It’s been several years since my first trip to the Yakima Valley. I remember being so surprised at the landscape, it didn’t look so different from home, in the desert of Nevada. Of course in the Yakima Valley, there is a river, bringing water and with it, agriculture.
The State of Washington is agriculture forward. They lead the country in growing cherries, apples, pears, hops, potatoes, onions, and grapes.
There are plenty of grapes grown here for Welches grape juice and jelly. More than that, they grow the kind of grapes, that if you are reading this, you care about. Wine grapes.
#WinePW explores the Yakima Valley
This month the writers at #WinePW (Wine Pairing Weekend) are partnering with Wine Yakima Valley to dive into all those wine grapes. You might be surprised at the range of varieties that are grown in this Valley. We will add links to all the articles by this fine group of writers at the bottom of this piece.
You can join us on Saturday, March 13th on Twitter to discuss the wines of this amazing region. You can join us, following and using the hashtag #WinePW at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.
The Yakima Valley AVA
The Yakima Valley AVA is a nested AVA inside theater Columbia Valley AVA in Washington State. Located in the Southern part of the state it spans over 70 miles from the city of Yakima in the west to the city of Richland to the east. At its widest point, you could fit the Napa Valley AVA from north to south.
Nested AVAs of the Yakima Valley
Within the Yakima Valley, you find 4 nested AVAs.
- Rattlesnake Hills est. 2006
- In the Northwest part of the valley, this is the largest of the sub AVAs covering 74,380 acres with 1,832 under vine. Elevations here run 850 to over 3000 feet.
- Snipes Mountain est. 2009
- Named for a rancher, Ben Snipes who live here in the 1850s, the AVA is 4,005 acres on both sides of the mountain. There are 859 acres under vine with more than 30 varieties.
- Red Mountain est. 2001
- Nope, it’s not really a mountain. It is a steep southwest slope in the east end of the valley with elevations between 500 and 1500 feet. It gets its name from the cheatgrass that grows here that is deep red in the spring. It is home to some of the most well-thought-of Cabernets in the State.
- Candy Mountain est. 2020
- Yep, this is the newbie! It’s just east of Red Mountain, covers only 815 acres, and has 110 acres under vine. (It’s so new that its not yet on the AVA map! But it would be just east of Red Mountain before you get to the Tri-Cities)
Volcanos, Floods, and soils
This region was volcanic. Think about it, Mount Adams, Mount Ranier, Mount Hood…there are stunning peaks everywhere. More than mountains, these were volcanos active 15 million years ago. All that lava is the basalt that lies under the top soils here in the Yakima Valley. This soil includes a wide variety of minerals and it’s well-draining. This gives you small berries, high in acid and full of concentrated flavors and textures.
This is also the land of the Missoula Floods and many vineyards will tell you where they are in relationship to the flood levels. The floods came up to 1200 feet here, so it’s only the higher vineyards that sit in soils above the flood levels, they are happy to show you the difference in the soils. You find deep silt loam over gravel or basalt.
The Missoula floods rolled through this region 13,000-15,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. An ice dam backed up the water in what is now Idaho. The water above it started to melt and the pressure built and the ice plug would get pushed up and release the water. The water would slow, the dam would reform….this happened over and over about 2000 years.
All those floods washed things downstream and you find boulders in vineyards on top of ridges and hills. Kitzke has one the size of a VW bus in their vineyard
The modern history of wine in the Yakima Valley
While the first grapes in the Yakima Valley were planted in 1869, it was the early 20th century when things picked up. In 1917 an agricultural research site was started in Prosser in the middle of the Yakima Valley.
Today it is known as the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. It was here that the wine grape growing in the state really kicked off, under the guidance of Dr. Walter Clore.
In 1962 Columbia Winery (at that time known as Associated Vintners) planted a 5.5 acres site in Sunnyside. In 1973 Mike Sauer planted his first Cabernet Sauvignon at Red Willow Vineyard, in 1975 Kiona on Red Mountain was planted. Now things were really rolling.
Associated Vineyards Winemaker David Lake, encouraged growers to plant Bordeaux varieties and in 1981 did the first vineyard-designate bottling from Red Willow Vineyard.
Yakima Valley’s Impact on Washington Wine
More than half of the grapes for Washington’s wines come from the Yakima Valley AVA. The region boasts 17,000 acres of vineyards, whose grapes go to both wineries within the region and further afield. Many of the tasting rooms in Seattle source fruit from the Yakima Valley.
This is a place where a vineyard name means something. 40 years ago David Lake did the first vineyard designate wine in the state. Red Willow, Klipsun, Boushey…these names are legendary here. The soils the weather, the people that grow the grapes…the more you know the more you want to know, and the learning is delicious.
On March 12th and 13th, the writers of the #WinePW Crew will post pieces on the wines and wineries of the Yakima Valley. When these posts go live I will include links here! In the meantime feel free to check out their sites, listed below.
Participating writers include:
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Cam
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass
- Terri of Our Good Life
- Payal at Keep The Peas
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Rupal the Syrah Queen
- Jane of Always Ravenous
- Martin with Enolylz
- David at Cooking Chat
- Nicole of Somm’s Table
- Jennifer at Vino Travels
- Gwendolyn the Wine Predator
- Susannah at Avvinare
- Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass
- Kat the Corkscrew Concierge
- And I’ll be hosting, here at Crushed Grape Chronicles
Don’t forget to join us on Saturday, March 13th on Twitter at 8 am Pacific or 11 am Eastern time (17.00 European Central Time), to discuss wines of the Yakima Valley! Just follow and use the hashtag #WinePW to join the conversation.
If you would like to join us and write a piece, there is still time. Email me at [email protected]!
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.