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Vineyard Plantings Increase on Red Mountain

Washington wine industry takes advantage of plantable acreage; water district expansion holds promise for future

by Paul Franson
red mountain
Red Mountain appears more like a large hill, with elevations from 500 feet to 1,400 feet.
Benton City, Wash.—While few winegrowers have been planting in California during the past five years, it’s a different story in Washington’s Red Mountain appellation. The American Viticultural Area, arguably Washington’s best known, has numerous vineyards being planted and planned.

At present, about 1,500 acres are planted in the 4,040-acre AVA near Benton City, with about 100 acres being planted this year and around 100 acres next year, according to Jim Holmes from Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard.

The geography
Most people wouldn’t call the area a mountain, more like a large hill with elevations from 500 feet to 1,400 feet. The gently sloping, southwestern-facing site also includes flat land near the Yakima River. The sides of the small peak on the north are too steep for most vineyards.

The site is the warmest in the area and receives the longest daily sunlight in the Yakima Valley—about 2 hours more than Napa, Calif. It also has very cool nights, which help maintain acidity in the grapes grown there. Almost all the vines planted are red grapes, and the fruit is consistently among the most expensive in the state.

The red color in the name comes from the dark red springtime hue of the drooping brome or “cheatgrass” in the area.

The AVA contains only a few wineries. The Ste. Michelle-Antinori joint venture Col Solare dominates the landscape with its Tuscan-inspired bell tower. Hedges Family Vineyards also has a large winery there, as do a number of smaller operations. Most of the AVA’s fruit goes to premium wineries around the state.

As the area gets only about 5 inches of water per year, irrigation is vital, and water rights are valuable. Water is supplied by wells and the Yakima River, but is carefully controlled. When more water becomes available from the Kennewick Irrigation District, as is expected in a few years, another 500 acres in the appellation will be available to plant.

Recent plantings
When all planned and anticipated planting is complete, 2,200-2,500 acres should be under vine, close to the limit of plantable acreage. Recent plantings include:

A very large project is under way through the grower partnership of Dick Shaw and Paul Killnick. They will have planted around 400 acres after they finish next year.

Kiona Vineyards has been planting 20 acres per year.

Terra Blanca recently added 5 acres and will have 96 by the end of the year.

Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas is buying 10 acres on Red Mountain adjacent to his present 5 acres, which includes a contemporary visitors’ center.

Fidelitas has its production facility in Richland that also makes wine for other wineries. The facility offers custom products, barrel storage space and room for clients to make their wines. Hoppes shares space with a bottling and filtering company that also offers mobile services.

In addition, Benton County plans significant infrastructure development to support the area, including a new freeway interchange and a village of amenities aimed at tourists. A distillery and the large Pacific Rim Winery are nearby.

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