Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills

Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley

We finished our breakfast and morning flyover seminar, courtesy of Wine Yakima Valley.  With caffeine ingested and a little more information to give us a some perspective on the Yakima Valley, we headed to Elephant Mountain Vineyard.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA

This is a super nested AVA, inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is itself nested within the Columbia Valley AVA. (It is the darker region north of 82 to the West side of the map).

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

Located on the North Western side of the Yakima Valley AVA the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was established in 2006 with vineyards dating back to 1968.  It’s about four miles south east of the city of Yakima, where we were staying.  The AVA spans over 74,000 acres with around 1,800 under vine.

Rattlesnake Hills take in the hills running east to west, that are north of the Yakima River.  Elevations for here are high, starting at 850 feet and going to over 3,000 feet, with most vineyards planted in the lower elevations.

Want to get really geeky on this area?  Visit the washingtonwine.org page for Rattlesnake Hills  https://www.washingtonwine.org/wine/facts-and-stats/regions-and-avas/rattlesnake-hills

Elephant Mountain Vineyard

It was October and harvest as we drove into Elephant Mountain Vineyard.  We passed bins filled with fruit harvested that morning and had to stop and take grape glamour shots. 

We climbed up the mountain through the vineyards surrounded by high desert landscape.  I will admit to it feeling a little odd.  We are from Vegas and to see a vineyard in the midst of this landscape was a little disconcerting.  We climbed the hill to the picnic area on top, where picnic tables were set out with bottles of wine and plates of wine grapes.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Elephant Mountain Vineyard, in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnack Hills AVA

The Vineyard itself is located on the southern slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge which sits at the base of Elephant Mountain.  The ridge sits above the Missoula Flood plain.  Elevations here sit from 1320-1460 feet.The high elevation here means that they have about 30 more frost free days than the rest of the Yakima Valley.

Varieties Grown at Elephant Mountain

First planted in 1998 with Merlot and Cabernet, the vineyard has expanded to almost 120 acres which now includes Cab Franc, Mourvédre, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Counoise, Barbera and Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne. 

I mentioned the grapes on the table.  It was a gorgeous line-up for tasting the ripe grapes of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouvédre, Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne.

  • Cinsault grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Roussanne grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Marsanne & Counoise grapes at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Co got started giving us a little background on the area and then, Joe Hattrup, the owner of the vineyard met us to speak about the vineyard. 

Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Joe Hattrup speaking to us about his Elephant Mountain Vineyard

Joe has been a farmer all of his life, but when they started this vineyard, he was new to wine grapes. So they set up a test block to see what worked and learn about the grapes before planting them in the commercial blocks.

Elephant Mountain Vineyard map
Elephant Mountain Vineyard map

They began as I said with Cab & Merlot and quickly got into Syrah. From there they found tat this site with it’s high elevation was good for many of the Rhône varieties. Most Rhônes are late ripening and the elevation here gives them those 30 additional days frost free, as well a great southern exposure late in the year to help with ripening.

They do have a second vineyard, Sugarloaf, also in the Rattlesnake Hills. He mentioned that they had pulled out the Viognier here at Elephant Mountain to plant Grenache which is in high demand and grows better with the protection this site provides.

A little on the Geography

We mentioned the elevation here, but Co put this into perspective with a few stats. At this point in the Yakima Valley, the river sits at 900 feet, and we were standing at about 1450 feet. When you head east to Red Mountain, the river there sits at around 400 feet. So you can see the valley is much lower there.

  • Desert, Vineyard and basalt. In Yakima Valley's Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Basalt at Elephant Mountain Vineyard

We were standing in a ring of basalt lava rocks which informs the soils. Up on the ridge behind us, if you look closely, you can see a tree line. A band of trees sites at about 1600 feet, right at the line for moisture, fog and snow.

The views

Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
Spectacular panorama of the Yakima Valley from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • View of Mount Adams from Elephant Mountain Vineyard
  • Looking South from Elephant Mountain Vineyard across the Yakima Valley
  • Vineyard View Elephant Mountain.

The wines

The lineup of wines on the table, all from wineries who source from this vineyard, was diverse and impressive!  The grapes are concentrated and the wines from these grapes tend to be really inky.

We tasted a wide sampling of Rhône varieties and blends from an assortment of wineries, all with fruit from this vineyard. It was really interesting to see the reflection of the fruit with it’s similarities and then the expression of the various winemakers on top of this.

  • Wines made with Elephant Mountain fruit WBC18

We were treated to a great lunch following this tasting. A food truck with Authentic Mexican food arrived to fill our bellies. I felt even more at home, with food truck the desert sage brush. Once full, we climbed back into our vans and headed to Walla Walla for the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference. But along the way, we took in some spectacular views and our driver filled us in on the history of the area, ancient as well as recent.

I’ll do yet another shout out to Barbara Glover at Wine Yakima Valley. This visit that she planned for us was entertaining, informative and beautifully paced. Thanks also to Co Dinn and Joe Hattrup for taking the time to give us these great insights into the Yakima Valley Wine Region. And of course to WBC18, without which we might not have visited this beautiful region.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

What comes to mind with you think of “Pinot”? Do you think of a ruby-red pinot noir from Burgundy or a rich deep pinot from Sonoma? Is it the pale straw of a pinot grigio from Italy? Whatever color variation of this grape you thought of, you probably were not thinking of Alsace when you thought of it. I’m here to tell you why you should, because #AlsaceRocks.

The Shades of Pinot

First lets talk about pinot. We begin with pinot noir, a grape with a thin skin that can be notoriously fickle. It has tight bunches (that are shaped like pine cones, hence the name) that are prone to rot.  It wants lots of sun, but doesn’t want to be too hot. Luckily, the Cistercian monks in Burgundy found their penance in the hard work of coddling this grape to it’s greatness.

From here we get the mutations: pinot blanc and pinot gris. Simply enough, pinot blanc is a white grape mutation and pinot gris is a “grey” grape. While not truly grey, pinot gris sits in the in between hue ranging from bluish gray to pinkish brown. Of course pinot gris is the French term for this grape, in Italy they call it pinot grigio.

Beyond this we get Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine that can be made from any of the pinots, (and upon occasion some “not pinots” like chardonnay) but all Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must be made from pinot noir, in the method traditionelle.

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Alsace

This region is perfect for these wines as they thrive in the dry climate created by the Vosges Mountains. Alsace is a thin strip on the North eastern edge of France. This area has gone back and forth between Germany and France for centuries and the style of houses and names of towns attest to that fact.  It’s a fairytale land with charming villages with half-timbered buildings, dotted with flower boxes. You can explore these delightful towns on the oldest wine route in France, that travels 106 miles from Marlenheim to Thann, stopping to taste the wines and the food as you explore this beautiful region.

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

Then there is the soil.  We did say #AlsaceRocks right?  This area at the foot of the Vosges Mountains is a patchwork of soils.  You find granite, and sandstone, limestone, schist and volcanic soils. Once, fifty million years ago, the Black Forest and the Vosges were a single mountain range, pushed up by the plates.  When this collapsed it formed the Rhine River.  All that shifting around will geologically mix up some soil, and hence you get all these varied pockets of soil that add fascinating diversity to the vineyards.

The Wines & Pairings

Pinots from Alsace; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Crémant d'Alsace

A range of pinots from Alsace from Teuwen Communications (and Loki)

Now lets dive into the hues of pinots. @DrinkAlsace was kind enough to provide us a variety of pinots to taste through. (All opinions are my own) We begin with a 2017 Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, followed by a 2012 Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to a 2015 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir and finishing with a Crémant d’Alscace Rosé from Domaine Zinck. All but one of these wines come from the village of Eguisheim. The Pinot Gris is the exception coming from Riquewirh.

Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Traditional 2017

Emile Beyer is a 43 acre family estate just outside of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. This wine comes from younger vineyards on the estate.  The soil here is clay, sandstone & chalky marl, and the grapes are mostly Pinot Blanc with a little Auxerrois. Alcohol sits at about 13%. $15

Cheeses

I searched for cheeses to pair with this wine and went off to look for a Saint-Nectaire and a Chaource.

Chaource is a named for the village of Chaource in France. It is a very soft ripened cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is soft and buttery. My Murray’s guy found me a domestic equivalent that did not disappoint. Murray’s Delice is a lovely soft ripened cheese that really and truly melted in your mouth. It went nicely with the wine.

Delice from Murray's

Delice from Murray’s Cheese shop, similar to a Chaource

Saint-Nectaire is a Tomme style cheese again from cow’s milk. It is a semi soft washed rind cheese. It specifically comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from the mild of cows that feed in rich volcanic pastures. It matures 6-8 weeks on rye straw mats, which causes a pungent smell.

My Murray’s guy pointed me toward a Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese which was similar to an Alpine raclette. This gave us a different texture to compare with the Delice. Michael found it too pungent, but I enjoyed it.

 

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese similar to a Saint-Nectaire cheese from France

Appetizer

I had envied a fellow blogger his grilled peaches the other day, and planned on making some myself. I got running behind on dinner and instead sliced my peach and plopped a little goat cheese on it, a leaf of basil and wrapped it in prosciutto. This was definitely the right decision, both time wise and pairing wise. The fresh peach was still a little firm and with the goat cheese was really nice with the wine, picking up on those unripe stone fruit notes. It was also cool and easy to eat. I suggest these bites for all summer!.

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and proscuitto

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and prosciutto

Frittata

I knew the minute I saw the suggestion of an egg dish with this wine, that I would go that direction. I looked through quiche recipes and then settled on the simplicity of a Frittata. This wine loves spring vegetables so a spring green salad would go along side. I quick pickled some small golden beets and radishes in honey and white wine vinegar to add to the top with some pine nuts.

The frittata I filled with broccoli, peas and green beans that I quickly blanched, then I sautéed golden beets, radishes and zucchini and let them develop a little crunch. I added a cup of ricotta to add a creamy cheese to the mix that would not be too heavy. Red onions were sautéed before dropping in the egg mixture. And it cooked to perfection in my rod iron skillet.

Sprint salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Spring salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Gris 2012

René Dopff took over Dopff & Irion in 1945 as he joined forces with the Widow Madame Irion, taking over the Château de Riquewirh. The Château was built in 1549 by the Princes of Württemberg who ruled this area for 5 centuries.

The village of Riquewihr in Alsace France

The Village of Riquewirh in Alsace. Home of Dopff and Irion

This wine is 100% Pinot Gris with soil in marl, limestone, gypsum, clay and sandstone. This cuveé comes from 200 selected vine-growers. It is stored on lees for 4 weeks before maturing in tank for four months. Like the Pinot Blanc it sits at 13% alcohol. $21.

Exotic and Strange Pairings

Dopff & Irion suggestioned “Pair with oriental and exotic cuisine like prawns with Thai Sauce, chicken curry or cottage cheese with pepper.  “Cottage cheese with pepper? It seemed strange to me, but I was definitely going to try this! Other suggestions included mushrooms and cream sauces, triple crème cheeses, green beans, and tikka masala.

So our pairings included a triple crème cheese with mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, apricot compote, cottage cheese with pepper, green beans, mushroom risotto, tikka masala, chicken in a thai curry sauce and fettuccine with chicken and a crème sauce. It gave a wide variety of styles of food to pair with.

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This wine was full and warm on the palate with baked apples and warm apricots. It was lush with a viognier like quality. Golden in color it opened into white flowers and the stones of stone fruit.

It spiked the flavor in the hazelnuts, blended nicely with the cottage cheese and pepper and brightened the spice in the Tikka Masala without adding heat.

With the mushrooms it leaned into the depth of forest floor. My favorite bite was the triple crème with mushrooms with the apricot compote. This was glorious in my mouth.

This wine was exceptional. So much depth! While I enjoyed all the wines, this was my favorite.

Route-des-vinsd'Alsace

Route-des-vinsd’Alsace

House of Leon Beyer 2015 Pinot Noir

This wine is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates. Founded in 1580 this winery is now run by Marc Beyer and his son, who along with a team of 21 others farm 173 acres.

The soils are limestone and clay with grapes from vines that are 25 to 30 years old. This wine was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks. It sits at 13%. $28.

This wine is light with warm berries and bright exotic spice. The nose reminded me of a savory strawberry tart with warm strawberries and rosemary and thyme.

I found this wine to be much more interesting when paired with food, than on it’s own.

Domaine Zinck Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

Paul Zinck created the winery in 1964, it is now run by his son Philippe and Philippe’s wife Pascale.

This winery is also located in Eguisheim, with vineyards with soils of silk, chalk with clay-silt and volcanic ash.

This Non Vintage crémant is 100% Pinot Noir and sits at 12.5% alcohol. $25

The color on this wine is rich and warm as it also is on the palate.

Pairings for Both

Both of these wines we paired with a cheese and meat platter. We pulled up a variety of cheeses including a local cheddar from Utah coated in Earl Grey as well as prosciutto and sopresso, pistachios, pine nuts, sliced apples, apricots and salt and pepper popcorn.

Crémant d'Alsace & Pinot Noir from Alsace and a cheese platter

Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Zinck and a Leon Beyer Pinot Noir paired with cheese, fruit, charcuterie and salt and pepper popcorn.

These two wines were lovely to enjoy on an afternoon with the pinot noir going nicely with the Earl Grey cheddar, the sopresso and the salt and pepper popcorn most especially. The crémant went well with everything and had a great depth of flavor.

All of these wines were exceptional values and provided flavors that were not quite “typical” for the varieties.

And remember I mentioned the hues?  The colors, the aromas, the flavors on the palate, they all brought a range of depth.  From the faintest color of straw in the Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, to the rich gold of the Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to the warm rich golden salmon tones of the Crémant d’Alsace from Zinck and into the vivid rich red of the Pinot Noir from Leon Beyer,  the range of expression in these wines was beautiful.  It was a trip through the seasons; spring with Pinot Blanc and the brightness that went so well with the spring vegetables in the frittata; summer with the warmer exotic flavors pairing with the vivid Pinot Gris, that brought in a little of humid lazy summer days with it’s brooding side; fall with the rich warm tones of the Crémant d’Alsace, which did really look like fall in the glass; and then the richer warmer red of the Pinot Noir for Winter, that still keeps things a little light, I picture snow sparkling in moonlight amidst the festive streets of Eguisheim.

These wines brought something a little extra. Perhaps it is the soils? I mean it is true that #AlsaceRocks

If you enjoyed this, and want to dig a little deeper into Alsace, please join our chat on Twitter We love visitors and happily chat and answer questions. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of great Alsace wine suggestions from our Winophiles

You can check out another piece we did “Dipping my toe in Crémant d’Alsace“.  And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Spring in the Vineyard

Spring time in the vineyard
Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Spring arrived a week or so ago, and much of the country has finally seen flowers start to bloom and things start to green up.  I have kept track of spring in California, as vineyards in many areas saw early an early warm spell, which actually caused an early bud break for some white varietals in Napa Valley.  This was followed by cold spells that had vineyard managers seeing sleepless nights as they monitored for frost.  Then they got rain and clouds, that turned early spring breakers away from the coast.  Now the warm temps are back and bud break has begun in many areas.

Now I am seeing beautiful photos on my Instagram feed of vineyards carpeted in green, dotted with flowers and the dormant vines spouting plumps ends, that are starting to open and leaf out.  So it seems appropriate to dive into a little of what happens in spring in the vineyards.

Spring

Perfect spring conditions have the weather warming gradually. The barren vines become dotted with bright green buds. Bud break when the tiny buds of green burst forward with those vividly bright green leaves. The vines coming back to life after being dormant all winter is a time for celebration right?

Sadly, with spring comes spring frosts, and those are a nightmare for those who work in the vineyards.

Paso Robles vineyard in the Central Coast Wine Country

A beautiful West Side Paso Vineyard in the hills, green with spring.

Frost & frost protection

If you have ever driven by a citrus grove in winter, you might see the big barrels for fire (smudge pots) and fans to spread around the warm air. This can be used in vineyards also.

Fans

Large fans or wind machines are used in vineyards to move the air around. This directs the warmer air from above down toward the vines and displaces the colder air on the ground away from the vines. You need one of these machines for every 10 to 12 acres of vineyard.

Heaters

Heaters or smudge pots can be used to heat the air in the vineyards. These heaters typically burn about a gallon of diesel oil per hour and give off a thick warm smoke that the vineyard fans then circulate to keep the vines from freezing. Mind you, this is not just about the heat from the smudge pots, it is also about the smoke, particulates, carbon dioxide and water vapor. This “smog” is a layer blocking out infrared light which prevents radiant cooling. This method requires about 25 smudge pots per acre, which are typically at the edges of the vineyard.

Balleto Winery, Sprinkler head in Vineayrd

Balletto Winery, Sprinkler head in Vineyard

Overhead sprinklers

Now most vineyards now also have an overhead sprinkler system. When it gets to freezing a fine mist is turned on, it coats the buds and keeps them from freezing. Here’s the magic of this, as the water changes to ice, it releases a small amount of heat and that is what protects the vines. Of course this depends on the water continuing to flow and continuing to freeze and give off this latent heat. Of course this leaves you at the mercy of the amount of water in a vineyard. During times of drought this kind of frost protection becomes difficult.

Preventative mowing

Vineyards will also mow down the cover crops to allow for airflow down off of hillsides and into valleys. This protects the hillside vines. Also they do not till or cultivate the soil, because that would let out the heat in the soil.

What kind of damage can frost do?

It can completely wipe out the buds on a vine. Vines can re-sprout, they will do this if the primary buds are destroyed. The problem with this is that when your pruned, you set up for where the vine would sprout and the secondary sprouts may not be so conveniently located. It also will severely diminish the amount of grapes for harvest.

This is why many vineyard managers and winemakers spend endless sleepless nights in the spring worrying about frost. Nights are spent tracking temperature patterns hourly and if the temperature drops getting out there and turning on that frost protection equipment and hoping for the best. Okay…enough of the scary part…on to bud break.

Bud break

This is the opening of the buds left behind by pruning. These fuzzy beady little things have all the stuff to grow leaves, shoots, tendrils and berries.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Flowering

About a month after bud bread the flowers come out. These are tight bunches of tiny flowers, and each flower has the potential to become a grape.

Shatter

Standby for more scary stuff. Wind and frost can wipe out the flowers and that would mean that those bunches of grapes would never form. There is the possibility of a re-sprout, but at this point in the vines season the yield will be considerably smaller.

Fruit Set

This is when the flowers start to take the shape of grapes in the cluster. As the are pollinated the flowers drop their petals and tiny green sphere emerge.

Now things are warming up and we are moving into summer.  When things really get rolling in the vineyard!

You can check out our pages on the seasons in the vineyard at “the seasons”

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