Chinook Wines Producer Profile | PCC Natural Markets

Chinook Wines

Kay Simon and Clay Mackey
Photo by Jackie Johnston

Producer Profile

Producers: Kay Simon and Clay Mackey

Located in: Prosser, Washington

Supplying PCC since: 2000


Quality and character never go out of style.

Try everything they make!

The best things are beyond fashion. For 27 years, Kay Simon and Clay Mackey of Chinook Wines have been weaving a harmonious marriage of vineyard and winery with a love of sweet, juicy, Yakima Valley grapes. Their elegantly honest wines are delicious proof that real character and quality never go out of style.

Quality and character never go out of style.

The best things never go out of style, but they're sometimes difficult to describe. Character and quality just don't lend themselves to adjectives like "bigger" or "better" or "more" or "colossal" or "pushing the envelope" or, well, you get it. Superlatives don't work well either. Character and quality aren't usually the "est" of anything — they just are.

kay simon
Photo by Jackie Johnston

Hence, attempting to draw a picture of Kay Simon and Clay Mackey at Chinook wines isn't an easy task. What can you say about two people and a winery who've become almost iconic among those drinkers of Washington wine who truly care about quality and character? I don't know about you, but I found myself more than a little stumped on the subject. So, I took an informal survey of a number of wine drinking friends and colleagues in the wine business, asking them what came to mind when they thought of Chinook Wines.

The responses were unanimously and emphatically complimentary, a litany of adjectives, variations on the essential ideas of quality and integrity: real, honest, elegant, no b.s., salt of the earth, purity, quality, integrity, no-nonsense, balanced, character, delicious — accurate, all of them, but not nearly adequate to describe two people and a winery that are about as "Washington" as Washington can be.

The roots of Kay and Clay's partnership reach separately back to California, where Clay helped his father plant a vineyard in the Napa Valley in the early '70s, then began his career as a vineyard manager for several California wineries. Meanwhile, Kay graduated from UC Davis with a degree in enology, then worked for wineries in the San Joaquin valley. Their paths crossed when both began working at Chateau Ste. Michelle, where they gained valuable experience, an intimate familiarity with Washington's wine-growing regions and a belief that Yakima Valley grapes were capable of producing world-class wines.

And the wines? Who needs massive, when sweet, juicy, lively Yakima fruit can say it all so elegantly?
Photo by Jackie Johnston

In 1983, that belief ripened and bore fruit. With borrowed equipment, sweat equity, and the help of family and friends, Chinook Wines was launched, exclusively using Yakima Valley fruit. (The name refers to the warming winds that blow from the Pacific, across the Cascades and into eastern Washington.) Just a year later, that wine, a sauvignon blanc, was released — a mere two days before Kay and Clay's wedding!

Since then, Chinook's milestones have come and gone, on a road paved with consistency, practicality and a tremendous work ethic. While many Washington wineries are built on the Napa Valley model of massive, California-style wines "made" and showcased in impressive architectural "facilities," Chinook is housed in farm buildings built in the '30s on a former orchard property, which now includes the winery's cabernet franc vineyard. The winery is well-equipped, but modest, efficient and scrupulously, eat-off-the floor clean. And the wines? Who needs massive, when sweet, juicy, lively Yakima fruit can say it all so elegantly?

We could go on … but to really get the picture, taste for yourself. Try the amazing, dry, spicy rosé on one of those indescribably sweet Washington summer evenings. Or the merlot, with its elegantly expressed red fruit; the cabernet sauvignon, beautifully balanced and packed with ripe cassis, cherry and blackberry fruit. The sauvignon blanc and the Semillon are superb, and perfect with everything from crustaceans to halibut and fresh seasonal produce. Take your pick. In any case, you'll get a delicious, quality bottle of wine, a taste of the Yakima Valley — and the real Washington.

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