was pure luck," concludes Fred Artz, manager of the now renowned
Klipsun Vineyard located in the Red Mountain Appellation of
Washington authorized in 2001.
don't even know why we did it," confirms Jim Holmes, owner and
founder of Ciel du Cheval Vineyards on Red Mountain.
"Basically, it was an investment."
Jim Holmes family and the John Williams family (owners of Kiona
Vineyards) first bought 80 acres of land in the Red Mountain
region and planted 10 acres to grapes in 1975.
Kiona Vineyards, Red Mountain
and I had worked together in the stock market and tried to get rich
that way... we lost a lot of money," Holmes chuckles. "When
you lose money in the stock market, the next thing you try to do is
lose money in real estate. We could do that as well as anybody
else, we figured. So we bought 80 acres of worthless desert out
here in 1972. There was absolutely nothing out here then.
In fact, we had a hard time finding the spot. We used a couple
of telephone poles to navigate back to the spot."
Williams and Holmes began
to explore the area and first found the "Experimental Station" doing
work with growing wine grapes in Prosser, under the direction of Dr.
Walter Clore. Results from some of Dr. Clore's experimental
viticulture had just been published.
"Hey, we're only 10 miles
away," Holmes remembers the two future wine industry members
concluded. "We can do this. We thought we would grow grapes
just for fun, and maybe haul them to Seattle and sell them to home
winemakers. We had no idea there were really worthy wineries
that would use these grapes."
The first ten acres of
Red Mountain land were planted on what is now Kiona Vineyards, owned
by the Williams family.
"Just about the time we
planted our 10 acres in 1975, we met this guy that had a tractor
dealership," explains Holmes, "a guy named Bill Preston that started
a winery just because that's what he wanted to do. He wasn't
any smarter than we were; we had grapes and no winery; he had a
winery and no grapes. So guess what? We had a fit for a
Preston Winery in Pasco
produced the first wines from the Red Mountain region. It was
soon obvious there was something different about this land.
"The first and most
notable thing about the place was the Cabernet," notes Holmes.
"It came off as a big surprise!"
What to plant was "just a
mindless separation of 10 acres into thirds," says Holmes. "We
divided the 10 acres into thirds, and decided what to plant based on
what we saw already growing (Riesling) and what we liked (Chardonnay
and Cabernet Sauvignon)." Another three acres across the road
were planted at the same time.
Holmes alerted friends
when an 80-acre parcel came up for sale. The land was purchased and
is now owned by Holmes himself. That land is now the famed
Ciel Du Cheval vineyards.
Next to succumb to the
desert allure of the Red Mountain area was the Gelles family.
As friends of the Williams and Holmes families, David and Patricia
Gelles were bound to catch the winegrowing fever. Patricia
Gelles remembers the night it happened.
"One evening, Jim
(Holmes) said, 'You know there's some land available out there.'
That was in December of 1981," she explains. "We had been
helping plant the vineyards out there for several years, and we
happened to have some cash available when Jim suggested the land
"We bought it in 1982,
dug a well in '83, and planted in '84 and '85... and on and on and
on into 1998. We have about 240 acres now with about 120 acres
currently planted on the flat."
The Gelleses hired a
young man to help plant their first vineyards. Fred Artz now
manages the 120-acre Klipsun Vineyards property, in addition to
owning a vineyard himself.
"It's kind of nice to get
in on the ground floor of a new industry," reflects Gelles. "When we
began (the project), we thought maybe we would put in a winery at
between three and five years. But the more we learned about
the business, the less interested we were. We're not going to
do it. There's enough competition out there. We grow
grapes very well, and that's what we're going to stick with."
The dominant grape
varieties currently planted to the Red Mountain Appellation are
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.
(in 2000 when this article was originally published)
See list of wineries as of 2012
winery owns land or vineyards within the appellation, and Ciel du
Cheval, Klipsun and Artz vineyards grow and sell grapes to wineries
throughout Washington and a few in Oregon.
Vineyards: Red Mountain is home to
many of the state’s most prestigious grape growers such as Klipsun
Vineyards, Ciel de Cheval Vineyards, Hedges Vineyards, Red Mountain
Vineyards (RMV), Kiona Vineyards, Artz Vineyards, and Tapteil
Vineyards. These vineyards sell their fruit to some of the state’s
most celebrated wineries such as Bookwalter, Barnard Griffin, Soos
Creek Cellars, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, Woodward Canyon, L'Ecole
No41, DeLille Cellars, Matthews Cellars, McCrea Cellars,
Washington Hills (Apex, Bridgman), Waterbrook, Seven Hills Winery,
and Canoe Ridge.
Terroir: Red Mountain, Yakima and
Walla Walla appellations are all contained within the Columbia
Valley, which stretches from around Wapato to Milton-Freewater and
crosses the Columbia River into Oregon. While Red
Mountain AVA lies within the southeastern area of the
Yakima Valley Appellation
boundaries, it has a distinct microclimate.
The Red Mountain AVA is Washington’s smallest. The region is
approximately 3,600 acres with approximately 600 acres currently
planted. The name Red Mountain can be misleading for two reasons.
First, it does not refer to the color of the mountain's soil, but
rather, some say, to a native grass with a red hue. Secondly,
Red Mountain, for those with other mountains in mind, might be a
disappointment, since its elevation ranges from only 500 to 1,500
feet. Even so, among the rolling hills of eastern Washington's
desert, Red Mountain's sloping hillside is a prominent landmark,
storing radiant heat for the growing vines of the valley floor. The
Yakima River flows nearby, helping moderate climate extremes, as do
so many major rivers in wine country regions throughout the world.
Red Mountain Appellation has it all: slope, exposure, weather
conditions, good air drainage, large swings between day and night
temperatures, six wineries within a few miles, plenty of undeveloped
land, gravelly soil with high calcium carbonate content and high pH
(high alkalinity), both contributing flavor to grapes grown here.
Sloping lands beneath the broad Red Mountain lie at the southeast
end of the Yakima Valley, overlooking Benton City, where annual
rainfall is only about six inches, and supplemental irrigation is
usually provided a few months into the growing season. Wines
made from Red Mountain fruit express the terroir with great strength
and richness, while demonstrating exceptional balance of fruit,
acidity, and tannin.