01 May Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.