The Red Mountain AVA is an American Viticultural Area located within the broader Columbia Valley AVA, which spans across state lines, encompassing parts of both Oregon and Washington. Located inland from the wetter Puget Sound part of the state, Red Mountain is just over 200 miles southeast of Seattle and 70 miles northwest of Walla Walla.
Much of the Columbia Valley owes it rich and varied geological history to a series of cataclysmic glacial events that occurred between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago. Flooding in some places reached depths of over 1,200 feet and these events occurred more than 50 times over a 2,000-year period. This large volume of water and chunks of ice cut through mountainsides, created scablands and carved the Columbia Gorge. Each time the waters receded, they left in their path a mixture of silt, sand and erratic granite boulders, deposited over volcanic basalt. As a result, in some areas of the Red Mountain AVA, you can find over eight different soil types.
The climate in Red Mountain is arid, with high winds. Lower-than-average annual rainfall (for viticultural areas) and a lack of precipitation during the growing season allow Red Mountain less risk of mold and mildew pressure. The high velocity winds result in thick grape skin, making for good tannin, flavor and color concentration. In addition, long, sunny summer days create the perfect atmosphere for ripeness and richness in the wine.
Red Mountain was first planted in 1975 and its pioneers were John Williams and Jim Holmes who were influenced by Dr. Walter Clore, after whom a wine and culinary center has been named. The first winery was bonded in 1980 and the region received AVA status in 2001.
Red Mountain is known for Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are typically full-bodied with dark red fruit characteristics, firm tannins, well-structured and slightly hedonistic. Other varieties are grown within the AVA, including Merlot and Cabernet Franc, both which have received critical acclaim with other like-minded wineries.
Winemaker Alex Stewart says, “Red Mountain is, perhaps, the most well-known AVA for Washington State Cabernet - the only exception being that of the greater Columbia Valley, in which Red Mountain sits. And not for nothing. Red Mountain produces some serious wines that are forceful, yet complex. It is one of the most unique, singular expressions of Bordeaux varietals that you will find anywhere in the world. These wines are deep, dark, and powerful with elegance and freshness that deliver everything one could possibly want out of a Bordeaux style wine; an exemplary tour de force.
Being one of the hottest AVAs in the State, Red Mountain is predominantly planted to red varietals and produces wines with a very ripe expression. The accumulation of heat units allows for physiological development to occur much sooner than most other AVAs. Given the climate is inland desert, the day and night time temperature swing (often 40+ deg F) preserves natural acidity, yielding a balance of freshness to the ripe character. Combined with the temperature regulation and airflow of the nearby Yakima River, Red Mountain is nearly a frost-free site. Prevailing winds, alkaline soils, and low nutrients lean toward much smaller berries with thicker skins and firmer tannin.
With all these factors at play, the fruit tends to accumulate sugar very quickly with flavor development lagging behind. It is imperative to be patient and pick the fruit once the flavors have caught up with the sugar, the acid is still holding, and the tannin has had time to resolve. Once in the cellar, the fruit must be delicately processed and fermented so that the extraction does not get out of control and the tannin overwhelming.
If all goes well, the wine produced from Red Mountain will be characteristically dark-fruited, have fresh acidity, structured tannin, and distinct minerality. As stated earlier, these wines are unparalleled in their expression due to the extraordinary factors that make up the remarkable terroir.”
Winemaker Hal Iverson adds, “Red Mountain fruit is small-berried and thick skinned. The fruit has a beautifully ripe expression while holding its acidity well. This creates intense, bold-fruited wines that have a sense of freshness. In the cellar this means that generally we don’t worry about getting enough extraction from the fruit- it always extracts well. It can even be easy to over-extract and create intensely tannic, brooding, and unapproachable wines. For us, it is important to pick fruit from Red Mountain at a time when the fruit is fully expressing the ripeness of the site, and after the skin tannin has had a little time to resolve, but before the acidity drops out and the flavors turn to that of desiccation.
Despite varying viticultural and winemaking techniques, a clear sense of place can be observed in the many vinous expressions from this AVA, a trait that all of the best terroirs in the world share. The intensity of the fruit and the characteristic structure of Red Mountain make it is some of our favorite fruit to vinify.”
Winemaker Jesse Schmidt says, “Having worked with numerous vineyard sites within the Red Mountain AVA, I have come to appreciate it’s consistency of quality over the years. Ripeness, acid and depth of flavor are rarely an issue across a wide swath of varietals the AVA has to offer. Well-built tannins and small concentrated berries provide amazing color and layered black and blue fruit expressions. Mostly due to the intense heat and wind, the tannins presented are the largest challenge across vintage to vintage but when tamed, the end result is nothing short of some of the finest wines produced up and down the west coast. On average, Red Mountain AVA is one of the hottest sites in Washington but at night, the temperature swing is immensely integral in acidity retention to allow for extended hanging on the vine while flavors develop. This inherent balance of big polished tannins, layered dark fruits and solid core of acidity, make absolutely show stopping wines that will age for decades.”