Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope: Hot in More Ways Than One

By Kori ~ September 10th, 2008.

Red Mountain is generally considered the hottest AVA in Washington State. And by hot, I mean that it is home to some of the most highly sought after vineyards in the state. While Red Mountain is more well-known, Wahluke Slope is hot on its heels as prized vineyard land. And both Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope have some of the hottest weather in the state.

“For all of Washington’s wine types, specific vineyard regions are starting to emerge as distinctive.” –Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator magazine, July 31, 2008

Recently, Dad (John) and I have had the pleasure to visit a number of vineyards around the state of Washington.

Located just off Interstate 82 in Benton City, Red Mountain was designated as an official AVA in 2001. On Red Mountain, we visited Kiona, Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Grand Ciel, Ranch at the End of the Road, and Taptiel. Ironically, most Red Mountain vineyards have very little slope. Most feature gently rolling sandy hills without much rock. Red Mountain vineyards seem to do best growing Bordeaux varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Wahluke Slope, designated as an official AVA in 2006, may be “young” but is quickly garnering a lot of attention. Located near the small town of Mattawa between the Saddle Mountains and the Columbia River, this area has long been known for its orchards. In recent years, a number of the tree-fruit growers have been pulling up some of their orchards to plant vineyards. In the Wahluke Slope, we visited Clifton, Clifton Hill, Katherine Leone, Gilbert, and Riverbend. Most of these vineyards feature sandy soils with some rocks and gently slope to the south. Like Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope does well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but they are also producing some great Syrah and Malbec as well.

Now you might be thinking, why should I care about the geography, soils, and weather of vineyards and AVA’s? After all, I just want to enjoy a good bottle of wine. Well, that’s exactly why knowing a bit about where a wine comes from is important. Hopefully the next time you venture into your local wine shop, you won’t feel lost staring at a shelf full of bottles. While there is certainly no guarantee that the wine will be good, if you see a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain or a Syrah from Wahluke Slope, chances are that they at least started with good fruit. And as any winemaker will tell you, the path to great wine starts with good fruit.

Filed under: American Wine, Vineyards, Washington State Wine

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