pure luck," concludes Fred Artz, manager of the now renowned
Klipsun Vineyard located in the Red Mountain Appellation of Washington
authorized in 2001.
"We don't even know why we did
it," confirms Jim Holmes, owner and founder of Ciel du Cheval
Vineyards on Red Mountain. "Basically, it was an investment."
Holmes family and John Williams family (owners of Kiona Vineyards) first bought 80 acres
of land in the Red Mountain region and planted 10 acres to
grapes in 1975.
Kiona Vineyards, Red Mountain
"John and I
had worked together in the stock market and tried to get rich that
way... we lost a lot of money," Holmes chuckles. "When you lose money in the stock
market, the next thing you try to do is lose
money in real estate. We could do that as well as anybody else, we
figured. So we bought 80 acres of worthless desert out here in
1972. There was absolutely nothing out here then. In fact,
we had a hard time finding the spot. We used a couple of
telephone poles to navigate back to the spot."
Williams and Holmes began to explore the
area and first found the "Experimental Station" doing work with growing wine grapes in Prosser,
under the direction of Dr. Walter Clore. Results from some of
Dr. Clore's experimental viticulture had just been
"Hey, we're only 10 miles away," Holmes remembers the two
future wine industry members concluded. "We can do this. We
thought we would grow grapes just for fun, and maybe haul them to
Seattle and sell them to home winemakers. We had no idea there
were really worthy wineries that would use these grapes."
The first ten acres of Red Mountain land were planted on what is
now Kiona Vineyards, owned by the Williams family.
"Just about the time we planted our 10 acres in 1975, we met
this guy that had a tractor dealership," explains Holmes, "a
guy named Bill Preston that started a winery just because that's what
he wanted to do. He wasn't any smarter than we were; we had
grapes and no winery; he had a winery and no grapes. So guess
what? We had a fit for a while."
Preston Winery in Pasco produced the first wines from the Red
Mountain region. It was soon obvious there was something
different about this land.
"The first and most notable thing about the place was the
Cabernet," notes Holmes. "It came off as a big
What to plant was "just a
mindless separation of 10 acres into thirds," says Holmes. "We
divided the 10 acres into thirds, and decided what to plant based on
what we saw already growing (Riesling) and what we liked (Chardonnay
and Cabernet Sauvignon)." Another three acres across the road
were planted at the same time.
Holmes alerted friends when
an 80-acre parcel came up for
sale. The land was purchased and is now owned by Holmes himself.
That land is now the famed Ciel Du Cheval vineyards.
Next to succumb to the desert allure of the Red Mountain area was
the Gelles family. As friends of the
Williams and Holmes families, David and Patricia Gelles were bound to
catch the winegrowing fever. Patricia Gelles remembers the night
Jim (Holmes) said,
'You know there's some land available out there.' That was in
December of 1981," she explains. "We had been
helping plant the vineyards out there for several years, and we happened to have some cash
available when Jim suggested the land purchase.
it in 1982, dug a well in '83, and planted in
'84 and '85... and on and on and on into 1998. We have about 240 acres
now with about 120 acres currently planted on the flat."
The Gelleses hired a young man to help plant their first
vineyards. Fred Artz now manages the 120-acre Klipsun Vineyards
property, in addition to owning a vineyard himself.
"It's kind of nice to get in on the ground floor of a new
industry," reflects Gelles. "When we began (the project), we thought
maybe we would put in a winery at between three and five years.
But the more we learned about the business, the less interested we
were. We're not going to do it. There's enough competition
out there. We grow grapes very well, and that's what we're going
to stick with."
The dominant grape varieties
currently planted to the Red Mountain Appellation
are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.
Current Red Mountain
(in 2000 when this article was originally published)
See list of wineries as of 2012
Hedges Family Estate
Kiona Vineyards Winery
Terra Blanca Vintners
Each winery owns land or
vineyards within the appellation, and Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun and Artz
vineyards grow and sell grapes to wineries throughout Washington and a
few in Oregon.
Vineyards: Red Mountain is home to many of the state’s most prestigious
grape growers such as Klipsun Vineyards, Ciel de Cheval Vineyards, Hedges Vineyards, Red Mountain Vineyards (RMV), Kiona Vineyards, Artz
Vineyards, and Tapteil Vineyards. These vineyards sell their fruit to
some of the state’s most celebrated wineries such as Bookwalter, Barnard Griffin, Soos Creek Cellars, Quilceda Creek,
Andrew Will, Woodward Canyon,
L'Ecole No41, DeLille Cellars,
Matthews Cellars, McCrea Cellars, Washington
Hills (Apex, Bridgman), Waterbrook, Seven Hills Winery, and Canoe
Mountain, Yakima and Walla Walla appellations are all contained within the Columbia
Valley, which stretches from around Wapato to Milton-Freewater and
crosses the Columbia River into Oregon. While Red Mountain AVA lies within the
southeastern area of the Yakima Valley Appellation
boundaries, it has a distinct microclimate.
The Red Mountain AVA is Washington’s
smallest. The region is approximately 3,600 acres with approximately 600 acres
currently planted. The name Red Mountain can be misleading for two
reasons. First, it does not refer to the color of the mountain's
soil, but rather, some say, to a native grass with a red hue. Secondly, Red
Mountain, for those with other mountains in mind, might be a
disappointment, since its elevation ranges from only 500 to 1,500
feet. Even so, among the rolling hills of eastern Washington's
desert, Red Mountain's sloping hillside is a prominent
landmark, storing radiant heat for the
growing vines of the valley floor. The Yakima River flows nearby,
helping moderate climate extremes, as do so many major rivers
in wine country regions throughout the world.
Some say Red Mountain Appellation has it all: slope,
exposure, weather conditions, good air drainage, large swings between
day and night temperatures, six wineries within a few
miles, plenty of undeveloped land, gravelly soil with high calcium
carbonate content and high pH (high alkalinity), both contributing flavor to grapes
grown here. Sloping lands beneath the broad Red Mountain lie at
the southeast end of the Yakima Valley,
overlooking Benton City, where annual rainfall is only about six
inches, and supplemental irrigation is usually provided a few months
into the growing season. Wines made
from Red Mountain fruit express the terroir with great strength and richness, while
demonstrating exceptional balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin.