Is Quincy the next Bend?
From Vince Bryan's back porch, the Columbia River, far below, looks like a thick vine twisting through the cracked and red skin of dust-dry...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Northwest Travel Guides
QUINCY, Grant County —
From Vince Bryan's back porch, the Columbia River, far below, looks like a thick vine twisting through the cracked and red skin of dust-dry desert bluffs.
The landscape is enormous, calming and strangely beautiful, in part because it is so empty of development.
Not so from the other side of Bryan's house, which faces the hills. Fifteen new bungalows and a two-story clubhouse rise from rows of semillon and sangiovese grape vines. An aquatic garden and park are under construction, as is a luxury spa. A golf course and equestrian center are also in the works.
Luxury tourism in the desert has been done before. Los Angeles has Palm Springs. Portland has Bend.
Why, asks Bryan, shouldn't Seattle have Quincy?
He sometimes gets head-scratching in response.
But he and his wife, Carol, are convinced they are getting in on the ground floor of a tourist boom around this Central Washington town. The Bryans created the neighboring Gorge Amphitheatre from their Champs de Brionne winery in 1983. Since then, 28 other wineries have sprouted in the Columbia Gorge corridor north of Interstate 90 to Mazama. New condos in the area are selling quickly at $300,000 each.
And his new resort, Cave B Inn at Sagecliffe, is a big bet that more is coming.
"We used to say this was the middle of nowhere," said Bryan. "With 3.5 million coming to the amphitheater, we realized it was in the middle of everywhere."
Quincy and the Columbia coulees
Cave B Inn at Sagecliffe is the gem of the area, a new high-end resort adjacent to the Gorge Amphitheatre concert venue. But it's not cheap: Non-concert weekends in the summer run $195 for condo-style rooms to $275 for a two-bedroom bungalow; add at least $100 for concert nights. Breakfast is included. Take Exit 143 from Interstate 90 (143 miles east of Seattle), turn left on Silica Road and drive about 5.5 miles. 888-785-2283 or www.cavebinn.com.
Tendrils, Cave B's restaurant, plucks from the offerings of the area with organic and "humanely raised" foods. Dinner for two without wine is about $50 a plate. 509-785-3780 or www.cavebinn.com/">www.cavebinn.com/
Locals like the Idle Hour steakhouse in Quincy, which carries an unexpectedly large and local wine list behind a weather-beaten storefront. Try the steak. Lunch served Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner served Wednesday through Saturday 5 p.m. "until closing." No smoking. 18 B Street S.E., Quincy. 509-787-3714 or www.nwinternet.com/~idlehour.
Wenatchee, about 45 minutes from Cave B, is grabbing hold of the burgeoning wine industry with both hands. The Mission Street Bistro whips up crepes and fondue to complement the local wines. 202 N. Mission St., Wenatchee. 509-665-2406.
Performers coming to the Gorge Amphitheatre in the next two months include the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, Pearl Jam, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. See www.gorgeconcerts.com.
Unlike Bend or Palm Springs, the area seems to treat tourism as a curiosity. Bookstores, bike shops and swanky restaurants are sparse. When my wife and I went looking for dinner in Quincy after 8 p.m. on a Thursday, the only option we could find was a pizza joint ready to close.
Once you get past what is not here, what is here is compelling. Desert hiking trails are empty but no less beautiful than wet-side treks. Climbing, biking, fishing and water sports are as easy to find as a Starbucks in Seattle.
Cave B is run by the company that manages Seattle's Sorrento Hotel, the Freestone Inn in Mazama and Alderbrook Resort on Hood Canal, aiming for the Seattle tourist who won't blink at paying $12 for a glass of the house wine.
The scattered bungalows have barrel roofs, appearing to rise like basalt boulders from the bluff. If you've taken in a concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre next door, you know the view. It rains seven inches a year here, and the sun sets like a velvet cape over Colockum Peak across the river.
Inside, there's free wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs and a bed for a rich man. On concert weekends, Cave B will increase its rates about $100, but promises to help ticket-holders slip into the show through a side gate.
The Cave B Inn first planned to open in April, but was slowed by a freak rainstorm that flooded some bungalows, and officially opened June 18.
In late May, when we stayed there, there were still seams in the sod and backhoes outside our bungalow. Bryan, wearing dirty jeans and a stained University of Washington sweatshirt, was overseeing a frantic push to finish a 12-unit condominium for the headliner of a concert at the Gorge.
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That unit, housing the Cavern Rooms, is built into an exposed face of basalt rock. There were 300 such flows over 6 million years, and Bryan was ecstatic to point out that three of those flows were visible in the wall.
"When we bought the property, we realized we bought a national park," he said. "The challenge for us is to invite people in to appreciate it without desecrating it."
As luxurious as the resort is, one doesn't stay here to stay inside.
A few miles from Cave B is one of Washington's most popular rock-climbing faces, Frenchman Coulee near Vantage. Gene Robbins of Tacoma began coming here as a novice before trying the basalt columns that rise, shoulder to shoulder, like tree trunks.
"We need the desert because we need a place to go crazy in peace," said Robbins, roughly quoting Edward Albee. "Climbing is my meditation."
Hiking is more my speed, and there's plenty of that, too. The Ancient Lakes in the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area is like tourism itself in this area, a bit tough to find, but a surprise once there.
Dusty Lake, the most popular of the hikes, is a mostly flat, three-mile saunter through sage and mariposa lilies. The lake itself settles into a red-rock coulee, a pothole left over from glacier floes through the river gorge.
For those willing to bike in the heat, the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is a gem in the state's rails-to-trails realm. Catch it at the Ellensburg fairgrounds, and head east or west — to Idaho or North Bend.
Cave B Estate Winery, adjacent to Cave B Inn, offers wine tasting Thursday through Monday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or by appointment. 348 Silica Road N.W., Quincy; 509-785-3500 or www.caveb.com.
White Heron Cellars offers wine tasting Thursday through Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 10035 Stuhlmiller Road, Quincy; 509-797-WINE or www.whiteheronwine.com.
Walla Walla and Yakima may be better known, but lots of wineries are sprouting between Quincy and Wenatchee. Call the wineries to check for tasting hours. For a list of area wineries, see www.gotastewine.com/wenatchee-wineries.php
The 3.5-mile walk to Dusty Lake is the most popular of the hikes in the Ancient Lakes area, which has a land-before-time ambience with red-rock coulees, stubby olive trees, desert lilies and the occasional rattlesnake. About 5 miles southwest of the town of Quincy, this is part of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area, with headquarters at 6653 Road K N.E., Moses Lake; 509-765-6641. Getting there: From I-90, take Exit 149 and follow Highway 281 north to Road 5 N.W. (also known as White Trail Road). Turn left and follow that 3.2 miles; turn left at the Wildlife Area sign and go 2 miles to the trailhead. More info: www.wdfw.wa.gov/lands/r2quincy.htm.
Frenchman Coulee climbing area: From I-90 east of Vantage, take Exit 143, go north on Silica Road and soon turn left on the old Vantage Road, which drops down into the coulee. Look for the climbing area's parking turnout.
A Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Use Permit is required for parking at many sites in the area; $10.95 where fishing and hunting licenses are sold (or free with a fishing or hunting license). See http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/vup/
There were just four local wineries when vintner Cameron Fries arrived in Quincy in 1986 to work for Bryan at the Champs de Brionne winery.
Today, there are 29 — so many, Fries says, that work is under way to gain an American Viticultural Region designation. Apple and cherry farmers say there's more money in grapes now, tearing out trees to plant vines.
"We bought sagebrush and turned it into grapes," he said of his White Heron Cellars in Quincy.
Indeed, the drive from Cave B to Wenatchee — about 45 minutes — could be seen as one slow pour. The wineries have capitalized on tourism of Wenatchee and Leavenworth to open a dozen tasting rooms.
The wine boom is feeding itself, said Fries. "For years, I was out here alone," he said. "No one goes out of their way for one winery. Now all the tasting-room traffic is way up."
Most of the area wineries are still small, and are hard to find at Seattle-area wine shops. But several restaurants — including the Mission Street Bistro in Wenatchee and the quaint Idle Hour steakhouse in Quincy — are favorites of the locals and carry lots of area wines.
If there's any doubt about the area's tourism intentions, consider Ed Kane. At 70, he has been a cherry farmer his entire life, raising bings at plots on Crescent Bar near Quincy and in Wenatchee. Up until a couple of years ago, he thought he'd never be anything else but a cherry farmer.
But his 35-acre plot in Crescent Bar began to seem an oddity as condos sprouted on neighboring land. He began to fear spraying because so many tourists would saunter by for a peek.
Kane was skeptical when a market analysis found a rich market of Puget Sound residents willing to spend $300,000 on a second home. "It turned out to be really accurate," said Kane.
He tore out the orchards and started building. The first 77 units sold in 10 days. "There was a real feeding frenzy," said Kane, bemused by the interest. Now, 178 more are planned, with the first phase opening in July.
The other area trend is also catching him by surprise. "This wine thing is going bonkers," he said. "Everybody I know is getting into it. There seems to be no end to the interest in wine. And they seem to speak a whole different language, all this bouquets and stuff."
Those neighbors who haven't already taken hold of the tourism rush are now joining, he said. One neighbor is planning an equestrian facility.
"It's just growing like a damned weed down there," he said. "If you can't fight 'em, you have to join them. Money doesn't seem to be any object."
Planning for the boom was under way early the morning my wife and I stayed at Cave B — backhoes beeping and workers chatting outside our bungalow — so we got up early for a trek down a series of bluffs to the river. As a red-tailed hawk circled overhead, we walked past the lichen-crusted rocks and sagebrush. Desert marmots checked our progress.
After 800 feet of elevation decline, the trail drops into a willow-lined stream that feeds the Columbia. We paused on the last bluff over the river. It is possible to imagine the river as it was 100 years ago, before the dam upstream tamed it.
The temperature that day was on its way toward 90, and there were wineries to find, so we headed back up the bluff. I ran into Bryan just after breakfast, and he repeated his saying to his Seattle-area friends.
"I tell them, head east until you see blue sky, turn left, and when you're immediately under it, you've arrived," he said. Then he went back to work building more hotel rooms.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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