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Washington Wine Regions

The Lay of the Land


Washington Wine Regions

Snipes Mountain AVA

Dr. Alan Busacco

Red Mountain AVA: Established in 2001, as a sub-appellation of the Yakima Valley, this is Washington State’s smallest AVA with only about 4,000 acres and 700 of those acres under vine. Cabernet Sauvignon performs very well in this AVA, with very little rainfall, plenty of sunshine producing warm days and yielding to cool nights and just the right mix of gravel and calcium carbonate in the soil. Wineries that source their grapes from the Red Mountain AVA include: Kiona Vineyards, Fidelitas , Cadence Winery, Quilceda Creek Vintners, Chateau Ste Michelle, and Hedges Cellars.

Link: Red Mountain AVA

Columbia Gorge AVA: This AVA encompasses 300 square miles and crosses the Columbia River, just east of Vancouver and dips down into Oregon’s wine country. This is the most diverse of Washington’s AVAs with the maritime climate ushered in on the west side of the region and the eastern side of the area reaching past the Cascade Mountains and into the arid desert climate of eastern Washington. With this variety, you are bound to find a myriad of microclimates and just as many grape varietals. The cooler climate of the western side of the Columbia Gorge yields Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay. While the warmer, more arid climate of the eastern aspect caters to warm-weather vines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and even Zinfandel.

Link: Columbia Gorge

Horse Heaven Hills AVA: Saddled between the Yakima and Columbia Rivers, this AVA has a reputation for wind and well-drained sandy soils. At 200-1800 feet in elevation, there is enough slope diversity to accommodate a variety of grape varieties. The most commonly grown varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling. Well-known wineries that source grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA include L'Ecole Nº 41, Hogue Cellars, Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Crest, Canoe Ridge and Andrew Will.

Link: Horse Heaven Hills

Wahluke Slope AVA: The Wahluke Slope at first glance appears to be situated in No Man’s Land, but it is in fact one of the best wine growing regions in Washington. Sand, silt and gravel make up the majority of the soil content and dry climate conditions offer claims on some of Washington’s hottest temps for grape growing. As such, dominant varietals you can expect to come out of the Wahluke Slope include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, along with Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Key wineries that source from the Wahluke Slope are Hogue Cellars, Three Rivers Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Snoqualmie Vineyards.

Link: Wahluke Slope

Rattlesnake Hills AVA: The Rattlesnake Hills AVA is a specifically defined growing region that is partially surrounded by the well-known Yakima Valley AVA and Columbia Valley AVA. What makes the Rattlesnake Hills unique? Basically it’s the elevated east-west lying hill country that rises out of the Yakima Valley landscape. These hills offer vineyard space that is both well-drained and well-protected against heavy frost.

Link: Rattlesnake Hills

Snipes Mountain AVA: Snipes Mountain, named after Ben Snipes, a local pioneering rancher who lived on the mountain in the mid-1850s, is a recently recognized AVA in Washington, established in 2009. Snipes Mountain is roughly a mile wide and 10 miles long, and is completely contained within the Yakima Valley AVA. It was designated as a distinct AVA due in large part to the unique soils and elevation (800-1200 feet) of the hill-top growing area. It’s interesting to note, that you can find large river rock scattered throughout the soil on top of the hillcrest, providing quick clues to where the Columbia River likely traveled in days of old. Over 30 grape varietals are grown on Snipes Mountain with about the same number of wineries sourcing grapes from this AVA.

Lake Chelan AVA: This is eastern Washington’s most northern wine growing region. It enjoys a higher elevation and, with nearby Lake Chelan’s influence, a more moderate climate than most of Washington’s other AVAs. The Lake Chelan appellation enjoys sandy soils with marked mineral deposits. The dominant grapes grown in this region include: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay for white wines and Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir for red grapes.

Link: Lake Chelan Wine Valley

For more information on Washington Wines, check out the Washington Wine Commission site.

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