The Royal Slope is south-facing and surrounds the town of Royal City in eastern Washington. It is considerably cooler than nearby Walluke Slope and considerably warmer than the Ancient Lakes AVA. “Royal Slope” is a name that has been used for this area since at least the 1950s, and reportedly the name came from a pair of Scotsmen who climbed the Saddle Mountains and remarked on the slope’s majesty.
With an elevation ranging from 610 feet above sea level in the southeast to 1,756 feet at the top of the Frenchmen Hills Ridge, Frenchmen Hills Ridge is the highest point in the AVA. Planting at higher elevations extends the growing season, delays ripening, and helps retain natural acidity. This variability in elevation also allows a wide range of varieties and styles to excel. The area is also of interest because it actually sat above the Missoula floods when they moved sediment and debris below.
Vinifera was first planted on the Royal Slope in 1983. There are a mere 13 vineyards throughout the AVA and just one winery. The area is also home to substantial cherry and apple orchard acreage, as well as crops such as corn, peas and wheat.
- 1,900 acres (768 hectares)
- Top Varieties
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc
- Average Annual Precipitation
- 6-8 inches
- sandy loam, silt
- Average vine age
Winemaker Alex Stewart says, “Royal Slope is one of the newest designated AVAs in Washington State. Having the opportunity to work with the fruit from this AVA is like listening to the Beatles before they rose to fame. Vines were first planted in Royal Slope in '83, but it seems the AVA is just now gaining notoriety; a hidden gem within Washington.
An environmental factor that has proven beneficial is the existence of an inversion layer that manifests at ideal times. During freezing cold nights in late harvest, thermal winds push cold air that has settled in at the lower laying vineyards to much higher elevations and brings warm air down. A potential frost event equates to sleepless nights. Knowing this inversion forms is an enormous relief for varietals that require ripening into late October.
By definition, Royal Slope is not a hot area and it is not a cold area, but within the AVA you will find pockets across the spectrum that allow room for many styles of winemaking. A sort of Goldilocks zone. Though, Royal Slope wines have a one-of-a-kind signature. The fruit is intense with a distinct floral character and slight earthy nuance. The wines gravitate toward full-bodied and rich, almost as if they have barrel age concentration without ever seeing oak. White varietals are beautifully energetic, luxurious, and viscous. The reds are impactful and have the texture of liquid velvet in the blue-black fruit realm. The fruit is quite easy to work with as long as you do not intervene and allow the site to speak for itself. There is no doubt the voice of Royal Slope will soon be recognized as one of the greats.”
Winemaker Hal Iverson says, “A defining characteristic of the Royal Slope AVA is elegance. There is a lot of diversity in the various vineyard expressions on this south facing slope, and the elevation and row orientation of each unique site contribute to a lot of this difference. The vineyards that we work with at the higher elevations (1400-1700’) have really small berries, super concentrated fruit, but an aromatic lift that gives the wine a freshness and levity. The vineyards at the lower elevations (700-1000’) ripen a little slower, still have intense concentration, but reveal a charming approachability in their youth and evolve with a distinct savory quality. How many other appellations of a similar size can grow aromatic whites, full bodied whites, and a host complex reds at such a high level? The Royal Slope is an expressive AVA with some really incredible vineyard sites.”