Originally published in SipNorthwest
By Molly Allen
About two miles west of U.S. Route 97, just outside of the city of Toppenish, sits fifth-generation hop farm Cornerstone Ranches. While many Yakima Valley hop farms continue to introduce shiny, new metal equipment, owner Graham Gamache has chosen to stick with what has worked well for decades.
A HISTORY OF HOPS
Hop production in the Yakima Valley goes back to 1872, with strong family roots all across the region. And Cornerstone Ranches is no exception. Gamache’s great-great-great-grandparents, Charles and Hermaline Gamache, arrived in the Yakima Valley in 1897 with their eight children. The French-Canadian immigrants settled in Moxee, and Charles played a role in digging the Selah-Moxee canal, which farmers still rely on today to bring irrigation water to the area.
As farmers began to realize that the fertile volcanic soil, wealth of irrigation and long, sunny days were ideal growing conditions for hops, farms across the valley began to capitalize on the production.
Today, the Yakima Valley produces about 75 percent of the nation’s hops, and Cornerstone Ranches’ 635 acres of hops contributes to that world-renowned title. But what makes Gamache’s farm really special is his tribute to history. Gamache grew up on the farm that his grandfather, Amos, originally established in 1948.
In 2013, Gamache purchased the farm from his father, Terry, and his uncle, Michael. “I’ve done every job on the farm,” Gamache says, who spent every summer working on the farm from the age of 14. “And even going away for school at Gonzaga to study English Literature, I had always intended to come back and farm. I just love it.”
Since taking over the farm in the height of the craft beer boom, Gamache has continued to use the original wooden hop-picking equipment originally built in the 1950s. The original Fontaine, featuring large cast iron sprockets which were all locally made, is one of the oldest machines still in operation in the Yakima Valley.
Of course, Gamache has made all of the necessary updates needed throughout the years, including new equipment and new burners for the hop kilns, but, according to the farmer, the bare bone structure of the machinery is still good.
The farm also utilizes one of the original hop combines that Gamache’s grandfather, father and uncle helped to develop in the 1970s. It is one of the original nine combines that were built at the time, and it can be found to this day in the fields during harvest.
Cornerstone Ranches prides itself on being a truly independent hop farm. With 11 different varieties of hops including Cascade, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe, the farm doesn’t align itself with any specific variety, merchant or brewer. But as Gamache chooses to remain independent, the number of brewers who flock to the farm during hop harvest continues to grow. With their visit, brewers get to experience original hop-picking equipment unlike what any other farm utilizes – an experience deep-rooted in hop farming history.
“We have brewers here every day during harvest for selection,” Gamache says. “From all over Washington to Brazil and Argentina, we welcome them each season, and it’s great to have so many brewers and other guests with an interest in touring the farm and experiencing its history.”