A crew mechanically harvests grapes on the western edge of the Wahluke Slope, one of the most important regions for the Washington wine industry. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

A crew mechanically harvests grapes on the western edge of the Wahluke Slope, one of the most important regions for the Washington wine industry. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Wahluke Slope fruit plays key role for Washington’s wineries

Nearly 10,000 acres of wine grapes are planted on along the slope known for perfectly ripened fruit.

The Wahluke Slope is in a remote and arid section of Washington wine country, an 80,000-acre region that was federally designated as an American Viticultural Area in 2006.

It’s essentially a 13-mile wide gravel bar formed 15,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age when a series of outburst floods swept across what is now the Columbia Valley and reshaped what is now Washington wine country.

The Wahluke is Washington wine’s unsung hero. Nearly 10,000 acres of wine grapes are planted on the slope, a region that rarely has an issue getting ripe. It rivals Red Mountain as the warmest region within the Columbia Valley.

It also is quite dry. Last year, the slope received a mere 4.6 inches of rain. This means grape growers on the slope can all but guarantee perfectly ripened red grapes each fall, a fact appreciated by winemakers across the state.

Here are eight wines using Wahluke Slope fruit. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Desert Wind Winery 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $18: Cabernet sauvignon thrives in the heat of Washington’s Columbia Valley, and the Fries family of Duck Pond Cellars in Oregon continues to prove that its maturing 480-acre Desert Wind Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope can yield stellar cab and offer it at a remarkable price. Classic notes of plum, red currant, cherry pipe tobacco, cinnamon and toffee are joined by a well-balanced structure of tannin and acidity.

Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery 2014 Jolie Red Wine, Wahluke Slope, $36: This is owners’ Holly and Kevin Brown’s tribute to Paris, one of their favorite cities. Using grapes from Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, this cab franc-leading blend unveils aromas of cocoa powder, blueberry and a hint of light toast. A creamy, gentle mouthfeel is backed by pleasing tannins and dark chocolate. It won a gold medal and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards. Culinary maven Holly suggests serving it with grilled salmon, wild mushroom risotto or grilled flank steak.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 Katherine Leone Vineyard Single Vineyard Series Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $42: Katherine Leone is a vineyard perched on the eastern edge of the Wahluke Slope, overlooking the Columbia River and within view of the dramatic Sentinel Gap, is well-established as a top site for syrah. This superb example leads with aromas of eucalyptus and forest floor, followed by flavors of ripe blackberry, marionberry, roasted meat and chocolate-covered cherries. The creamy texture is balanced by rich, precise tannins that give way to a long finish. It won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine & Food Festival Wine Competition.

Plain Cellars 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $35: Another gold medal cab for this North Cascades winery, this time using grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope near Mattawa. Aromas of ripe cherry, blackberry and subtle black olive lead to flavors of black and blue fruit that really expands across the palate.

Ginkgo Forest Winery 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $24: One of the few wineries located on the warm, remote Wahluke Slope, Ginkgo Forest now has tasting rooms in Tacoma and Prosser. This luscious red shows why cab is king in Washington, with aromas of black currant and blackberry, followed by flavors of plum, apple wood-smoked meat and a hint of cinnamon. The plush mouthfeel gives way to a long, memorable finish.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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