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Dynamic Yakima Valley

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

Many discover Washington wine through the wonderful wines of Walla Walla and a lucky few of you are headed out here for what will be an amazing trip with Master Sommelier Maximilian Kast. If you look to the west from Walla Walla, you’ll find the first AVA in the state and arguably, the most climatically diverse out of Washington’s 16 American Viticultural Areas or AVA’s -Yakima Valley AVA (1983). Home to some of the most iconic and historic vineyards in the state, it has four smaller regions nestled within it – Candy Mountain, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, and Rattlesnake Hills. Fun fact – Yakima Valley also produces 75% of hops and 70% of apples that this country produces. Let’s look at some of these iconic vineyards that you will see proudly noted on wine labels, but first off what makes it so unique and diverse?

Like many wine-growing areas in this state, Yakima Valley was impacted by the Missoula Floods. This was a series of cataclysmic floods that took place between 13,000 – 15,000 years ago when the ice dam of the Clark Fork River broke, sending massive amounts of water at speeds reaching 80 mph down the Columbia River basin. The impact to the landscape is stark and at times surreal in its lunar bareness. Many areas were left with a silt-loam soil that lies over gravel or basalt bedrock.

Adding to this unique geology, there is also a higher latitude that gives us longer days of sunlight hours, the all-important diurnal shift that sees temperatures go from afternoon highs in the 80’s to lows in the 50’s at night, and drip irrigation is needed due to the rain shadow effect from the snow capped Cascade

Mountains that keeps the moisture coming off of the Pacific Ocean from making it to the Eastern side of the state (80 inches on the Western side of the state versus 8 inches a year in Yakima). All of these factors contribute to the unique nature of wine from Yakima Valley.

Within the larger Yakima Valley AVA lies the famous vineyards of Red Willow, Boushey, and Otis. Mike Sauer planted the first syrah plantings in the state at Red Willow in 1986. David Lake, MW convinced Mike Sauer that this vineyard had something in common with the famed La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage (Northern Rhone). Perhaps up to 80% of syrah in the state can be traced back to cuttings from this vineyard. Boushey, just 30 miles east of Red Willow, is one of the cooler sites in the valley and to protect the grapes from frost and freeze, the vines are planted on the slopes. The cooler site allows for some highly aromatic and elegant wines. The nearby Otis has the honor of being the vineyard that saw the very first planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Washington State in 1957.

Snipes Mountain is home to the second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, found at Harrison Hill. Unique due to its geology that offers protection from frost and soil lacking organic matter that will inhibit vine vigor - the grapes are deeply concentrated, producing very distinct and elegant wines. DeLille’s Harrison Hill is a classic Bordeaux-style blend with lifted aromatics.

Rattlesnake Hills has Andrew Will’s Two Blondes as well as Cote Bonneville’s Du Brul vineyards. Both are estate vineyards producing distinctive and highly regarded wines. Two Blondes is a cooler sight with elevation producing wines with rich fruit and balanced acid. Du Brul’s grapes are harvested in small yields and with small berries, producing very expressive red and white wines that are highly sought after.

Red Mountain, one of the warmest AVA’s (Candy Mountain is warmer) has a unique microclimate that produces grapes with thicker skins due to its isolated elevation and the winds that surround the vineyards. This will translate into more structure in the wines, deeper color, and powerful concentration of flavor. Red Mountain’s first grapes were planted at the Kiona vineyard by Jim Holmes in 1975. The first Cabernet sauvignon grapes were sold in 1978. Cadence, Col Solare, Force Majeure, and Upchurch Vineyards produce stunning examples of what these vineyards can do and some vineyards to look for are Kiona, Tapteil, Ciel du Cheval, and Cara Mia.

Yakima Valley is a storied and dynamic wine region producing some of the state’s most classic wines. There is much to taste and explore! For those of you venturing to Walla Walla, enjoy your amazing wine adventure and please let Mariano know if you’d like to try any of the wines mentioned above.

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