Red Mountain. If you have not heard of it, it perhaps conjures thoughts of red earth, or red trees covering a towering mountain. If you have heard of it, your brain defaults straight to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Red Mountain is an AVA in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. Here is a quick reminder on Washington State and it’s nested AVA’s.
That large brownish area at the center and east is the Columbia Valley AVA. You see it, the Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla AVA’s dipping over into Oregon. The Yakima Valley AVA encompasses a strip there in the center that includes Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA and then on the eastern edge of the AVA, the tiny little triangle labeled as Red Mountain.
So to begin, Red Mountain AVA is nested inside the Yakima Valley AVA which is nested inside the Columbia Valley AVA, like Russian dolls.
Red Mountain – not really red – not really a mountain
Red Mountain AVA is on Red Mountain, but it is not the entire mountain. We are talking grapes here right? In order to catch the best sun, the vineyards are on the southwest facing slope of the mountain. And then there is the term mountain, which indicates a landmass above the earth surface that typically rises above 2000 feet. Red Mountain is actually part of the fold belt that makes up the Yakima Valley and at it’s highest point sits at 1410 feet. As to the red? There is cheatgrass that in the spring is reddish. The vineyards here sit between 540 and 1400 feet. The whole AVA only covers 4,040 acres, the smallest in Washington State.
The Yakima River flows by, moderating temperatures and keeping away the threat of frost. It also provides water for irrigation. With only 5 to 6 inches of rainfall annually, irrigation is necessary.
The first vineyard was planted here in 1975, by Jim Holmes and John Williams. These two met when their desks got pushed together working at General Electric. Some things are kismet. The vineyard that grew from this friendship was the Ciel de Cheval Vineyard. Just a few years before, the land on Red Mountain was nothing but sagebrush, grass, cougars and snakes. Power and irrigation had been brought in. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what the AVA has come to be known for, and the site is still revered for the quality of fruit it produces.
John & Jim started Kiona Vineyard & Winery, the first winery on Red Mountain. The Williams, John & Ann, built a house and opened Kiona’s tasting room. Their son Scott helped with planting the vineyard and eventually took over. Scott’s son JJ now works for Kiona.
The buzz for Red Mountain spread, first with other friends and co-workers jumping on the bandwagon. Today there are around 2,200 vineyard acres planted in this small AVA. There are over 15 wineries in the AVA with loads of others jostling to get in line for some of the prized fruit that comes from these vineyards.
What makes Red Mountain fruit so good?
Well, the soil here, has a decided lack of nutrients. It also has a high pH. This combines with the wind to cause small berries with thick skins which give you a greater skin to flesh ratio, as well as higher tannins. That gives you much more intense juice.
Wines from Red Mountain are some of the most well thought of and highly rated wines in Washington State.
For More information visit
- The Red Mountain AVA
- Washington State Wine – Red Mountain AVA
- Cotes de Ciel
- Kiona Wine – the Story and the People
- Yakima Valley Wines
More to come
We visited with Sarah Goedhart, winemaker at Hedges Family Estate, while we were in Red Mountain and look forward to bringing you our conversation with her soon. In the meantime, you can see a few photos and a bit of our conversation with her, as well as a bit on the Goedhart Family Syrah at the links below.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.