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.

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