We had a great trip, and I learned a lot about this fairly new AVA. I’ve done some extensive research since returning, and along with my face-to-face meetings, photographs, and wine tastings I’ve compiled a pretty lengthy posting here about Red Mountain AVA. Let’s get started…
Red Mountain started in 2001 as a sub-AVA of Yakima Valley, which is in turn a sub-AVA of Columbia Valley, the largest AVA in Washington state. This AVA was named for it’s cheat grass, which changes to a red color in the Spring. Known for many varietals, but I am specifically looking for new relationships with our Cab, Merlot, and Syrah program.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Charlie Hoppes, owner and Winemaker at Hamilton Cellars, for a business meeting and a winery tour. He’s leasing a fairly new, but renovated beer distribution building. He’s producing 7,500 cases of wine per year under his labels, and then works with several other individuals to do custom crush work. They buy the grapes and he takes them through to the bottle for them to have and sell. One of the really unique things about Charlie’s business is his winery. as I mentioned before, Hamilton Cellars used to be a distribution center for beer. He has several large rooms with temperature control that he uses to barrel age all of his wines. His main label is Fidelitas, and I went to visit the tasting room later in my trip where I decided to join his wine club. Charlie’s really doing something special with his Red Mountain wines. As most conversations go with Winemakers, Charlie told me that his grape sources are the real reason behind his high quality wines. He gave me a full facility tour and showed me several stainless steel fermentors, a couple of different wine presses, and a brand new cross flow filtration system.
Most larger wineries have moved to a cross flow filtration system, and away from dead-end filtration systems. To see a cross flow system in a winery producing 7,500 cases annually was strange. They are very expensive systems. The difference is that a conventional dead-end filter press (like our Della Toffola), pushes wine through a set of paper filter pads with varying sized holes. The filter cake builds up (from solids being filtered out) and then you have to stop filtering to change the blinded pads out. With a cross flow filtration system the wine is moved across the filter membrane tangentially, or along the side of gently and the filter cake gets actively diverted from the inline wine stream. This causes many beneficial side effects including:
- Filter pads last a much longer period of time
- wine volume loss is greatly minimized
- Makes filtering a continuous process, rather than a batch process
Along the way we stopped at several different vineyards and took some photos. the differences between the Red Mountain AVA and my hometown Willamette Valley AVA are many. Take soil type for instance. Willamette Valley soil types are relatively high acidity (low pH), with sand and clay content, providing a well drained soil that makes irrigation optional. In Red Mountain AVA, soils are gravelly, with high alkalinity (high pH) and high calcium carbonate (chalk) concentrations. Grapevines in Red Mountain must be irrigated. This allows growers to dial in their growth cycle for a given vintage.
Another big difference between Oregon and Washington vineyards is harvesting, pruning, and trellis systems. Red Mountain AVA vineyards are most machine pruned, which means that they use a spur pruning system as opposed to our cane pruning style here in Oregon. As pictured here on the left, a spur pruned grapevine has arms off of the trunk that are just as thick as the trunk itself. That’s because in the winter a machine comes along and prunes off all of the growth from the previous year. In a cane pruned system like the one’s we have here in Oregon, all of the shoot are pruned by hand and we select two canes from the previous year to lay down and use for all the growth for that year. Spur pruning is less expensive and generally produces more shoots for a growing season. Unfortunately, due to the Willamette Valley’s cooler climate and powdery mildew issues, we cannot use a spur pruned vine system. Another surprise was how difficult it was to find really old vines. Most of the vines in the area I viewed were three years old. After asking around at the local wineries I found out that a few years ago Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) rated a Red Mountain Cabernet Blend at 100 points. This perfect wine rating has only been given to fifteen other wines by Parker, and they’re all in California. Ever since people with resources have been setting up shop in Red Mountain.
I thought I’d add in a photo of my beautiful wife and children here. We took this in front of some lavender and sage brush (there’s a lot of sage brush here!) outside of Hightower Winery.
While in town we made stops at Kiona Vineyards and Winery, Hightower Cellars, Tapteil Estate, Gooseridge Winery, and Fidelitas Winery. I would highly recommend a trip to this area if you’re into Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s about 30 minutes drive West of Walla Walla, tucked inside the Yakima Valley AVA and Columbia Valley AVA.