Winter 2019

Washington wine industry looks to add 7 AVAs

The map of Washington wine country is about to look a lot different. There are seven proposed American Viticultural Areas in the pipeline awaiting approval by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Washington is home to 14 AVAs — two of them across the state’s southeast border with Oregon and a third with Idaho. Those AVAs vary widely in size, led by the Columbia Valley’s 11 million acres, which has defined the Washington wine industry since its approval in 1984.

Pending the approval of each, here is a glance at Washington's seven up-and-coming AVAs:

Candy Mountain

This small hill in Richland, near Red Mountain, is entirely within the Yakima Valley AVA. At about 900 acres, Candy Mountain would be among the smallest AVAs in the Pacific Northwest — yet it’s already home to one winery and three vineyards. The petition was submitted by viticulture consultant Kevin Pogue, a geology professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla.

Paul and Vicki Kitzke moved to Candy Mountain in 2000. They planted apples, cherries and eight acres of wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Syrah. The boutique winery began producing wines in 2005. In addition to the Kitzke family, Premiere Vineyards established Candy Mountain Vineyards in 1998 as part of investments that support a teachers retirement fund. Acclaimed Walla Walla wineries such as L'Ecole No. 41 and Long Shadows Vintners use grapes from Candy Mountain.

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The Burn of the Columbia Valley

This region is tucked between the Horse Heaven Hills and the Columbia Gorge AVAs. The name comes from the legend that early settlers set fire to the grasslands to recharge the soil. The region has more than 1,200 acres of vineyards, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Malbec and Sangiovese. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has created a brand called Borne of Fire that uses grapes from the proposed AVA.

White Bluffs

Named for the former farming community and for the distinctive cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, this proposed AVA is known to be among Washington's best growing areas. More than 1,200 acres of wine grapes are planted here, including Sagemoor Vineyard group’s Sagemoor, Gamache, Bacchus and Dionysus. Sagemoor was first planted in 1972 on the recommendation of Walter Clore, hailed as "the father of Washington Wine." It was the state's first commercial vineyard, and it continues to provide grapes to more than 100 wineries.

Goose Gap

The Monson family’s Goose Ridge Vineyard near Richland is about 4,000 acres, making it the largest contiguous wine grape vineyard in Washington and the inspiration for the Goose Gap AVA.The AVA petition was submitted by former WSU professor Alan Busacca, who is credited with successful petitions for the Horse Heaven Hills and Lake Chelan AVAs.

Royal Slope

North of the Wahluke Slope and the community of Mattawa is the Royal Slope, a south-facing feature known for late-ripening red grapes, resulting in particularly interesting Cabernet Sauvignon. With nearly 2,000 acres already planted within the proposed 14,000-acre AVA, this well-established growing region has close ties to two wineries. Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville planted Stillwater Creek Vineyard near the town of Royal City, with the wines crafted by former Ste. Michelle winemaker Mike Januik. Lawrence Vineyard is an estate planting in the Frenchman Hills for Gård Vintners. Busacca is the petitioner.

Rocky Reach

Under another petition written by Pogue, this AVA would span both banks of the Columbia River from Wenatchee nearly to Lake Chelan. The Columbia River cuts through the bedrock here, making this an unusual growing area. About 300 acres of wine grapes — primarily Bordeaux and Rhone varieties — are planted here, many of them by the Dufenhorst family of Rocky Pond Winery. The elevation is lower and warmer than the Lake Chelan AVA. Pogue says there are thousands of acres available for viticulture in Rocky Reach, although that may require converting orchards to vineyards.

Wanapum Village

This proposed AVA near Sentinel Gap and Beverly has about 350 acres of vineyards, most of them owned by Chelan-based Zirkle Fruit Co., which also operates Four Feathers Wine Estates in Prosser. The petition was submitted by Pogue and details a warm region with gravelly soil left from the Ice Age floods. Of the seven pending AVAs, it is the latest to be “accepted as perfected” by the TTB.

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