Washington’s Royal AVA-Royal Slope

This post wraps up the month long celebration of Taste Washington Wine Month. Hopefully you have learned something new about Washington wines and are on your way to becoming a Washington Wine Expert.

Previous Washington Wine Posts

A Closer look at the Royal Slope AVA

The Royal Slope AVA, located in east-central Washington almost halfway between Seattle and Spokane, may be less than a year old since being approved on September 2, 2020 but it has already proven its fortitude. Unlike some newly approved growing regions that are in early stages of viticultural exploration, Royal Slope has been growing grapes since 1984. Let’s take a closer look at this area and see what made it earn the title of the 15th AVA in Washington.

Image from wine365.com

Often it is a long and expensive process to achieve AVA status. The process for filing and achieving approval from The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for the Royal Slope AVA took 4-5 years. There are always a number of factors that must be qualified before approval, including the historical context of the area, it’s particular climate, the soil significance in the region and the final unique qualities of the wine. For this reason hiring a licensed geologist is usually the first step in the process and in this case Dr. Alan Busacca took on the task of providing the required evidence that warranted this new Washington AVA.

Historically the Royal Slope name has been used since at least the 1950s and the name is believed to have originated from a climb that two Scotsman took of the Saddle Mountains and their statement regarding the slope’s “Majestic Quality”. Located in both Grant County and Adams County the AVA includes the town of Royal City, which was founded in 1956, and the area surrounding which was sometimes referred to as Royal Flats by the early pioneers.

The south-canted topography of the area is perfect for farming and it is home to a substantial amount of tree fruit acreage as well as row crops to include apples, cherries, peaches, timothy and alfalfa hay, melons, potatoes, onions, wine grapes, pears, mint and corn.

The AVAs growing region is wholly contained within the Columbia Valley AVA and like the Columbia Valley AVA, Royal Slope is underlain with Miocene-era basaltic bedrock, the affect of the Ice Age mega floods. During this the floodwaters entered the region in a relatively smooth fashion and the area of the AVA was largely above the floodwaters so there was no heavy erosion.

This particular AVA is kind of like an island geographically, it is surrounded on all four sides by very different lands, To the north are the flatlands and sand dunes of the Quincy Valley, to the east and south is the desert, uncultivable “badlands,” and heading west are the bedrock cliffs that run into the Columbia River.

Lawrence Vineyards-Royal Slope AVA

Much of the Royal Slope is comprised of a south-facing slope, which is part of the Yakima Fold Belt that comprises a number of Washington’s grape growing regions. The AVA area has about 90% gently to somewhat steeply south-facing slopes, highly regarded for wine grapes in the Pacific Northwest because of the northerly latitude.

This gentle hilly landscaped AVA ‘island’ is ideal for cultivation because of its deep soils. Combining with the bedrock basalt to make the soil of the Royal Slope unique is the addition of very fine sandy loam and silt. The area of the AVA is large enough that the variation in soils, slopes and aspect allows for a wide range of grape varieties to be matched to specific sites and soils.

One of the key differentiators of the Royal Slope is elevations, they range from 610 feet above sea level in the southeast corner to 1,756 feet at the top of the Frenchmen Hills ridge. Frenchmen Hills is a 30-mile long east-west trending ridge with a gentle to medium-steep south-facing slope that is considerably higher than surrounding growing regions.

The Royal Slope area has an average vineyard elevation of approximately 1300 feet, this elevation leads to cooler night time temperatures and slightly lower day time temperatures than some of the lower, warmer surrounding areas. Planting at these higher elevations not only extends the growing season, delays ripening, and helps retain natural acidity, the grapes at harvest have exceptional fruit character and quality. This combination of natural acidity, ripe fruit, and very well integrated tannins have become the hallmark of the Royal Slope AVA.

Lawrence Vineyards-Royal Slope AVA

Getting all of the heat benefits similar to the Red Mountain AVA, Royal Slopes has the advantage of three weeks longer hangtime because of the regions very cool nights. Since precipitation in the Royal Slope is only 6-8 inches annually the grapevines need regular irrigation in order to grow in these conditions.

The diurnal swing (difference between night and daytime temperature) allows for about 22 different varieties to be cultivated and vineyards located in Royal Slope annually score the highest ratings of all the AVAs of Washington State.

An example of this achievement from Stoneridge Vineyard, is the Charles Smith 2006 Royal City which was Washington State’s first ever 100-point Syrah awarded by Wine Enthusiast. Some of the over 20 different varieties planted within the appellation include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Syrah.

White grapes are also planted in the Royal Slope AVA, they include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Viognier.

The Royal Slope AVA is 156,389 acres, of which 1,900 acres are currently planted to wine grapes and there are 13 commercial vineyards and two wineries located within Royal Slope, Foxy Roxy Wines and Burke Vineyard.

Lawrence Vineyards & Gård Vintners

The addition of Royal Slope to the list of official Washington State AVAs was was welcome news to wine grape growers Josh and Lisa Lawrence, Owners of Lawrence Vineyards located in the appellation. The Lawrence family who planted their flagship Corfu Crossing Vineyard in 2003 has been farming for over five decades in this agriculturally rich area. Josh currently oversees about 450 acres of vineyards within Royal Slope including their Scarline, La Reyna Blanca, Laura Lee, Solaksen, Thunderstone, Stoneridge and Boneyard Vineyards.

Josh and Lisa Lawrence, Owners of Lawrence Vineyards and Gård Vintners (Photo Credit Gård Vintners)

Along with selling premium wine grapes to vintners across the state, the Lawrence family also operates an estate winery, Gård Vintners which was established in 2006 and is located in Walla Walla. Now Gård Vintners who produces wines based 100% from Royal Slope and a multitude of other wineries may add the Royal Slope AVA designation to their wine labels.

This collection is available on the Gård Vintners website. The 3-pack sells for $135.

A great way to experience for yourself some of the wines that feature grapes harvested from the Royal Slope AVA is to try the Collection Series from Gård featuring 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from three Lawrence Vineyards sites: Laura Lee, Corfu Crossing and Scarline. The Gård Vintners’ Collection Series showcases the unique characteristics of these three specific estate vineyard sites on the Royal Slope. The diversity of each location delivers a high level of uniqueness and complexity to the wines produced by Gård.

Planted in 2008 the Corfu Crossing Vineyard has an elevation of 1,400-1,460 ft The soil is Taunton silt loam and the vineyard is Farmed using organic practices. Visit the Lawrence Vineyards Website to learn more about Corfu Crossing Vineyard.

The 2016 Corfu Crossing Cabernet Sauvignon: This engaging Washington Cabernet opens with aromas of a blackberry & blueberry pie with combined with swirls of licorice and spice, topped with smoky vanilla and plum ice cream. A wonderful visual picture just from the aromas. With time in the glass the wines flavors open up and the plum flavor becomes more pronounced. Add in the intriguing notes of dried herbs and orange zest and the full picture of this unique style of this Cabernet becomes even clearer.

A lovely easy drinking Cabernet Sauvignon that has a generous mouthfeel with an air-kiss of sweetness and a savory oaky long finish.

You can read more about Gård Vintners and an interview that I had with Lisa Lawrence on my previous post Washington Wine Gift Ideas for the Holidays.

Mullan Road Cellars

In 2012 Napa vintner Dennis Cakebread (of Napa Valley’s famed Cakebread Cellars) set out to make a singular Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine that encompassed both the deep history and terroir of the Northwest. Finding camaraderie in the Walla Walla community and being drawn to the high-quality wines of the area, Dennis knew his next project would be in Washington, especially in the newly founded Royal Slope AVA region. Mullan Road Cellars is the result of this newest endeavor.

Premium producers such as Mullan Road Cellars that use 90% of their grapes from this AVA will now be able to change their labels from reading Columbia Valley to Royal Slope AVA.

Solacksen Vineyard and Stillwater Creek Vineyards two of the established vineyards in the Royal Slope AVA have terroir that is ideal for growing all Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the grapes blended into Mullan Road Cellars’ red wine.

Mullan Road Cellars 2015 Red Blend Wine: A blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, and 17% Cabernet Franc and aged 18 months in 34% new French and American oak barrels this Washington Cabernet is decadent and tantalizing. Brimming with loads of sweet black and red fruit aromas mingled with chocolate, baking spice and hints of dill you also get a deeper scent of cassis as the wine opens up. This full-bodied gem has silky tannins that give it an elevated elegance. Deeply layered with a wonderful concentration of the aroma flavors carrying over and the addition of plums and smoked embers. Refined and Precise this Cabernet gets sexier with each sip.

The Benefit of Listing an AVA on a Wine Label

Protecting a wine’s origin within an established AVA according to the federal appellation labeling rules assure consumers that when they buy an appellation-designated wine, they are buying a product wherein both the grape source and the place of production are closely tied to the named place. Also, an AVA recognition allows vineyard owners and wineries to distinguish themselves by showcasing the characteristics, quality or reputation of their grapes. Equally important an AVA listed on a label gives consumers a better idea of what a wine is going to taste like and allows comparison to other wines made from the same area.

“If certain information about a wine is included on the label, an appellation of origin is required. An American viticultural area (AVA) is a type of appellation specific to grape wine. It is a defined grape-growing region having a name, distinguishing features, and a delineated boundary.” From the TTB Website.

How Washington wines are labeled: In Washington if the label states “Washington” and the name of an American Viticultural Area (AVA) located wholly within Washington, at least 95% of the grapes used in the production of the wine must have been grown in Washington. The same grape percentage is also required if the label states “Washington” only or if the label states “Washington” and the name of an AVA located in both Washington and an adjoining state.

Upcoming Washington AVA Post

Although Taste Washington Wine Month is coming to an end there are still 14 more Washington AVAs to explore this year.

Image from Getty Images

It was over 200 years ago that pioneering explorers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark traversed the spectacular terrain of Washington State. The same expansive vistas and scenic landscapes that captivated Lewis and Clark still remain but explorers of Washington state today have the opportunity to discover something that they did not witness; Washington’s dynamic wine regions. The Next Washington AVA post will take us to the appellation named after these two daring explorers, The Lewis and Clark Valley AVA. This AVA overlaps into the states of Idaho and Washington, it covers portions of Nez Perce, three counties in northern Idaho and three Counties in southeastern Washington. I look forward to sharing more about the AVAs geography, history and wineries with you.

Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Fletcher Bay Winery

Island Life Vibes and Award Winning Washington Wines

Continuing with the celebration of Taste Washington Wine Month, I want to introduce you to Fletcher Bay Winery “where community and family are built into the fabric of their existence based entirely on how they came to be and how they continue to operate”.

Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery

Traditionally wineries are located next to their vineyard sources or in close proximity, but Washington doesn’t always follow that particular pattern. Many of the state’s 1000+ wineries are spread out all across the state and many are even hundreds of miles from the vineyards that supply their grapes. This is due in part to the fact that many wineries contract their grapes from vineyards rather than establishing their own vineyard. This allows them the flexibility to open their winery in any location that they like, including a location that is a short ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Bainbridge Island. On Bainbridge Island you will find seven unique wineries including a a boutique winery, named after the Island location where Owner Jim Wilford and his wife live, Fletcher Bay.

In the spirit of good old fashion competition, Jim Wilford began creating wine in his garage at his home in 2008. Coming from a large competitive Irish family, Jim originally took up winemaking as a challenge to exceed the winemaking skills of his brother-in-law. In his garage Jim crafted full bodied unique reds, using Bordeaux grapes as well as Tempranillo and Sangiovese to create delicious blends and single varietals. A combination of French, Hungarian, and Virginia oak barrels for the aging process gave Jim’s wines the quality and character that he was striving for.

While working to fulfill his winemaking destiny, Jim also worked full-time as a Municipal Bond trader at the Smith Tower in Seattle while running Fletcher Bay Winery as a side business for 13 years until transitioning to running the winery full time in 2021.

Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery

“You can make bad wine from good grapes, but can’t make good wine from bad grapes.” – Dario Zucconi

Production continued in Jim’s garage until the popularity of Fletcher Bay wines increased and a larger location was needed. In 2012 Fletcher Bay Winery moved to its Coppertop Business Park location where the nautical ambiance of island life found in the tasting room and the focus on producing exceptional Washington wines has made this spot a favorite with locals and tourists alike.

Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery-Winslow Tasting Room

Jim’s focus and winemaker passion is still heavily influenced by full bodied red wines, but they now make a variety of wines that appeal to all levels of preferences from wine drinkers, including a wonderful selection of White Wines, Rosé, Fruit Wines, and Dessert Wines. Most of the grapes for Fletcher Bay wines come from the Crawford Vineyard located just north of Prosser in a relatively cooler area of the Yakima Valley. Crawford Vineyard is a 160 acre family owned vineyard that spans back three generations.

“We also source from other vineyards in Eastern Washington, primarily the Walla Walla Valley. We’ve found the best Cabernet Franc to come from Rock Bottom Vineyard, our favorite Merlot from the Aria Vineyard, our best ever Cabernet Sauvignon (2017 vintage), from the Red Path Vineyard and delicious, jammy, true Washington Syrah from Johnson Ridge, all located in the Walla Walla Valley.”

Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery

Many of Fletcher Bay’s wines have won gold and double gold medals at local, national and international wine competitions, to include:

  • SYRAH, 2017-Bronze: New Orlean’s International Wine Competition 2019
  • KYLEE’S CABERNET SAUVIGNON BARREL SELECT, 2017-Silver: New Orlean’s International Wine Competition 2019
  • CABERNET SAUVIGNON, 2017-Silver: Sip Northwest Best of the Northwest Wine Competition 2019
  • PIRATE RED, 2017-Silver: Washington State Wine Competition 2019
  • SANGIOVESE, 2017-Silver: Washington State Wine Competition 2019

Visiting Fletcher Bay Winery

There are two Fletcher Bay Winery locations on Bainbridge Island, one on Coppertop Loop and the other is downtown on Winslow Way. The Coppertop Winery is their signature location, where most of the winemaking happens and is where Jim and winemaker Alan Vogal can often be found around the barrels, answering questions and giving out barrel samples.

The Coppertop Winery Tasting Room (Pictured here) is located just 2.5 miles from the ferry and off Highway 305 on Sportsman Club Rd.

A short walk from the ferry dock on Bainbridge is The Winslow Tasting Room, it is the closest tasting room on Winslow Way, located within the heart of downtown where you can stroll shops, other wineries, and restaurants. There is also occasional rooftop seating at this location where beautiful views of the water and Bainbridge Island can be enjoyed.

Something special is always happening at Fletcher Bay, from featuring their new releases with great release prices to having live music every Wednesday at the winery, and soon they will have the rooftop available on Saturdays at Winslow. Plus, this winter Fletcher Bay upgraded their back patio for outdoor seating with the addition of Adirondack furniture, tents, firepits and heaters. Jim added, “We always look to upgrade our venues and improve our wines“.

With the hope things will continue to open up more this year, I asked Jim if Fletcher Bay had any special events coming up this Spring or Summer. Jim shared this with me; “Our biggest event annually is our Pirate Red release party. This involves professional pirates singing pirate songs , pirate grub (Red beans and rice) , and the staff and customers dressing as pirates , wenches, or sometimes mermaids.” Jim relayed they really need things to open-up more before committing to having the event. Usually held in May, but cancelled last year, it might be June or even into August this year.

Both locations are open 7 days a week most of the year and they have taken precautions to ensure a safe and healthy environment during COVID-19.

Fletcher Bay Wines

Fletcher Bay has always been a “Cab Centric Winery and Jim makes it a point to always have a Cabernet or Syrah on hand for customers to enjoy. In February the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage was released followed by the 2018 Syrah on March 6th and today, March 20th, marks the release of their 2019 Sangiovese.

2018 Fletcher Bay Syrah

The 2018 Fletcher Bay Syrah is a blend of 88% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec

Featuring fruit from the Johnson Ridge Vineyard in Walla Walla the 2018 Fletcher Bay Syrah has vibrant layers of concentrated red and black fruit aromas and flavors. Showcasing a remarkable level of complexity this wine gives Syrah the leading role, it is a smooth and well integrated wine that allows the supporting cast of Cabernet Franc and Malbec to display there enticing characteristics. Ripe red berries and black pepper from the Syrah plays of the black cherries and cassis from the Cab Franc while Malbec gathers everything together and finishes with an encore of plum, chocolate and coffee. Really an outstanding Washington Syrah.

2019 Fletcher Bay Sangiovese

100% Sangiovese from the Dwelley Vineyard in Walla Walla. Aged in neutral barrels for 1.5 years this quality wine has a nice structure of acidity, tannin and fruit concentration. Perfect to enjoy now or sometime over the next five years.

I really enjoyed all of the wines from Fletcher Bay, yet this 2019 Sangiovese really captured and held my attention. The grapes speak for themselves in this wine and it’s bright, red fruit-filled aromas with pockets of spice, herbs and dried flowers is mimicked on the palate with impressive bursts of flavors. This is a wine that I will definitely explore again and again.

Barking Dog Red

Fletcher Bay Winery Barking Dog Red is a blend of Columbia Valley 40% Sangiovese, 40% Merlot and 20% Syrah.

The name for this “Story Wine” comes from Jim’s two barking dogs who don’t like racoons and his love of red wine. A few “story wines” are released each year and their stories are usually related to the community of Bainbridge or about the Wilford family.

This easy drinking, Barking Dog Red is a combination of more than one vintage and a real crowd pleasure.
• Aromas of red cherry, crushed blackberry, savory olive
• Fruity flavors of cherry, red plum, ripe raspberry, and eucalyptus
• Pairs with spaghetti and marinara sauce

Along with their usual releases, over 2021 and 2022 Fletcher Bay will be releasing some wines that they have rarely or never done. These include a 2019 Pinot Noir, a 2019 Carmenere, a 2020 Sagrantino, a 2020 Pinotage as well as a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc , and a Pinot Grigio/ Viognier blend (PGV).

With so many of their classic wines available and an impressive array of new wines to be released Fletcher Bay Winery is worth a stop when traveling to Bainbridge Island. If travel is not possible Fletcher Bay wines are available for purchase on their website.

A place to stay during your visit to Bainbridge Island

Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery

If you are planning a long weekend or extended stay on Bainbridge Island you can rent the Winemaker’s waterfront cottage which is minutes away from the winery. The charming cottage served as the original tasting room for Fletcher Bay Winery and accommodates 4 guests and includes two bedrooms and three beds. Located mid-island on the family’s property perched on Fletcher Bay the cottage is nestled behind towering evergreen trees. More information can be found on the Fletcher Bay Winery website.

Travel Information for Bainbridge Island:

Images and Content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Washington’s Small but Mighty AVA

Candy Mountain

2020 may be a year that a lot of us want to forget, but for the Washington Wine Region it was a memorable year with the addition of not one but two new AVAs bringing the total number up to 16. Throughout this year I will be sharing some history, geology, geography and wineries that source their grapes from each of the unique Washington AVAs. Two new AVAs, Candy Mountain AVA and Royal Slope AVA, found their permeant home on the list of Washington AVAs in September of last year. It seems only fitting to start with the newest member first, Candy Mountain, and work my way to the oldest. This will also give a better glimpse into the history of the Washington Wine Industry and will pave the way for sharing some fantastic Washington Wines.

Before we begin if you need more information about American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), read Chris Mercer’s article from Decanter.

Washington’s 16th AVA

Located in Benton County with a portion being in the city limits of Richland, WA, Candy Mountain American Viticultural Area (AVA) was officially accepted and recognized on September 25, 2020, making it the 16th AVA in Washington.

The northern, western, and southern boundaries of the AVA follow roads and interstate highways that are located along the base of the mountain. Most of the eastern boundary follows a line drawn along the crest of the mountain to separate the proposed AVA from the northeastern-facing side of the mountain. The remainder of the eastern boundary follows roads to encompass land near the base of the mountain that has slope angles and slope aspects that are similar to those on the southwestern side of the mountain.

Believing that the area held a lot of promise, the petition proposing the establishment of the Candy Mountain AVA was written by Dr. Kevin R. Pogue, a professor of geology at Whitman College. Also, since the proposed Candy Mountain AVA lies entirely within the established Columbia Valley AVA and partially within the established Yakima Valley AVA it was also proposed to expand the Yakima Valley AVA by approximately 72 acres so that the entire proposed Candy Mountain AVA would be within the established AVA.

Candy Mountain is situated southeast of the taller Rattlesnake Mountain, and is one of a series of four hills, often referred to as the “rattles” which includes Little Badger Mountain, Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain and Red Mountain. The core of Candy Mountain is an upfolded ridge of basalt , a dark volcanic rock which flowed from the ground in large parallel cracks during the Miocene Epoch that began erupting about 17 million years ago. This geologic era also formed the Cascade Mountains that rose and created a rain shadow that blocks off moisture coming in from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Washington.

Two distinguishing features of Candy Mountain AVA include its soils and topography. The soils, especially on the upper slopes, are shallower than those of the surrounding plains, which allows the vine roots to penetrate to the underlying basalt bedrock and loess soils left from the Missoula Floods that defines the Columbia Valley soils. The soil of Candy Mountain is comprised of calcium-rich feldspars and other minerals that are rich in iron and magnesium, and scattered in some of the vineyards are large chunks of calcium-caked gravel and calcium carbonate horizons called “Caliche”. The generally thin soils with this area have a decreased capacity for holding water which allows for the growers to practice whatever vine stress that they see fit along with controlled irrigation during the growing season.

In most areas, the caliche forms a conspicuous white layer under the topsoil that adds mineral complexity.

Topography related to active geologic structures control the boundaries of Candy Mountain
AVA, this isolated mountain encompasses slopes with a southwesterly aspect. These southwest-facing slope are between 640-1,320 foot above sea level, meaning that the appellation is less susceptible to frost than the valley floor. Excluded from the AVA was the northeastern side of the mountain, the very steep slopes and significantly less direct sunshine deemed it too challenging for grape-growing.

Want to learn more about the geography of the area, this two page brochure developed by volunteers from Battelle and the Lake Lewis Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute is a wonderful resource on how the Ice Age Floods near Richland, WA shaped the land.

Like it’s neighboring AVA, Red Mountain, Candy Mountain has a similar climate along with higher winds than the surrounding area and a low average rainfall of 6-8″ a year which occurs almost entirely in the winter and spring months. These warmer dryer growing conditions along with the distinctive minerality soil profile of Candy Mountain brings richness and a vibrant characteristic to the red varieties grown there.

Currently the smallest AVA in Washington, Candy Mountain includes 815 acres with 110 acres of vineyards that are almost all planted with red varieties to include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. The region has been growing highly regarded grapes for years and there is a lot of excitement to finally see the AVA-designated wines out in the world. As of October 26, 2020, wineries are now able to list “Candy Mountain” as the AVA on bottles if at least 85% percent of the fruit was grown within that designated region. Providing a venue to identify the characteristics of this specific growing area the Candy Mountain AVA and it’s unique characteristics that impart identifiable tastes into the fruit.

Kitzke Cellars

Currently there is only one winery within the appellation, Kitzke Cellars and their vineyards in this AVA include Kitzke Estate’s Candy Mountain Vineyard, Candy Ridge Vineyard their original estate block on Candy Ridge Vineyard and Candy Mountain Hill Vineyard, jointly owned by Dick Shaw and Ramer Holton.

Family owned and operated, this boutique winery sits on Candy Mountain in Richland, WA.

A passion for agriculture and farming lead the Kitzke family to plant a small vineyard on Candy Mountain in 2000 of Bordeaux varietals. Their first vintage was made in 2005 and from there the families love for viticulture continued to bloom. Son Seth, who had worked in the vineyards since the beginning, took over the winemaking duties for Kitzke Cellars in 2016, this was also the year that Kitzke went herbicide free in the vineyards. Always listening to the land, sustainable farming has become a commitment of Kitzke as their vines age.

With Candy Mountain framed in the distance, the vineyard next to Kitzke Cellars is the Kitzke‘s Candy Ridge Vineyard.

The knowledge and service in the tasting room along with the opportunity to try their impressive selection of wines and vintages makes Kitzke Cellars worth a visit when exploring the Candy Mountain AVA area. Although I did not do a wine tasting the day of my visit, I brought home a bottle of Kitzke Cellars Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc to enjoy this Spring.

Due to their small vineyard many of Kitzke Cellars Wines are limited in quantity, their wine club always get first dibs on the wines before their mailing list and tasting room sales take place. For information about their available wines visit their website and sign up for their mailing list, or you can also call them during their open hours which are Friday & Saturday from 12-5 and Sunday from 12-4 at 509-628-9442.

There are only a few more vineyards currently growing grapes on Candy Mountain including the namesake Candy Mountain Vineyard, a 50-acre site planted in 1998, which was recently acquired by Oregon Potato Co., owned by Frank Tiegs and headquartered in Pasco, WA. Producers who have sourced their grapes from Candy Mountain Vineyard in the past have included L’Ecole N° 41 and Long Shadows Vintners. Recently Marshall Edwards, owner of Northwest Vineyard Management added vines along the southwest portion of Candy Mountain.

Visiting the Candy Mountain AVA

The Candy Mountain AVA is within the Tri-Cities region which boasts 300 days of sunshine each year and that includes the winter months! There are more than 200 wineries within an hour’s drive of the Tri-Cities that provide a selection of one-of-a-kind wines. No matter which season you decide to visit, enjoy blue skies that lead to breathtaking sunsets as you enjoy dozens of outdoor activities like paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking and biking that will complement your ultimate wine region exploration getaway.

If you are interested in visiting the Candy Mountain AVA here are some resources to help you plan your visit:

The Quiet Beauty of a Dormant Vineyard

Since my visit to the Candy Mountain AVA occurred in February I wanted to include some fun facts about the vineyards in the Winter. Now, I know that we all love to see beautiful vineyards when the rows of green vines and leaves make for the perfect wandering locations and photo opportunities or when it is harvest time and the vineyards are filled with abundant clusters of red or green grapes. However, winter dormancy when the field is full of bare, woody vines is a much needed time of rest for the vines as they prepare themselves to greet the Spring with a burst of new growth. So, what happens in the vineyard during this time of dormancy?

  • Before winter, the vines have already stored their carbohydrate and nutrient reserves in the roots, woody trunk and cordons. These stored reserves are essential in giving the vines enough energy to produce budburst and new shoots in the Spring.
  • Interestingly and also very important is that the vines before winter have gone through a process of dehydration, this keeps water from freezing within the vine and root tissues during the cold winter months. Still damaging cold winter frosts can be a serious problem in many cold regions.
  • The resting period of Winter Dormancy is vital to the growth cycle of vines. The seasons temperatures must become cold enough that vine growth is halted.
  • Setting the stage for the next years growing cycle, Winter Dormancy is also the time for winter pruning to be performed. The previous year’s growth of woody canes are cut off and the selection of new canes from which the new shoots will grow in springtime are made. This time of winter pruning also stimulates the vines sending them a signal that when sunshine and warmer weather arrives the vines can awaken to begin their new cycle.
Winter Dormancy occurs December-March in Northern Hemisphere and July-September in Southern Hemisphere.

So, the next time you take in the sight of a vineyard in the winter, remember that while things may appear quiet on the surface, there’s lots of work still being done. Though the vines may appear to be sleeping they are working hard to make themselves ready for a new growing cycle which with any luck will give rise to a wonderful new vintage.

There are still 15 more Washington AVAs to explore this year, next I will introduce you to the Royal Slope AVA and the Lawrence family who have been farming the Royal Slope, near Royal City, Wash., in Washington’s Columbia Valley for over 45 years.

Images and content © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.