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, had been inadequately managed and required a bit of an overhaul to improve quality and productivity.
It had also been planted with grape varietals not often seen in the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. 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 whose ancestral home is in Austria, while the others are white wine grapes that originated in France.
All four varietals find themselves surprisingly well-suited to the cooler climate that Selah offers in comparison to the better-known Yakima Valley AVA – and this is where the magic happens.
The cool nights that Selah experiences cools the grapes, slowing the ripening process. This in turn increases the acidity in the resulting wine, giving it freshness, brightness and a vibrant, juicy lift, which makes food pairing a dream.
Justin Neufeld, head winemaker for Gilbert Cellars, as well as his own label, JB Neufeld, guides Colby Rider’s grapes from harvest to bottle. According to Neufeld, Rider’s overhaul of the vineyard has allowed the fruit to shine during the winemaking process.
Riesling happens to be one of Neufeld’s favorite varietals and he provides plenty of praise about its capability in Rider’s vineyard. “I love a cooler site for riesling in Washington state… more of a traditional profile, more minerality, brighter acid,” Newfeld said.
This isn’t unique to riesling, and gives similar results in the other varietals, which are expressed quite nicely in the current vintages.
Each vintage since 2016 has been an experiment, an attempt to find the right combination of vineyard practices and winemaking in order to craft the best possible wines. Each vintage has also been different in regard to heat spikes, spring frost and wildfire smoke, which has required a lot of adaptability.
Despite these challenges, Rider Cellars’ current lineup exemplifies the capable hands of Rider and Neufeld.
In 2021, a portion of their pinot blanc was made in the ancient 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 violets with a touch of white pepper. Its bright acidity keeps it fresh for versatility in food pairing.
Rider Cellars’ 2021 pinot gris was made as a rosé this vintage, which perfectly expresses its capability. It shows an elegant mouthfeel exhibiting strawberries and cream with hints of mint and bubblegum.
The 2021 riesling shows the effects of the warmer vintage with a fruit-forward profile exhibiting peach, tangerine, lemon and saline with plenty of tangy acidity. As usual, the riesling is made as a dry wine with minimal residual sugar present.
Rider has also been expanding his fruit selection by leasing a portion of Roundtree Vineyard in Selah, which allows him to produce syrah, chardonnay, viognier and tempranillo as well. Despite this vineyard expansion, Rider can still be found pouring wines in their downtown tasting room in Selah three days a week with a smile on his face.
Regardless of the source of his fruit, the difficulties of the vintage or the recent transition into viticulture and wine production, the Rider family is giving everything they have for the quality of their grapes, which shows in each wine they create.
“This isn’t just wine. It’s an extension of who we are, our blood, sweat, tears and passion in every bottle, ”Rider said.