Living Columns & Blogs

Red Mountain continues to turn green

Charlie Hoppes is the owner of Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain in Washington. Most of his fruit comes from the small ridge in the eastern Yakima Valley.
Charlie Hoppes is the owner of Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain in Washington. Most of his fruit comes from the small ridge in the eastern Yakima Valley. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

While Red Mountain officially gets its name because the ridge’s cheatgrass turns red each spring, in the wine world, it’s because nearly all the grapes grown here are red varieties.

A recent study shows that of the 4,040 acres that make up Red Mountain, some 2,046 acres are planted, and all but 52.5 acres are red grapes. Red Mountain is in the eastern Yakima Valley near West Richland and has a history of wine grapes going back to 1975.

Today, Red Mountain is Washington’s most important grape-growing region. It is home to the most expensive vineyard land in Washington, and top winemakers across the state are gravitating to Red Mountain fruit.

By far, the most important wine grape on Red Mountain is Cabernet Sauvignon, with more than 1,200 acres planted. At a distant No. 2 is Merlot with 237 acres, followed by Syrah with 157 acres.

This year, more grapes are being planted, so expect even more of Red Mountain to turn green.

Here are a few delicious examples of wines using grapes from Red Mountain. All won gold medals at last month’s Cascadia Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Ambassador Wines of Washington 2013 Estate Syrah, Red Mountain, $28: This small Woodinville winery relies on estate grapes on warm Red Mountain and the winemaking of Sarah Goedhart (head winemaker for Hedges Family Estate) to craft this elegant Syrah. Aromas of smoked meat and purple plum give way to flavors of blackberry and huckleberry. Firm acidity lifts all the fruit off the palate for a long and pleasing finish.

Hightower Cellars 2013 Reserve, Red Mountain, $55: Hightower Cellars is high atop Red Mountain at the end of famed Sunset Road. The Hightowers use estate grapes for this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Oak tones with a bit of vanilla lead off its aromas, followed by black cherries and dark berries. On the tongue, black cherry fruit merges seamlessly with blackberry and blueberry, leading to sweet dark chocolate and refined tannins. It’s an impeccably balanced red blend.

Kennedy Shah 2012 Artz Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc, Red Mountain, $45: Woodinville winemaker Jean-Claude Beck, a native of Alsace, brought in these grapes grown by the late Fred Artz on Red Mountain. The longtime vineyard manager died in 2015, and this Cab Franc serves as a wonderful tribute, opening with red currant, fresh rosemary, brown sugar and California peppercorns. There’s richness of ripe currants and cherries from start to finish as juicy acidity keeps pushing nonstop.

Fidelitas 2013 Malbec, Red Mountain, $40: Charlie Hoppes drew on Red Mountain for this Malbec, and the resulting wine offers proof why the region’s vineyards are so focused on red grape varieties. His Fidelitas is faithful to the grape, with flavors and aromas of black plums, blackberries and black cap raspberries. It closes with grippy tannins and a last sigh of sweet dark fruit.

Ryan Patrick 2013 Reserve Syrah, Red Mountain, $40: It’s no surprise this is a wine of heft, breadth and depth. It opens with oaky black fruit and coffee aromas, then dips even darker and deeper into boysenberries, blackberries, blueberries and black plum fruit flavors. It’s no wine for the faint of heart, closing with earthy minerality and grippy tannins.

Muret-Gaston 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $42: Kyle and Amy Johnson of Purple Star Wines recently launched this brand as a tribute to their ancestors who lived near each other in southern France. The current-day Johnsons used grapes from Red Mountain for this delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. It displays aromas of ripe blackberries, black currants and spice, then shows off the same flavors, augmented at the end by firm, juicy tannins.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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