of Washington's first grape-growing regions has received
federal as the state's 10th American Viticultural Area (AVA)
or appellation. Establishment
of the Snipes Mountain AVA became official February 20,
2009, but growers first planted vineyards here between
1914 and 1917, according to the federal document, citing
Ron Irvine's The Wine Project: Washington State's
Todd Newhouse, owner of Upland
Estates Winery (the only winery currently located within
Snipes Mountain AVA), and Joan Davenport, a soil
scientist based at Washington State University’s
research and extension center in Prosser, worked
together to research and write the petition for federal
recognition of this small area. The application
process is complex, requiring research and
reporting of the proposed area's geologic history,
historic justification for its proposed name and
the area's history related to the growing of grapes and the
production of wines.
With a total of
only 4,145 acres within the entire Snipes Mountain AVA
– only 535 of which
are in production, the question arises... why has this
small area been designated as distinct from its
surrounding Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs.
A short visit to the area provides a clear answer.
Snipes Mountain and
neighboring Harrison Hill rise up in the middle of the
Yakima Valley west
southwest of Sunnyside, and it is that increased elevation
that insured the survival of the area's earlier geologic history and its distinctiveness.
Some 10,000 years ago, most of the Yakima Valley
landscape and that of many other areas of Eastern
Washington were violently altered throughout the
dramatic and repetitive onslaught of the Missoula Floods
that marked the end of the last ice age. Even the
course of the ancient Columbia River was cut off and
re-routed during these epic floods.
The rise in
elevation in the Snipes Mountain area (between 750 and
1,310 feet) was just enough to protect the geologic record
of The Mighty Columbia's earlier course prior to the
last ice age. The soils of Snipes Mountain AVA are
dominated by fist- and melon-sized gravel, the sediment
of Washington's ancient Columbia River before its
re-routing by the Missoula Floods.
While only one
winery - Upland Estates Winery - operates on Snipes
Mountain at this date, grapes grown within this
appellation are used for wines produced by other
wineries in Washington. With geographic branding
becoming more in vogue among winemakers and wine
consumers, the Snipes Mountain AVA designation now
informs wine enthusiasts of another distinct terroir
worthy of exploration.