Living in wine country has so many advantages: proximity to great wine, the beauty of the vineyards, the excitement of harvest. But living in a world-class wine-growing region isn’t something to be taken lightly. The specific combination of attributes that give these vineyards the ability to produce highly acclaimed fruit is not found anywhere else in the world. We live in a very special place.
An appellation, or American Viticultural Area, is a designated geographical region that possesses unique climate, soil and physical features that distinguish it from surrounding areas. This combination of soil, slope and sunshine influences the growth and character of the grapes, which in turn produces wines distinctive in personality to that appellation.
Yakima Valley was the first AVA in the Pacific Northwest and is home to more than one-third of the state’s vineyards, boasting more than 18,500 acres of premium wine grapes. Here’s a look at how the soils, slope and sunshine come together to produce great wine in the Yakima Valley.
When growing wine grapes, it is important that the soil is loose enough that water does not accumulate in the ground, causing a slowdown in flavor development in the fruit. The Yakima Valley was sculpted by a number of ancient wrinkles formed in the land when volcanoes cooled and sank, leaving behind a large basalt layer in the earth. Prehistoric floods then aided in creating optimal soils as they layered the basalt with deposits of fine silt, loam, loess and cobble — each offering the proper drainage necessary to keep the vine’s vigor under control.
The sunny slopes of the Yakima Valley foothills are blessed with a long growing period, extended daylight hours and cool evenings that yield bold, hearty and luscious world-class wines. Hot summer days and cool nights provide the perfect growing environment. This large fluctuation between daytime and nighttime temperatures is considered key by winemakers and wine grape growers to attain intense varietal character. The Valley’s cold winters kill pests that are prevalent in other, milder wine growing regions throughout the United States, reducing the need for chemical repellents on the fruit.
Within the framework of sunshine, we include all climate factors. Beyond sunlight, we look for sufficient irrigation to promote natural sugar development and to the temperature-moderating effects of the cool Yakima Valley nights.
Because the Yakima Valley Appellation is blessed with a bevy of the best wine grape-growing conditions, nearly every type of wine grape can be successfully grown in one or more of the Valley’s regions — from cool-weather riesling to warm-weather cabernet sauvignon.
The Yakima Valley AVA grows nearly 50 wine grape varietals. The success of this diversity can be attributed to the many different growing aspects within the AVA. The microclimates, heat variations and different soil types within the four Yakima Valley sub AVAs (Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain, Red Mountain and Candy Mountain) play a major role in successfully growing so many grape varieties.
Obviously, there is something magical about the Yakima Valley. Perhaps it’s the wonderful celebration of farm-fresh food, the wine industry and the people who are committed to quality. For me, it is everything; especially the authentic living, the beauty and nature that makes this wine country.
• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries. Her column runs every other week in SCENE.