Horse Heaven Hills
Horse Heaven Hills is naturally bounded... on the north by the Yakima Valley appellation and on the south by the Columbia River. It is home to many established vineyards such as the Champoux Vineyard, and Destiny Ridge Vineyard (both formerly of Mercer Ranch fame), Columbia Crest and the Andrew Vineyard.
The hills are geologic folds in the earth's crust which account for the consistent winds that blow across the land, lowering the risk of vineyard disease and pests. These continual winds stress the vines of vineyards across the region, drying them out and setting the stage for drip irrigation to be used as a canopy management tool to limit the plants' vigor. All these factors lead to intense-flavored grapes with a structural balance of sugars and acids.
Horse Heaven Hills' proximity to the Columbia River, its distinctive topography and its soil composition bring additional benefits to the growing area, moderating temperature extremes, offering steep, south-facing slopes for optimum vineyard locations, and providing quick-draining soils of silty loam to enhance canopy management through drip irrigation. The soils were deposited in the Horse Heaven Hills region when approximately 15,000 years ago the great Missoula Floods repeatedly dropped their loads of silt on a rocky volcanic base of fractured basalt.
The Horse Heaven Hills were designated as its own American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005, distinguishing it as distinct from the massive Columbia Valley appellation that surrounds it. The Horse Heaven Hills appellation encompasses 570,000 acres (approximately 6,000 in production) on a wedge of land that starts on the 1,800-foot ridges of the Hills and slopes south to the Columbia River.
Acting as a drainage basin, the gentle, largely south-facing slopes were used for dry-land wheat farming and some early 20th-century irrigated agriculture.
The land is bone dry, hotter and windier than the Yakima Valley appellation to the north, but winters are somewhat milder due to their proximity to the nearby river. Elevations range from 1,800 feet at the area's northern boundary to 200 feet at its southern boundary along the Columbia River, which also marks its eastern boundary. The west boundary is formed by Pine Creek -- which flows south to the Columbia River -- and the 1,700-foot contour line.
Currently, seven wineries call Horse Heaven Hills home, along with approximately two dozen growers, including the state’s largest (owned by Ste Michelle Estate Wines) and some of its longest-established vineyards (Mercer Ranch Vineyards in 1972, today's Champoux Vineyards). Viticulturalists find that a predictable drop in October temperatures keeps grapes on their vines a little longer than other areas, allowing full ripening and fuller-flavors in their grapes. With 11,731 acres currently planted (as of the end of 2013), Horse Heaven Hills is Washington's second largest wine grape region, behind to much longer established Yakima Valley.
Premium wineries located elsewhere also use Horse Heaven Hills grapes. Some of those wineries include: Andrew Will, Betz Family Winery, Januik Winery, L'Ecole Nº 41, O S (formerly Owen-Sullivan), Soos Creek, Three Rivers, Quilceda Creek Vintners, Woodward Canyon and Washington wineries of Ste Michelle Wine Estates (Col Solare, Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste Michelle and Northstar).
Resident Wineries & Tasting Rooms of Horse Heaven Hills
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March, 2014 Susan R. O'Hara. All rights reserved.