Next steps for the Five-Vines of the Yakima Valley

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

The next step in the development of these vines is known as veraison, a critical time in the vineyard’s life cycle. During veraison, the vineyard workers prune the canopy and excess grape clusters. At this stage, the grapes still taste sour and are immature.

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

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A Tempranillo cluster taken on Snipes Mtn. 7-14-2014

A Tempranillo cluster taken on Snipes Mtn. 7-14-2014

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mtn, Yakima Valley: Cell division has ceased and the vines are through lag phase. (Lag phase is a two week period that occurs in the roughly eight week period between fruit set and veraison, where the clusters do not gain weight or size).  Starting to see some verason in Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Tinta Madeira, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec.

Probably a week or two away from seeing it in Cabernet Sauvignon as it is one of the later varieties. We look to be at least a week ahead of last year and up to three weeks ahead of “normal.”


Tapteil Vineyard, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley: Pea-sized berries, approaching bunch closure. Cluster count on vine: 28. Cluster size: Small. Harvest prediction: Late September.


Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley: Dog days of summer.

Portteus Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley: Fruit is still in the berry growth stage.

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DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley:  Catch wires are up on the morning side of the vine. Leaf stripping is in process in the fruiting zone to allow the sunlight on the clusters which ensures proper ripening.

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A spotlight on Yakima Valley’s Sub AVA – Rattlesnake Hills

The Yakima Valley AVA grows more than 40 different varietals of wine grapes. The success of this diversity can be attributed to the many different growing aspects within the AVA. The micro climates, heat variations, and different soils types within the three sub AVAs play a major role in successfully growing so many grape varieties.

Today’s blog focuses on the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.  The appellation is located in south-central Washington around the town of Zillah with the hills named after the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, which inhabits the area.

Elephant Mtn.1As a growing region, Rattlesnake Hills is almost evenly split between red and white wine grapes with reds having a slight edge. Riesling is a dominant white grape in this region producing wines with aromas and flavors of lime, lemon, and green apple.  Other sites in the appellation offer flavors with a little more stone fruit, particularly peach.

Merlots are notable for red fruit aromas and flavors, such as sweet cherries, red currants, and raspberries, along with chocolate and mint. For Cabernets, black cherry, cassis, and light, high-toned herbal notes are often the hallmarks.

The east-west trending Rattlesnake Hills are an anticline of the Yakima fold belt, a series of geologic folds that define a number of viticultural regions in the area.

The appellation itself lies on the south slope of the Rattlesnake Hills and includes the highest point in the Yakima Valley AVA. The Rattlesnake Hills’ distinguishing feature is its elevation relative to the surrounding area. Elevations range from 850 feet to 3,085 feet, although vineyard plantings are limited to the lower-lying areas.

The appellation’s heightened elevation lessens the risk of spring and fall frosts. Additionally, winter temperatures are warmer than the surrounding area, limiting the danger of hard freezes. The predominant soil types are silt-loam and loam.

The Rattlesnake Hills has an arid, continental climate and receives an average of 6 to 12 inches of rainfall annually. Irrigation is therefore required to grow vinifera grapes. The earliest vines at Rattlesnake Hills were planted in 1968.

The following wines represent the true characteristics of the fruit from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

Saviah Cellars’ 2011 G.S.M. Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills, $38
Beautiful ruby red color in the glass. Refined aromas of spiced red plums, black cherries, and cranberry, with hints of red peppercorns and wild roses. The flavors are concentrated and harmonious, delivering red and black fruits, which are complemented by refreshing acidity, along with notes of tea, white pepper, and allspice. An elegant, yet intensely flavored wine that is a perfect match for Mediterranean cuisine.

This wine is an exceptional representation of Rattlesnake Hills AVA showcasing some of the best attributes of the region. It won Best in show at the 2014 Great Northwest Wine Competition. Read about grower Joe Hattrup and his Elephant Mountain Vineyards.

AniChe Cellars 2011 Moth Love, Rattlesnake Hills, $34
Moth Love is a blend of 38% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre and 37% Grenache from Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Rich velvet black fruit, chocolate, black pepper and subtle hints of red meat. A full bodied, medium tannin wine. This wine pairs well with grilled steak, stews, and rich savory dishes.

Kennedy Shah 2008 Reserve Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $42
This rich & ripe Malbec displays dark espresso & mocha aromas leading into lush plum sauce, braised ripe fig & dark blueberry flavors. The long, creamy finish brings it all together very nicely.

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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.

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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


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

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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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