The Red Mountain AVA is an American Viticultural Area that includes the land surrounding Red Mountain in Benton County, Washington. It is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Located between Benton City and the City of West Richland, the Red Mountain AVA is the smallest in the state at only 4,040 acres (1,630 ha) in area.[4] The area has 600 acres (240 ha) under cultivation[5] of primarily red varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.[6] The reputation of the wines produced in this area has brought Red Mountain AVA worldwide acclaim.[7] The vineyards in this appellation have produced grapes for some of the most sought after wines in Washington State.[8]


In the springtime, cheatgrass such as this turns a wine red color which gives the landscape of Red Mountain its name.
A rose wine made from grapes grown in the Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain.

The Missoula floods, a series of massive floods that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, profoundly affected the soils of Red Mountain. The fast travelling flood waters, estimated at 390 meters tall, would sweep around the east and west edges of Red Mountain, creating powerfully back-eddies. As a result of the back-eddies, sediments were deposited in an irregular manner, creating a heterogeneous soil with a series of gravel lenses.[9] In the 10,000 years since the Missoula floods, wind-blown loess was deposited, creating a thin mantle of dunes that vary in thickness throughout Red Mountain. This has created a series of soils that differ from those of the immediately surrounding area.

The geography to the northeast features part of the Columbia Basin lowlands where the Columbia River turns southward towards the Saddle Mountains. With elevations ranging from 500 feet (152 m) to 1,500 feet (457 m), the landscape today dominates this area of the lower Yakima Valley. The red color in the name comes from the dark red springtime hue of the drooping brome or "cheatgrass" in the area. The soil in the area is very gravelly, with high alkalinity (high pH) and calcium carbonate content.


The area has one of the most unusual terroirs in the state with the southwest facing slopes documenting warmer temperatures and more sunlight hours than any other part of the Columbia Valley AVA. The nighttime temperatures drop considerably, helping to preserve the acid levels within the grape.[10] At Benton City, the Yakima River flows past the area and provides a moderating effect on the temperature. Cool air from the north, seeking the lower elevation of the river valley, moves downwards across the hillsides planted with vineyards and helps keep the grapes from being overheated. The constant air movement prevents air from settling in the area and allowing frost to damage the grapes[11]

The area has a desert climate with average yearly rainfall of five inches. During the growing season, daytime temperatures average 90 °F (32 °C) with nighttime temperatures dropping below 50 °F (10 °C).[12] Vineyards rely on irrigation to supply water to their plants, allowing growers to optimize the growth cycle of their grapevines.


In the 1970s, John Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Jim Holmes, originally of Kiona then Ciel du Cheval vineyards, pioneered grape growing in the area.[13] In the 1980s, wines made from grapes in the Red Mountain area began receiving recognition for their distinct flavor profiles though federal laws permitted wine labels only to carry the designation as being from the Columbia Valley AVA or Yakima Valley AVA. In the late 1990s, Lorne Jacobson from Hedges Family Estates started a drive to achieve federal recognition of the area as its own AVA, which was granted in April, 2001.[5] Hedges Family Estates' appellation petition was joined by Kiona Vineyards, Blackwood Canyon Vintners, Sandhill Winery, Seth Ryan Winery and Terra Blanca Winery.[12]

In 2007, Chateau Ste Michelle and Marchesi Antinori invested 6.5 million dollars in the appellation to purchase vineyards and establish a winery to produce their joint venture wine, Col Solare.[13]


A Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Mountain AVA.

The area is known for producing powerful, tannic red wines.[14] The wines are known for their balance in flavors, with an intense concentration of berry flavors.[10] Compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon produced in other areas of the state, the Cabernets here are more structured than fruit-driven.[13] Grapes from this area are in high demand and vineyards with notable reputations can receive as much as 30% above market price for their crops.[15] The primary Cabernet Sauvignon clone planted is clone #8, which in Red Mountain produces a Cabernet wine similar in profile to a California wine, while the same clone planted in nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA produces a wine similar in profile to Bordeaux.[16]

100 point wines

Kiona Vineyard looking northeast. Red Mountain to the right, the Yakima River gap in the middle and Rattlesnake Mountain to the left.

Many of Washington's cult wines are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in this AVA including the 2002, 2003 and 2005 Quilceda Creek Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon, which scored the rare 100 point wine rating from Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate.[17] Only 15 other wines in the US have received this designation, all made from California grapes.[18] Only five other previous vintages have received consecutive perfect scores in The Wine Advocate's publishing history.[19] The Quilceda Creek wines were blends from three Red Mountain vineyards-Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and Tapteil-and one vineyard from the nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA.[20][21]

Future growth

In the early 21st century, the reputation of Red Mountain AVA has helped foster an era of growth for the appellation. Like most wine growing regions in Eastern Washington, Red Mountain is in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range. Irrigation is essential to wine growing, with water rights being tightly controlled by Washington's Department of Natural Resources. In the past, this has limited commercial growth and the opening of new wineries in the area though these restrictions may be lightened in the future. In anticipation of future growth, a committee of local grape growers was formed to promote the development of the area's roads and infrastructure.[13]


A Red Mountain red blend from the Tapteil Vineyard.
Kiona Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA looking northwest toward Rattlesnake Mountain.

On-Mountain Wineries


  1. ^ Code of Federal Regulations. "§ 9.167 Red Mountain." Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Part 9 — American Viticultural Areas; Subpart C — Approved American Viticultural Areas. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Appellation America (2007). "Red Mountain (AVA): Appellation Description". Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  3. ^ Washington Wine Commission (2018) Red Mountain AVA. Retrieved February 14th, 2018
  4. ^ T. Parker Discovering Washington Wines pg 31 Raconteurs Press 2002 ISBN 0-9719258-5-2
  5. ^ a b T. Parker Discovering Washington Wines pg 41 Raconteurs Press 2002 ISBN 0-9719258-5-2
  6. ^ Washington Wine
  7. ^ A. King "Red Mountain rising: Tiny wine-producing region drawing worldwide attention" Wine Press Northwest October 9th, 2006
  8. ^ P. Gregutt "Red Mountain Appellation Information" Appellation America
  9. ^ Meinart, Lawrence P. and Alan J. Busaca. "Geology and Wine 6. Terroir of the Red Mountain Appellation, Central Washington, U.S.A.." GeoScience Canada. Volume 29 Number 4, 2002:149-168. (Print)
  10. ^ a b T. Parker Discovering Washington Wines pg 40 Raconteurs Press 2002 ISBN 0-9719258-5-2
  11. ^ R. Irvine & W. Clore The Wine Project pg 271 Sketch Publications 1997 ISBN 0-9650834-9-7
  12. ^ a b J. Gaffney "Washington Wineries Seek New Appellation" Wine Spectator April 24, 2000
  13. ^ a b c d B. Schoenfeld "Gold Rush on Red Mountain" Wine Spectator May 15th, 2007
  14. ^ T. Parker Discovering Washington Wines pg 60 Raconteurs Press 2002 ISBN 0-9719258-5-2
  15. ^ R. Irvine & W. Clore The Wine Project pg 272 Sketch Publications 1997 ISBN 0-9650834-9-7
  16. ^ Wine Spectator "Great Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon: Washington" May 15th, 2007
  17. ^ T. Parker Discovering Washington Wines pg 85 Raconteurs Press 2002 ISBN 0-9719258-5-2
  18. ^ Allison, Melissa (May 5, 2006). "Cup of cheer overflows for Snohomish vintners". The Seattle Times. 
  19. ^ "Snohomish winery makes state history". The Seattle Times. May 3, 2006. 
  20. ^ Quilceda Creek 2002 Vintage Tasting Notes
  21. ^ Quilceda Creek 2003 Vintage Tasting notes

External links

Coordinates: 46°16′34″N 119°27′14″W / 46.27611°N 119.45389°W / 46.27611; -119.45389