washington's "secret" ava

Monday, March 22, 2010

What would be your guess if you were asked to name the most obscure AVA in Washington state? (OK, who’s the wise-a-- who said “all of them”?). I would venture that the hands-down, least-known is Snipes Mountain. Snipes Mountain became Washington’s 10th AVA a little more than a year ago. Like the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, its neighbor to the north, and Red Mountain a few miles east, it is a subdivision of the Yakima Valley AVA. Its boundaries are based on altitude as well as the usual criteria of history, soil and topography, though like Red Mountain, it isn’t much more than an anthill by West Coast standards.

If you’ve done the drive from Yakima to Prosser you’ve zipped by it, just off the freeway to the south, in the middle of the valley. You can see some vineyards on the northern slopes, where it officially rises above 820 feet. But the more impressive parts of the AVA can’t be seen from the highway, especially the steeper and warmer southern side. At its peak, where new vineyards continue to be developed, Snipes tops out at about 1300 feet.

The AVA boundaries reach across the freeway to include Harrison Hill, best known for the old Associated Vintners vineyard of the same name. Originally planted in 1964, Harrison Hill is now owned by the Newhouse family, who have by far the lion’s share of the AVA’s 665 bearing acres. Snipes mountain has some interesting history, which has nothing to do with the singer for R.E.M. (that’s Stipes, not Snipes).

It is named for Benjamin Snipes, once known as the Northwest Cattle King. In the mid-1800s, Snipes had 125,000 head of cattle roaming Yakima Valley range land, and the mountain named for him was their winter home, sheltering them from harsh north winds. W.B. Bridgman liked the area also, and established the Upland Winery and vineyards in the early 1900s. The original Upland winery closed in 1972. But some of Bridgman’s original vines – Muscat of Alexandria dating from around 1917 – are still bearing. When the winery closed, his vineyards were acquired by the Newhouse family, who were already well-established orchard growers on the mountain.

The Newhouse holdings include six different varieties of Muscat vines, and over 35 different varietals in all, many experimental. Chardonnay, pinot gris, merlot and cabernet sauvignon – sold primarily to Hogue, Milbrandt and Ste. Michelle – comprise the bulk of the tonnage. It is still early to assign specific flavors to Snipes Mountain fruit, but the newest releases from Todd Newhouse’s Upland Estates winery display the Snipes AVA, and the fruit expression, by winemaker Robert Smasne, is superb.

Over the weekend I tasted an Upland Estates 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), a 2007 Upland Estates Malbec ($28) and a 2007 Upland Estates Syrah ($28), all excellent. Only three or four barrels of each were made, so you won’t find these wines at your corner bodega. But if you are traveling past Snipes Mountain, you’d be well-advised to stop into the tasting room, just a couple of miles off the highway, and give them a close look.

I am especially thrilled with the sauvignon blanc, a thoroughly delicious wine fermented in neutral oak, and blended with nine percent sémillon. This captures a distinctive side of the grape that blends a sweet grassy herbaceousness with a lively mix of apple, citrus and orange peel, finished with the slightest suggestion of honey. Glorious.

Upland Estates
Call ahead for a tasting room appointment: 509/839-2606


Marlene Rossman said...

Paul, I thought there are 11 AVAs
1 Columbia Valley (shared with Oregon)
2 Yakima Valley (within the Columbia Valley)
3 Walla Walla Valley (within the Columbia Valley; shared with Oregon)
4 Puget Sound
5 Wahluke Slope (within the Columbia Valley)
6 Horse Heaven Hills (within the Columbia Valley)
7 Columbia Gorge (shared with Oregon)
8 Red Mountain (within the Columbia and Yakima valleys)
9 Rattlesnake Hills (within the Columbia and Yakima valleys)
10 Snipes Mountain (within the Columbia and Yakima Valleys)
11 Lake Chelan approved April 2009 ???

PaulG said...

Marlene, yes, there are now 11 AVAs in Washington (plus Washington itself). As I wrote, and as your list shows, Snipes was the 10th.

Chris said...

If you live in Sunnyside, Yakima, or Richland, the bodegas do sell Uplands' wines. Boun Vino, Tim's and Yoke's respectively.

PaulG said...

Hey, good to know, thanks Chris.

Anonymous said...

My guess would be the Wautoma Valley AVA located in the Columbia Valley AVA see if you can find that one.

Don Phelps said...

To complete Marlene's list the Lake Chelan AVA was finalized at the end of May 2009 and is within the Columbia Valley

Chris said...

Wautoma Valley is between the Yakima Ridge and Rattlesnake Mountain. Hanford Reach National Monument is to the East. Depending on how an AVA would be defined there it might contain Cold Creek and Wautoma Springs Vineyards, a thousand or so acres of vineyard.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed Chris you must be a local.

Anonymous said...


Did you know that the grapes that went into the Ste Michelle 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon voted best wine in the world came from this area?

Chris said...

Yep, I'm close enough that I've got volunteer grape vines near a pond that birds had to have started from Cold Creek or Wautoma Springs seeds.

Also I assumed St.Michelle and Columbia Crest source lots of Cab from this area, even for their non-vineyard designates. I never tasted the '05 that took the big prize, but it would be interesting to taste side by side with the St Michelle Cold Creek and the Columbia Crest Wautoma Springs from the same year. I'd guess there are Horse Heaven, Wahluke, and possibly other Columbia Valley grapes in their cab blends too.

PlamtDrEMB said...

The first TTB approved label from the Snipes Mtn AVA was Daven Lore Winery's 2008 Syrah Forte, a fortified 100% Syrah made from Dan & Carol Newhouse's vineyards. http://www.davenlore.com

Post a Comment

Your comment is awaiting moderation and will be posted ASAP. Thanks!