Sometimes I really wonder why I live on this side of the mountains when just over the Pass is a land where the sun is a constant presence and rain is an infrequent visitor. On a particularly dismal and wet day last spring, I headed east in hopes of finding clear skies and warmer temps.
The weather gods rewarded me with glimpses of blue as I went through Roslyn and by the time I hit Ellensburg, picture perfect conditions had emerged.
I was on my way to Cave B Inn at SageCliffe, the first and currently only destination resort winery in Washington State, located in Quincy, just steps away from the Gorge Amphitheater.
Word had gotten out that Cave B was a unique, one-of-a-kind upscale property and after only a year in operation, it was getting quite a favorable buzz, thus my curiosity was piqued.
As I got closer to the inn, I wondered whether the place would live up to its advance hype. I’ve been disappointed before when expectations have been too high, but I needn’t have worried this time.
I noticed the apple orchards and lush vineyards first as I drove down the inn’s long driveway and immediately felt transported to a slower place in time.
I could see the Cave B winery off to one side, but it was the main building with its unusual curved roof and rock exterior that caught my attention. Intrigued with the design, I spent some time outside snapping photos before entering.
Once through the doors, I was greeted with a view that literally stopped me in my tracks. Grand floor to ceiling windows look out upon a jaw-dropping vista of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s impossible not to head right through the lobby and out the back doors onto the deck to take in this awe-inspiring scene of geological splendor.
After appreciating Mother Nature’s work, your eye wanders to the buildings with rock walls (constructed from basalt found on the property) and similar curved roofs that appear tucked into the side of the cliffs in camouflage fashion.
The roofs actually seem to mirror the lines on the bluffs across the river and the buildings look like they have grown out of the ground.
In creating Cave B, owners Vince and Carol Bryan instructed architect Tom Kundig, “to make the land his client.” The result is a design that doesn’t compete with the environment, but rather blends in with the surroundings organically. Use of natural materials is not only evident in the exteriors of each of the buildings, but also within their interiors.
There are 30 well-appointed guest rooms: 15 Cliffehouses, 12 Cavern rooms and three additional rooms located in the main building. The Cliffehouses are each named after one of the many grape varieties grown on the property (the one I stayed in was called “Sangiovese”) and consist of 11 spacious one bedroom units and four two bedroom units.
Each Cliffehouse is its own separate, intimate hideaway built into the hillside with a commanding river view, featuring a cozy sitting area, curved high ceilings, handsome wooden flooring, expansive windows with French doors that open to a private, trellised terrace, luxurious king or queen-size bed, gas fireplace and spacious bathroom done in Italian slab granite.
Colors are themed to reflect white or red wine grape variety and provide rich accents in each unit.
The Cavern rooms, which sit at the edge of the cliff overlooking the river, are accessed through a cave-like basalt rock corridor and although smaller than the Cliffehouses, they share many of the same amenities.
The main building contains three additional luxurious guestrooms, several meeting spaces and the inn’s restaurant, Tendrils. Named for the part of the grape plant that provides support for the growing vine and wraps itself around the wires of the trellis, tendrils are in the words of Carol Bryan, “the thing that holds everything together.” She says, “We wanted the restaurant to be the gathering area for the inn, the place that really holds it all together, so Tendrils, with its association to grapes, was the perfect name.”
Here, James Beard Foundation award-winning chef, Fernando Divinia, whips his culinary magic to create innovative regional fare with flair.
Specialties such as Roasted Laughing Stock Farm Pork Loin with sweet potato puree, apples and beets and Wild King Salmon served with wild rice and fiddleheads are artfully paired with local wines. Desserts range from a sinful Warm Fallen Chocolate Soufflé to refreshing, intensely flavored, homemade fruit sorbets.
This world-class restaurant, with its dramatic backdrop, particularly at sunset when the sky is full of flaming colors, is the ideal romantic setting.
Guests who wish to dine alfresco can sit out on the ample wraparound terrace. With such an amazing view, however, don’t expect to have the undivided attention of your companion, as nature is a fierce competitor!
If eating sumptuous food and soaking in the breath-taking scenery are not enough, there are plenty of other activities to engage in during a stay at Cave B.
The working winery is a feature attraction on site and visitors are welcome to take a self-guided walking tour of the vineyards before making their way to the tasting room. As you stroll the grounds, you can see the various areas where the 15 different grape varieties are grown and take a peek in the Cave.
This arch-shaped building, which is actually half-buried in the ground and covered with dirt, straw and sod, is the perfect atmosphere in which to barrel age the wines.
Nearby is the gift shop and tasting room, where it’s not uncommon to see Cave B’s highly decorated winemaker, Rusty Figgins, behind the bar pouring one of the several featured wines of the day.
Figgins advocates using traditionalist techniques that emphasize a natural, low-intervention wine-making practice.
Cave B Estate premium wines can be found throughout the state in restaurants and retail establishments and they have won numerous awards from prestigious wine societies.
I had the pleasure of tasting a lovely, citrusy and crisp 2003 Semillon and a velvety rich 2003 Cuvee du Soleil; the latter which was a gold medal winner at the Seattle Wine Society.
If you’re so inclined, get a bottle of one of your favorites and head outside to picnic in the grape-trellised piazza, an expansive lawn area dotted with benches and loaded with atmosphere.
For a more vigorous activity option, take a hike from the inn down the hill to the Columbia River. The Columbia River Gorge was the result of several tumultuous Ice Age floods, which carved out deep canyons while at the same time depositing tons of sediment. The boulder-strewn valleys and giant ripple marks are testament to nature’s violent forces and give the region its distinct geology.
Just to be in this unique environment is a treat, but you’d be amazed at the calming, almost Zen-like affect it has on your persona and its ability to soothe the soul.
After hiking back up to the inn, you might feel the need for a massage. You’ll be in good hands if you head for the Spa at Sagecliffe where you can soothe tired and sore muscles or simply unwind while enjoying one of the numerous body treatments available.
I chose the Anti-Aging Wrap, a sublime experience that involved a variety of essential oils and natural ingredients with intoxicating scents applied to my body by a therapist with magic hands. I was exfoliated, massaged, covered in a melon and papaya mask, wrapped up cocoon style and given more massage.
Then I was sent to rinse off in the spa’s seven-head rainforest shower, an experience that I can only describe as heavenly.
The treatment was targeted at improving skin elasticity and tone, as well as at preventing skin sagging, that dreaded process which creeps up on you along with your age. I don’t know if I looked 10 years younger after emerging from the spa, but my skin seemed to glow and I felt totally rejuvenated.
With the completion of Cave B Inn, the owners have now turned their attention to the further development of SageCliffe, a culturally based resort, of which the inn is the first phase.
The Bryan’s vision includes a spectacular 18-hole links-type desert golf course, an equestrian center, additional lodging and housing, studios, galleries, an exhibition hall, performance halls and more conference spaces.
The couple established the SageCliffe Foundation, a non-profit component of the resort that will support art, science and educational programming on site.
“It’s our goal to bring people together from all disciplines and give them a place and the opportunity to interact with one another,” explains Vince Bryan. “Professionals will enrich each other and also enrich the public who will come here to view performances, attend workshops or take part in classes. We will have artists-in-residence and put people in contact with greatness. It will be a vibrant and stimulating center of creativity and expression.”
The couple’s vision stemmed from their land and the awareness of their responsibility as land stewards. The question they pondered for many years was how to best share this land with others without ruining it.
“The land is special,” adds Bryan. “It is the canvas upon which we can participate in painting out. SageCliffe presents the opportunity for mankind and the environment to interface, for there to be a celebration of the environment and a celebration of man’s achievement in the arts and sciences.”
The Bryans believe in the magic of this land and after a stay at Cave B Inn, I, too, am a believer.