The historic growing region of Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside is a source for some of Washington’s top wines and provides panoramic views of the surrounding Yakima Valley. (Richard Duval Images)

The historic growing region of Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside is a source for some of Washington’s top wines and provides panoramic views of the surrounding Yakima Valley. (Richard Duval Images)

Washington wine’s roots are firmly planted in Yakima Valley

It was the Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area, federally approved on April 4, 1983.

We’re fond of referring to the Yakima Valley as “the cradle of the Washington wine industry.” We say this because:

The state’s earliest vineyards were planted here, primarily because of the work of Walter Clore, who was based in Prosser.

The Pacific Northwest’s first American Viticultural Area was the Yakima Valley on April 4, 1983, eight months ahead of the establishment of the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon.

Some of the state’s first vines were planted in the valley, as early as 1914 along Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside by W.B. Bridgman.

Today the Yakima Valley remains an important region, with nearly 20,000 acres of wine grape vineyards and more than 60 wineries. While it nests within the expansive Columbia Valley AVA, there are three sub-appellations within the Yakima Valley: Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain and Red Mountain. This simply means the Yakima Valley is a diverse growing region.

At this spring’s seventh annual Cascadia International Wine Competition, 22 wine professionals judged more than 1,000 wines sourced from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia or Idaho.

Here are several gold-medal winning wines from 2019 Cascadia that sourced grapes from the Yakima Valley. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery.

Muret-Gaston Wines 2015 Olsen Vineyard GSM Red Wine, Yakima Valley, $45: This Rhône-inspired blend consists of grenache (44%), syrah (15%) and mourvedre from the expansive vineyard near Prosser planted by Dick and Larry Olsen. The Olsen brothers were feted as the Honorary Growers for the Auction of Washington Wines in 2014. Kyle Johnson, who served as their winemaker for now-closed Olsen Estates, used 90% whole-berry fermentation to develop opulent aromas of black plum, chocolate, saddle leather and chorizo. A good acid structure with stylish tightly woven tannins are a superb foundation for the blackberry fruit flavors infused with pepper, Scandinavian black salt licorice and deep florals. A pleasant medium-length finish would pair well with barbecued spareribs and all the fixings.

Sherman Winery 2015 Grenache Reserve, Yakima Valley $38: Brad Sherman of Michael Florentino Cellars in Woodinville recently opened a Seattle tasting room and launched his eponymous brand to focus on French varieties. He made quite a splash at the Cascadia for his with Snipes Mountain fruit to craft this lush, two-barrel release. Aromas and flavors of raspberry sauce, plum and dark cherries harmonize as raspberry-plum chutney fills out the palate. Balanced acidity and smooth tannins allow the finish to continue with raspberry.

WIT Cellars 2016 Olsen Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley $50: Old block cab from the Olsen family, which established its vineyard in 1980, shines in the hands of longtime Prosser winemaker Flint Nelson and his team at WIT, which stands for their “whatever it takes” approach. The complex nose opens with spice and a medley of black fruit. In the mouth, flavors of late summer blackberries, Van cherries, a dollop of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and smooth tannins end with a long, satisfying finish.

Eleven Winery 2016 La Ronde Red Wine, Washington, $37: Bainbridge Island winemaking cyclist Matt Albee strikes a delicious balance with his wide-ranging blend led by cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec and petit verdot sourced from the Yakima Valley. Fascinating aromas of black cherry, fig, vanilla wafer and sandalwood leap out. The texture is akin to satin with a tad bit of naughtiness that gives it a kick in the midpalate. Its finish is long and slow with echoes of pate, incense and Chukar Cherries enrobed in milk chocolate.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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