Leland Hyatt, who co-founded Hyatt Vineyards, passed away at his home in Zillah, Washington on January 29th. He was 85.
“He’s an American success story,” says Caleb Foster, who was hired by Hyatt in 2022 to run Hyatt Vineyards and serve as winemaker. “He lived an amazing American farm life.”
Leland Hyatt was born November 3, 1937 in Union Gap, Washington, the child of Chester and Jesse Hyatt and one of twelve children. He attended school in Toppenish and then joined his father in the land leveling business. Hyatt would start his own company, Leland Hyatt Land Leveling, in 1959.
In 1983, with the Washington wine industry still in its infancy, Hyatt and his wife Lynda founded Hyatt Vineyards in Zillah, in what is today known as Rattlesnake Hills, a sub-appellation of Yakima Valley. Hyatt made its first wines in 1987, crafted by Wade Wolfe (now of Thurston Wolfe). Stan Clarke also served as winemaker at Hyatt for a period.
The early wines, particularly Merlot, received high praise from Seattle Times writer Tom Stockley. More recently, in 2012, Paul Gregutt, also writing for Seattle Times, noted Hyatt’s “affordable high quality wines.”
Hyatt Vineyards is a rare estate winery in Washington, with what Foster calls a “million dollar view” overlooking Yakima Valley and Cascade volcanoes. In addition to wine grapes, Hyatt farmed other crops.
“He got up every day because he loved farming,” Foster says. “That was his life. He embodied the farmer who loves his land and lives for it.”
Over time, Hyatt went from making 750 cases of wine annually in 1987 to 30,000 just a decade ago, making the winery one of the largest producers in the state. Hyatt farmed multiple properties and hundreds of acres. As Hyatt grew, the state’s industry grew with it.
“[Leland] lived full-out the last 35 years of the Washington boom cycle,” Foster says.
In the last decade, with their children involved in other businesses, the Hyatts scaled back and sold some of their acreage, retaining two vineyards, one of which surrounds the winery. Foster, whose previous work includes co-founding Buty Winery and serving as winemaker at J. Bookwalter, was hired at Hyatt last April to guide the winery and shepherd its eventual sale.
The effort to sell the winery will continue. So will Leland Hyatt’s legacy in Yakima Valley.
“He was born, raised, lived his entire life, and committed all of his efforts to this valley,” Foster says. “He wanted to operate the winery until his last day, and he did.”
Leland Hyatt is survived by Lynda, his wife of 55 years, his daughter, three sons, three grandchildren, and several great grandchildren. A service will be held February 4th in Zillah.