A spotlight on Yakima Valley’s Sub AVA – Red Mountain

The diversity of the Yakima Valley is reflected within the three sub AVAs located within its boundaries. These AVAs include Snipes Mountain, Red Mountain, and Rattlesnake Hills.

The focus of today’s blog is the Red Mountain AVA located on the far eastern side of the Yakima Valley.  It is the smallest appellation in Washington State . . .  just 4,040 acres of the Yakima Valley Valley’s 17,000 total vineyard acres.

Klipsun desertDue to warm temperatures red grape varieties dominate on Red Mountain. There are limited plantings of white grape varieties, particularly Sauvignon Blanc.

Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be full bodied, dark, and dense with dark cherry aromas and flavors.  While Red Mountain Syrahs are typically bold and full bodied with abundant dark fruit flavors and mineral notes. Red Mountain wines often have a distinct minerality.

Elevations range from 500 feet to 1,500 feet. Red Mountain is an anticline of the Yakima fold belt, a series of geologic folds that define a number of viticultural regions in the area. The landscape takes on a reddish hue in springtime due to the abundance of cheatgrass. Red Mountain is typically Washington’s warmest growing region with broad, southwest-facing slopes and daytime growing season temperatures that average 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Red Mountain has an arid, desert climate, receiving an average of 6 to 8 inches of rainfall annually. Irrigation is therefore required to grow vinifera grapes. The nearby Yakima River moderates temperatures and provides continual airflow, guarding against frost. Nighttime temperatures drop as much as 40 degrees—helping preserve the acid levels in the grapes.

Most vineyard soil is made up of sandy loam and gravel with high alkalinity (high pH) and a rich calcium carbonate content. A lack of soil nutrients along with the high pH reduces the vigor of the vines, resulting in significantly smaller berry sizes compared to varietal norms. This, along with prevailing winds, leads to higher tannin levels in many of the wines compared to other regions.

The following wines represent the true characteristics of the fruit from the Red Mountain AVA.

Hightower Cellars, 2010 Red Mountain Reserve, Red Mountain, $55
This wine is impressive and substantial, it is rich and opulent, concentrated and intense. This is a wine to savor – it lingers on your senses and makes you think. It gives aromas of Italian black plum, cassis, cocoa, cedar and vanilla and has chewy but controlled tannins. Somewhere between silk and velvet in texture. This is still  young wine that will benefit from further aging.

Terra Blanca Winery 2009 Signature Series Block 8 Syrah, Red Mountain, $42
This wine earned a gold medal at the 2014 Seattle Wine and Food Experience Wine Competition.  This Syrah is typical of a Red Mountain Syrah –  a lot of body with dark fruit flavors and mineral notes. blackberry and raspberry aromas, backed by black pepper and bittersweet chocolate. The black pepper and bittersweet chocolate are rich, dark and luscious with smooth tannins and juicy acidity for balance.

Delille Cellars 2011 Grand Ciel Syrah, Red Mountain, $65
Explosive aromatics of black fruits, flint and mocha with an array of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper on cedar. Black blue color.  Deeply concentrated, there are beginnings of an ethereal quality that some great Syrah’s develop.  Gamey boysenberries, strawberries and blueberries dance on the palate.

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Yakima Valley grapes have begun their maturation process.

This week’s blog post offers a real-time visual of the five Cabernet Sauvignon vines we are monitoring during the growing season. Each of these vines is located in a different micro-climate or sub AVA within the Yakima Valley appellation. The images reflect what the plants currently look like.

Great weather during June produced an excellent fruit set. Now is when
seeds, berry flesh and skin tannins begin to develop.

The 2014 vintage is at least 10 – 14 days ahead of average. According to WSU’s Agweathernet, Yakima Valley heat accumulation units as of June 22nd are on track for a repeat of 2013, which was a very warm year.

Next steps for Yakima Valley growers: Crop estimates and cluster thinning to adjust the crop to optimum levels.

For more information on the vineyard site of each of these vineyards click here.

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mtn, Yakima Valley: After a good bloom, berry set looks great.  Shoot growth is normal. We will start to scale back the water in order to slow and eventually shut canopy growth down.

Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley: Beautiful weather resulted in a nice set. Grapes are in the pea sized berry stage. Currently we are going through blocks shoot thinning.

Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley: 10:20 am June 27th–viewing the Cabernet Sauvignon vine, from the east and the west.

DuBrul slidefinal
DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley: The vines are happy. Fruit set is excellent.


Portteus Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills:  Our Cabernet Sauvignon is in the transition stage from flowering to berry set.

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Yakima Valley’s Sub AVA – Snipes Mountain

SnipesMtnavamap2 The Yakima Valley AVA is home to three separate sub AVA’s; Snipes Mountain, Red Mountain, and Rattlesnake Hills. Each of these sub AVA’s contribute differently to the diversity of the Yakima Valley. The focus of today’s blog is Snipes Mountain AVA located in the center of the Yakima Valley between the small communities of Sunnyside and Granger.

IMG_0404Snipes Mountain is the second smallest appellation in Washington at 4,145 acres. The area gets its name from Ben Snipes, a cattle rancher who built a house there in the 1850s. There are more than 700 acres planted to over 30 vinifera varieties, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon the most planted. Fruit from this AVA offer unique aromas and flavors which have made it desirable for winemakers to identify it as a Snipes Mountain-designated wine.

The area has an arid, continental climate, receiving an average of 7 inches of precipitation annually. Irrigation is therefore required to grow vinifera grapes. Steep north and south-facing slopes allow cold air to flow downhill, preventing frost damage that occasionally affects nearby regions.

IMG_0385The predominant soil type is loess—wind blown deposits of sand, clay, and silt—over Missoula Flood sediment, with all but the top 15 meters of Snipes lying below this series of cataclysmic events. Many areas of Snipes Mountain are covered with fist-and melon-size gravel deposited by the ancient flow of the Columbia River. A large percentage of soils here are classified as low in organic matter. This is believed to reduce vigor in the vines and increase fruit concentration.

Though the area only received appellation status in 2009, Snipes Mountain boasts a long viticultural history. Muscat of Alexandria vines from 1917 still produce grapes. Harrison Hill, which is part of the appellation, is home to some of the state’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines dating to 1963.

The following wines are great examples of the expression of Snipes Mountain AVA, located in the Yakima Valley.

Upland Estates 2009 Ampeli Ice $32. This special wine is the result of patience and dedication and it is a true honor of ours to create a wine from a vine planted in 1917. Frozen on the vine, this wine was carefully fermented in stainless steel barrels over a period of 4 months, capturing the pure varietal flavors of Muscat. Aromatically expressive, clean, viscous, creamy, and loaded with flavor like honey lime drops yet its sweetness is balanced, elegant, and rewardingly matched with brilliant acidity. Planted in 1917 by Washington wine pioneer W. B. Bridgman, they are the oldest cultivated wine grapes in the state. The front label of the bottle pays tribute to this by depicting an original vine from the same block. Purchase wine at uplandwinery.com.


2011 Harrison Hill is like a walk through an herb and flower farm. Cherries, cassis and wild raspberrys are bombarded with cedar, white pepper, violets, tea smoke, peat, linseed, woodspice and other souvage aromas. Classic Harrison Hill flavors of Cherries and leather are combined with raspberries, pomegranates and iron. This wine has perfect ripeness and beautiful tannin structure. It is both complex and elegant and has an extended pure finish. A wine of “breed “ and style. The 2011 Harrison Hill is currently sold out. Pre-order the 2012 vintage now at Delillecellars.com.

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Cabernet Sauvignon vine in bloom at DuBrul Vineyard


bloom image Dubrul

The warm Yakima Valley weather is keeping the grape vines happy and growing. This Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vine from DuBrul Vineyard (one of the later grape varieties to bloom) is entering the next phase of development with the formation of blossoms on the vine.

According to Kerry Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard, “everything is on schedule for normal, maybe a day or so early, but for the most part everything is normal for DuBrul Vineyard.”

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Yakima Valley brings the heat for photosynthesis

The Yakima Valley enjoys 300 days of sunshine each year, including more summer sun than San Diego, Phoenix, or Honolulu. What impact does this have on the award winning wine grapes of the Yakima Valley?

In recent posts we’ve talked about the soils and the vast day-to-night temperature shifts, but what about the overall temperatures found in the Yakima Valley? Heat and sunshine are two vital attributes to growing wine grapes.

photosynthesis During the growing season itself, if temperatures hover below 50 degrees* or above 95 degrees, photosynthesis virtually stops. Photosynthesis is the process by which energy from sunlight allows for the manufacture of sugars in green plants, including grapevines. A vine without these sugars is like a car without tires — useless. Excessive heat or cold can frustrate this process.

Some grapes can tolerate warmer temperatures, such as the thick skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape, but more delicate grapes such as Riesling enjoy less heat. The variations in air and soil temperatures, soil types, and elevations are just a few of the characteristics that allow the Yakima Valley to successfully grow more than 40 different wine grape varieties.

During the growing season of 2013 (April 1, – October 31,) the Yakima Valley AVA enjoyed an average air temperature of 63.3 degrees (with a high of 99.9  degrees) while its sub appellations Red Mountain averaged 65.2 degrees  (with a high of 107.8  degrees), and Rattlesnake Hills saw an average of 63.5 degrees  (with a high of 104 degrees).**

The temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees are when the plants are manufacturing the much needed sugars for quality wine grapes. Add to that the long days and cool nights that allow the grapes to maintain acidity, 300 days of sunshine, and the most experienced growers in the Pacific Northwest and you begin understand why the Yakima Valley AVA and its sub AVA’s have become the most sought after place to purchase wine grapes.

The next time you open a wine sourced from Yakima Valley fruit, consider the almost perfect temperature and abundant sunshine that went into ripening the grapes in your glass.

The following are three wines that exhibit true Yakima Valley characteristics.

Mark Ryan  2013 Viognier
Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley
Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley
Olsen, Yakima Valley

Thurston Wolfe  2013 Albarino
Crawford Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Owen Roe 2011 Syrah
Red Willow Chapel Block, Yakima Valley

** Washington State University AgWeatherNet program
*All temperatures are Fahrenheit.

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Yakima Valley vineyards see rapid shoot growth and pre-bloom

This week’s blog post offers a real-time visual of the five Cabernet Sauvignon vines we are monitoring during the growing season.  Each of these vines are located in a different micro-climate or sub AVA within the Yakima Valley appellation. The images reflect what the plants currently look like and the brief write ups give narrative of what is happening now and what is expected to occur in the next days or weeks.

For more information on the vineyard site of each of these vineyards click here.

Shoots are currently in the process of photosynthesis, which creates the energy to accelerate growth.  Growers will see up to 2-3 inches of growth per day, maybe more if it is real warm. 


Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley: Cab Sauv (planted 1985) is in leaf development stage. Leaf development somewhat behind that of nearby Cab Franc and Merlot.  RedWillowfina2l

Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley: Everything is moving along normally. We are irrigating more frequently and hoping for lots of sunshine in June for bloom.
DuBrul Final

DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley: In this block of Cabernet shoots are only a few inches long, which is normal at this point in the year.  The warm weather recently has been helping the vines along;  young shoots are growing rapidly.  As you can see in the closer photo, leaves and clusters are emerging from the growing shoot tips.  Newhousefinal

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mtn, Yakima Valley: Vine looks very healthy. Shoot growth is 8 to 20 inches. Clusters are pre-bloom.  Once they start to bloom we will get a better idea as to an approximate harvest date, but so far it’s looking neither late nor early! This block has not yet been shoot-thinned.


Copeland Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley: The vines are happy and progressing very nicely. The heat of late is really pushing growth. We are seeing 8-12 inches growth in Cabernet. We will start early shoot thinning the first of next week.


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The balance of Yakima Valley wines

Balanced Wine: The way in which a wine’s key components including fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, and tannin co-exist. A well-balanced wine displays a harmony of components, with no single element dominating.

balance wine diagramBalance is often used in describing a wine. But what makes a well balanced wine?  As with so many elements of a good wine, it starts in the vineyard.

Abundant sunshine is crucial to world-class wine grape cultivation.  But sun  alone is not sufficient to grow the caliber of grapes grown in the Yakima Valley.  Temperature totals, (warmth and coolness) are equally vital to grape development; and this is where the Yakima Valley really shines.

On the wine region classification system developed by the University of California at Davis, the Yakima Valley’s 2,600 to 3,000 “growing-degree (F) days” define this AVA as “Region II” and place it on par with the Bordeaux wine region of France.  Even better is the way this heat accumulates.  If it were uniformly warm all season long, Yakima Valley’s grapes would lose their natural acidity and the resulting wines would be flabby.

However, there is a dramatic difference between day and night temperatures in this valley during the growing season: afternoon highs in the 90s t0 100s (F) plunge down to the 50s (F) after midnight.  It’s what climate scientists call diurnal shift; and those dramatic temperature swings enable grapes to retain their natural, flavor-enhancing acids.

The climate of this region combines sunshine, water, heat, and cold temperatures like almost nowhere else on earth.  Most remarkable is the way this balance is achieved across multiple varieties—from Riesling and Chardonnay to Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet.

The next time you taste a wine sourced from Yakima Valley fruit, think about the balance of the wine, the astringency, acidity, and the fruitiness…..and how they are each balanced to one another.

An example of the balance of Yakima Valley wines can be found in these
three wines.

Savage Grace 2011 Cabernet Franc    Copeland Vineyard, Yakima
Valley  (planted in 2000)

Saviah 2011 GSM  Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Hightower 2010 Reserve Red Cab/Merlot   Red Mountain, Yakima

The climate of the Yakima is an integral piece of the harmony you taste in your glass.

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