, guides Colby Rider grapes from harvest to bottling. According to Neufeld, Rider’s overhaul of the vineyard allowed the fruit to shine during the winemaking process.
Riesling happens to be one of Neufeld’s favorite varietals and he raves about its ability in Rider’s vineyard. “I like a cooler site for Riesling in Washington State…more of a traditional profile, more minerality, brighter acid,” Newfeld said.
This is not unique to Riesling and yields similar results in other varietals, which express themselves quite well in current vintages.
Every vintage since 2016 has been an experiment, an attempt to find the right combination of viticultural and winemaking practices to craft the best wines possible. Each vintage was also different when it came to heat spikes, spring frost and wildfire smoke, which required a great deal of adaptability.
Despite these challenges, the current line of Rider Cellars exemplifies the capable hands of Rider and Neufeld.
In 2021, some of their Pinot Blanc was made in the old sparkling wine style of Pétillant Naturel, or Pet Nat. This Pet Nat is one of the best I’ve had. It has a beautifully creamy mouthfeel showcasing green apple and pear layered with brioche and bread dough.
The 2019 Zweigelt bursts with ripe black cherry, cranberry, anise and violet with a hint of white pepper. Its lively acidity keeps it fresh for versatility in wine pairings.
The 2021 Pinot Gris from Rider Cellars was vinified as a rosé this vintage, which perfectly expresses its capabilities. It shows an elegant mouth presenting strawberries and cream with hints of mint and chewing gum.
The 2021 Riesling shows the effects of the warmer vintage with a fruity profile exhibiting peach, tangerine, lemon and saline with plenty of zesty acidity. As usual, Riesling is made as a dry wine with minimal residual sugar present.
Rider has also expanded its fruit selection by leasing part of the Roundtree vineyard in Selah, allowing it to also produce Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier and Tempranillo. Despite this vineyard expansion, Rider can still be found pouring wines in their downtown Selah tasting room three days a week with a smile on their face.
Regardless of the origin of their fruit, the difficulties of the vintage or the recent transition to viticulture and wine production, the Rider family gives everything for the quality of their grapes, which is felt in every wine they create.
“It’s not just wine. It’s an extension of who we are, our blood, sweat, tears and passion in every bottle,” Rider said.
Chad Douglas is a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Certified Pediatrician and Wine Consultant at Yakima and will occasionally submit articles for the Explore section.