Premium Grapes from the Red Mountain AVA

The Red Mountain AVA
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Red Mountain rising above the rows

Fine wine is the result of a complex and delicate process. Winemaking itself — from soil to grape, from barrel to table — is an intricate collaboration between man and nature that is sometimes described as mysterious… and even magical.

If you stand near the top of Red Mountain during the growing season, you'll experience a part of that magic. The gusting warm air you’ll feel is one of many forces that blend to make Red Mountain grapes unique. Flowing through the vineyards, these prevailing winds from the southwest help keep the grape clusters small, concentrating the flavors of the fruit and contributing to richness and intensity of Red Mountain wines.

These individual forces — the wind, the soil, the climate, the geography — combine to produce distinctive grapes, much as individual members of an orchestra combine to produce exquisite music.

Quintessence Vineyard Manager Marshall Edwards puts it more directly: “You can’t get bad fruit off of Red Mountain.”

The Region

The Red Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA) rests in the Southeast corner of Washington State. It is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. As if geographically destined to produce wine, the AVA lies on the same latitude as the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France.

Some consider Red Mountain to be Washington’s most well-defined and distinctive viticultural area, partially due to its geography. Facing southwest, its moderately steep slope rises above a sharp bend in the Yakima River, just west of the Tri-Cities region of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, in what many call the heart of the Columbia Valley.

Springtime visitors to the area are greeted by the reddish hue of the native cheatgrass, from which the mountain takes its name.

History

The growing of grapes on Red Mountain began in 1975, when ten acres of vineyard were established. The first wines produced were remarkably good, and the reputation of Red Mountain began to grow immediately. Decades of successful growth followed, and Red Mountain became a federally designated American Viticultural Area on April 3, 2001.

But the real history of Red Mountain begins earlier — about 12,000 years earlier — with the massive Missoula Floods of the last ice age.

During the Missoula floods, fast-traveling flood waters swept around Red Mountain, making it an island. The flood waters gradually defined the landscape, developing soft mountain slopes and depositing nutrient rich top soils over sand, silt and gravel. In the years after the floods, wind-blown loess was deposited, creating a thin mantle of dunes that vary in thickness throughout the AVA.

Evidence of the flooding remains visible today, particularly in the isolated, misplaced rocks and boulders totally foreign to this area, called erratics. Granitic erratics, the most common type, are easy to spot in this region because of their light color. They stand out in stark contrast to the dark, local basalt and sparse, low-growing vegetation.

Soil

Today, the predominant soil types within the AVA include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay series of wind blown soils. This variety of soil presents a combination of sand, silt and loam which are exceptional for growing vinifera.

The high alkalinity and calcium carbonate content of the soil, along with its granular consistency, allows for grapevines to form a well-established root system. In soils with this composition, root systems are able to reach deep to obtain the necessary nutrients and moisture.

Climate

The climate of the region is considered “high desert”. With the rain shadow of the Cascade range limiting rainfall to less than 6 inches annually, there is almost no precipitation during the growing season. These conditions allow vineyards to employ strictly-controlled irrigation methods to optimize the growth cycle of their vines — and provide the added benefit of dramatically lower mold and mildew pressure compared to most vineyard regions.

The Red Mountain AVA has one of the most unusual terroirs in the area, with warmer temperatures and more sunlight hours than any other part of the Columbia Valley AVA. The nighttime temperatures drop considerably, helping to preserve the acid levels within the grape. As the Yakima River flows past the area, it provides a moderating effect on the temperature.

In autumn, cool air from the north, seeking the lower elevation of the river valley, moves downwards across the hillsides planted with vineyards and helps keep the grapes from being overheated. The constant air movement prevents air from settling in the area and allowing frost to damage the grapes.

The area enjoys long, warm, summer days, and crisp cool nights. The dry weather combined with rich volcanic soils and controlled irrigation produce near-perfect conditions for premium wine grapes.

The Red Mountain AVA is known for producing powerful, tannic red wines noted for their balance in flavors, with an intense concentration of berry flavors. In contrast to the Cabernet Sauvignon from other areas of the state, the Cabernets here are considered more structured than fruit-driven. The primary Cabernet Sauvignon clone found here is clone #8, which in Red Mountain produces a Cabernet wine similar in profile to a California wine.

Red Mountain grapes are in increasingly high demand and with some vineyards receiving as much as 30% above market price for their crops. The wide range of varietals grown throughout the region includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, among others.

As the AVA continues to thrive, Red Mountain shares in the success of Washington wines overall, which in 2013 grew at a rate of 12% — faster than many of the top growing regions.

AVA Technical Information

Size
4,040 acres, the smallest Washington American Viticultural Area

Region
Similar to Region IV with approximately 3,200 degree days but with significantly higher total acids than are typically found in this warm a region.

Elevation
540 feet to 1,400 feet

Slope
Classic southwest slope, 0-15%

Soils
Predominately Warden, Hezel, and Scootenay

Sunlight
2 hours more per day during the growing season than Napa Valley

Annual rainfall
Five to six inches

Irrigation
Mostly drip via deep wells and the Yakima River

Estimated plantable acreage
2,700 acres

First planted
1975

Root stock
Own-rooted, small amounts grafted

Major varietals grown
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot

Average yield
3.2 tons per acre

Price per ton
Approximately three times the state average

The Region

TheThe visual splendor of fall on Red Mountain Red Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA) rests in the Southeast corner of Washington State. It is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. As if geographically destined to produce wine, the AVA lies on the same latitude as the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France.

Some consider Red Mountain to be Washington’s most well-defined and distinctive viticultural area, partially due to its geography. Facing southwest, its moderately steep slope rises above a sharp bend in the Yakima River, just west of the Tri-Cities region of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, in what many call the heart of the Columbia Valley.

Springtime visitors to the area are greeted by the reddish hue of the native cheatgrass, from which the mountain takes its name.

History

The growing of grapes on Red Mountain began in 1975, when ten acres of vineyard were established. The first wines produced were remarkably good, and the reputation of Red Mountain began to grow immediately. Decades of successful growth followed, and Red Mountain became a federally designated American Viticultural Area on April 3, 2001.

But the real history of Red Mountain begins earlier — about 12,000 years earlier — with the massive Missoula Floods of the last ice age.

Granitic boulders, foreign to the region, were deposited by ice age floods.During the Missoula floods, fast-traveling flood waters swept around Red Mountain, making it an island. The flood waters gradually defined the landscape, developing soft mountain slopes and depositing nutrient rich top soils over sand, silt and gravel. In the years after the floods, wind-blown loess was deposited, creating a thin mantle of dunes that vary in thickness throughout the AVA.

Evidence of the flooding remains visible today, particularly in the isolated, misplaced rocks and boulders totally foreign to this area, called erratics. Granitic erratics, the most common type, are easy to spot in this region because of their light color. They stand out in stark contrast to the dark, local basalt and sparse, low-growing vegetation.

Soil

Today, the predominant soil types within the AVA include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay series of wind blown soils. This variety of soil presents a combination of sand, silt and loam which are exceptional for growing vinifera.

The unique, wind-blown soil of the Red Mountain AVAThe high alkalinity and calcium carbonate content of the soil, along with its granular consistency, allows for grapevines to form a well-established root system. In soils with this composition, root systems are able to reach deep to obtain the necessary nutrients and moisture.

Climate

The climate of the region is considered “high desert”. With the rain shadow of the Cascade range limiting rainfall to less than 6 inches annually, there is almost no precipitation during the growing season. These conditions allow vineyards to employ strictly-controlled irrigation methods to optimize the growth cycle of their vines — and provide the added benefit of dramatically lower mold and mildew pressure compared to most vineyard regions.

The Red Mountain AVA has one of the most unusual terroirs in the area, with warmer temperatures and more sunlight hours than any other part of the Columbia Valley AVA. The nighttime temperatures drop considerably, helping to preserve the acid levels within the grape. As the Yakima River flows past the area, it provides a moderating effect on the temperature.

Gently sloping rows encourage the cooling downward flow of autumn airIn autumn, cool air from the north, seeking the lower elevation of the river valley, moves downwards across the hillsides planted with vineyards and helps keep the grapes from being overheated. The constant air movement prevents air from settling in the area and allowing frost to damage the grapes.

The area enjoys long, warm, summer days, and crisp cool nights. The dry weather combined with rich volcanic soils and controlled irrigation produce near-perfect conditions for premium wine grapes.

The Red Mountain AVA is known for producing powerful, tannic red wines noted for their balance in flavors, with an intense concentration of berry flavors. In contrast to the Cabernet Sauvignon from other areas of the state, the Cabernets here are considered more structured than fruit-driven. The primary Cabernet Sauvignon clone found here is clone #8, which in Red Mountain produces a Cabernet wine similar in profile to a California wine.

Red Mountain grapes are in increasingly high demand and as a result they consistently command a premium price. The wide range of varietals grown throughout the region includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, among others.

As the AVA continues to thrive, Red Mountain shares in the success of Washington wines overall, which in 2013 grew at a rate of 12% — faster than many of the top growing regions.

AVA Technical Information

Size
4,040 acres, the smallest Washington American Viticultural Area

Region
Similar to Region IV with approximately 3,200 degree days but with significantly higher total acids than are typically found in this warm a region.

Elevation
540 feet to 1,400 feet

Slope
Classic southwest slope, 0-15%

Soils
Predominately Warden, Hezel, and Scootenay

Sunlight
2 hours more per day during the growing season than Napa Valley

Annual rainfall
Five to six inches

Irrigation
Mostly drip via deep wells and the Yakima River

Estimated plantable acreage
2,700 acres

First planted
1975

Major varietals grown
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot

Average yield
3.2 tons per acre

Price per ton
Approximately three times the state average

Source: Red Mountain AVA Alliance