A recent discovery for us was Yellowhawk Resort & Sparkling Winery located in Walla Walla in southeastern Washington State. We had a terrific visit on their beautiful property and loved hearing their fascinating story.
Yellowhawk was brought into existence by the creativity and drive of chef and hospitality business owner Dan Thiessen. Dan got his initial training at the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park (NYC), graduating in 1992. After stints in Switzerland and Aspen Colorado, he returned to his roots in the Pacific Northwest and took a job as executive chef at the restaurant in the Space Needle, Seattle’s highest volume restaurant. That’s when fate intervened in the form of a telephone call from a successful entrepreneur who had sold his cell phone business and was creating some new restaurants.
Dan recalled the conversation beginning with: “Hi, my name is Kyle Mussman, I live in Walla Walla and got your number from the Restaurant association. I understand you do kitchen design work, I’ve got a hotel project and want to fly you out here to review some designs.” Dan went on to tell us “I had no idea who this guy was, and it was in July and my first day off wasn’t until September and that 1st day off wasn’t going to be getting on a plane to go to Walla Walla”.
Undeterred Kyle flew to Seattle to meet Dan at his restaurant and told Dan about his concept.
Kyle had purchased the Marcus Whitman hotel in Walla Walla, the Grande Dame of the town and at 11 stories high, its tallest building. Kyle had converted one of the top floors in the hotel to his personal residence and he wanted Dan to design his personal kitchen.
The design contract never happened but a friendship between the two did and they stayed in contact over the coming years.
When Dan had enough of the big city life in Seattle, he called Kyle and asked him what was going on in Walla Walla. Kyle put Dan in touch with the president of the Community College who then hired Dan to come to Walla Walla and run their culinary program.
From there Dan started his journey into the hospitality business and began building restaurants.
He now has two Walla Walla Steak Company restaurants, one in Walla Walla and one in Woodinville that serve high end steaks in luxury ambience. For the other end of the market, he created T-Post Tavern, a bar centered around a casual and fun atmosphere, infamous for its mechanical bull!
But Dan’s really big opportunity came in 2020 when the Karmic wheel came full circle. Kyle Mussman’s former home in Walla Walla came up for sale. This home sits on 84 acres, much of which is now planted to vineyards. When Kyle divorced in the early 2000s, the home was put up for sale and purchased by Basel Cellars.
In 2020 Kyle and his partners were introduced to the opportunity to buy the assets by a local real estate broker. They bought the property and the building which had now had a full working winery in one its two garages. They closed on the last day of 2020 and changed the name to Yellowhawk.
Today much has changed but much has also remained the same. The 14,000 square foot, 8 bedroom and 5-bathroom home is now a resort available for rent. Built in log cabin fashion the home is stunning in its architectural detail and opulent furnishings. Perfect for weddings, corporate retreats, or a base for a wine tour group, it offers luxury, seclusion and stunning views.
In addition to the main house there is a beautiful 2,000 square foot log cabin adjacent to the swimming pool which has 1 ½ bedrooms that can also be rented. Kyle was a huge car collector, hence the 2 garages. The garage that houses the winery is huge. The winery takes up only a quarter of the space and the remainder is used as Walla Walla’s largest indoor entertainment space, ideal for weddings and large celebrations.
The other garage has been converted into the winery tasting room and restaurant. The vineyards remain and make for a stunning looking focal point for the view from the front of the house. Kyle wanted to be able to look down the vineyard rows and so oriented them that way as the drop down the hill. The problem is that orientation did not maximize the available sunlight so not all of the grapes attained the ripeness need for making still wine. But they work great for making sparkling wine with their higher acid profile and when Dan took over he determined he would make Walla Walla’s first and only dedicated sparkling winery.
Dan put out the word early in 2021 that he was looking for a winemaker. He hit pay dirt when George-Anne Robertson heard about the project and gave Dan a call about the job.
George-Anne is a high energy personality whose passion for wine and life comes through loud and clear from the first time you meet her. A former fitness instructor, she decided that was not going to be a long-term career for her, so she enrolled in the enology and viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College. Upon graduating she became estate director for Walla Walla Vintners. She then made plans to go and make sparkling wine in Japan when the global pandemic hit. New COVID restrictions took effect while she was enroute and she had to return to the US as soon as she touched down. When the opportunity came to make sparkling wine at Yellowhawk, George-Anne jumped on it.
Our stay at Yellowhawk resort couldn’t have been more enjoyable.
The pool house is luxury at its finest, a spacious log cabin with a kitchen, beautiful living room (with Murphy bed) and separate king-size bedroom downstairs. There’s even a lovely indoor sauna. Our stay was made even more enjoyable by the incredibly good care we received from the general manager of hospitality, Shannon Stegeman. Every bit as bright and bubbly as George-Anne, Shannon showed us all around the property and made sure we had everything we needed.
Dan has big plans to gradually develop the property. He wants to build bungalows on the perimeter of the vineyard and enable the owners of those homes to have views as spectacular as the one from the main house. Shannon showed us the plans and walked us though the vineyard and showed us where things would be built.
All in all, it was a tremendous visit to Yellowhawk. It’s the perfect place to unwind and be pampered. They serve great sparkling wine, and we enjoyed some delicious appetizers from their restaurant with our wine. And we are determined to put a group together to come back and stay in the main house. The upper floors are spectacular: rustic log cabin meets opulent luxury. And the basement is dedicated to fun: a bar, a dance floor, and a games room. As well as beautiful gardens and a large swimming pool and outside lounging areas. Walla Walla is a terrific wine country destination and Yellowhawk is one of the very best places to stay there.
Yellowhawk Vineyard Select Blanc
A blend of Cabernet Franc and Semillon, each vinified separately and then blended in stainless steel tanks. Notes of lemon, lime and warm bread present initially.
With some air, apple and pear notes join in. This sparkler has good texture and nice refreshing acidity.
Very Good+ (USD$48)
2021 Yellowhawk Vineyard Select Rosé
This blend has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. Salmon orange in colour. We get notes of cranberry, mineral notes and hints of citrus. Medium body and medium acid create a pleasing mouthfeel. This has real presence and would be a great accompaniment to shellfish dishes or ceviche. Enjoy the Blanc as an aperitif and the rose at the table.
Very Good/ Excellent (USD$48)
2901 Old Milton Hwy
Walla Walla WA 99362
Tasting & Lodging Info: (509) 522-0200