Since the dawn of time, natural forces have worked powerfully and mysteriously and, in rare circumstances, have aligned to collectively create earthly wonders, such as exquisite gems that are singular in all the world. One of those gems remained hidden in plain view, waiting patiently for thousands of years until such time certain adventurous, wine-loving souls would have the wisdom and foresight to reveal it to the world. This is the story of Red Mountain’s terroir.
Red Mountain became a federally designated American Viticultural Area (AVA) on April 3, 2001. Comprised of 4,040 (16 km) acres, the defined boundary of the Red Mountain grape- growing region is presently the smallest AVA in Washington State. Distinguishable by geographic features including tributary, soil and slope, approximately some 2200 acres of the Red Mountain AVA are under cultivation with an estimated total of 2700 acres of potential plantings. Red Mountain is defined by natural borders, with the ridge of the mountain to the north and the Yakima River to the west. Red Mountain resembles a growing region more like the Old World, where one can see each block of each vineyard from a single vantage point.
The name Red Mountain is attributed to the geographic land mass that rises like a silent sentinel over the region. At an elevation of 1410 ft, Red Mountain rests in the Southeast corner of Washington State as a result of the ice-age flooding of Glacial Lake Missoula. Red Mountain takes it name from a native grass called “drooping brome” or “cheatgrass”, which imbues a reddish hue to the mountain slopes in the springtime.
The Southwest slope of Red Mountain lies within what was once a backwater eddy during the time of the Missoula floods. The predominant soil types within the AVA include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay series of wind blown soils (loess), which were deposited over the glacial sediments from the giant pre-historic floods. This variety of soil presents a combination of sand, silt and loam which are exceptional for growing vinifera.
Due to the warm temperatures during the growing season, red grape varieties, with an emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon, dominate on Red Mountain. There are, however, limited plantings of white grape varieties as well, particularly Sauvignon Blanc.
Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be full bodied, dark, and dense with dark cherry aromas and flavors. Merlots can be powerfully tannic—even more so than Cabernet. Red Mountain Syrahs tend to be bold and full-bodied, with abundant dark fruit flavors and mineral notes. Red Mountain wines often have a distinct minerality. 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.
A sub-appellation of Yakima Valley (which is, in turn, a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley), Red Mountain is located in south-central Washington, a three and one-half hour drive from Seattle.
Byron Marlowe, PhD. says
Thank you for sharing the story of Red Mountain, this local AVA to the Tri-Cities of Washington is a must see and I’m happy to see the excursions planned there.