of Washington's first grape-growing regions has received
federal authorization as the state's 10th American Viticultural Area
(AVA) or appellation. Establishment of the Snipes
Mountain AVA became official February 20, 2009, but
growers first planted vineyards here between 1914 and
1917, according to the federal document, citing Ron
Irvine's The Wine Project: Washington State's
Newhouse, owner of Upland Estates Winery (the only
winery currently located within Snipes Mountain AVA),
and Joan Davenport, a soil scientist based at Washington
State University’s research and extension center in
Prosser, worked together to research and write the
petition for federal AVA recognition of this small area.
The application process is complex, requiring
research and reporting of the proposed area's geologic
history, historic justification for its proposed name
and the area's history related to the growing of grapes
and the production of wines.
With a total of
only 4,145 acres within the entire Snipes Mountain AVA
– only 535 of which
are currently in production, the question arises... why has this
small area been designated as distinct from its
surrounding Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs.
A short visit to the area provides a clear answer.
Snipes Mountain and
neighboring Harrison Hill rise up in the middle of the
Yakima Valley west southwest of Sunnyside, and it is
that increased elevation that insured the survival of
the area's earlier geologic history and its
distinctiveness. Some 10,000 years ago, most of
the Yakima Valley landscape, and that of many other areas
of Eastern Washington, were violently altered throughout
the dramatic and repetitive onslaught of the Missoula
Floods that marked the end of the last ice age.
Even the course of the ancient Columbia River was cut
off and re-routed during these epic floods.
The rise in
elevation in the Snipes Mountain area (between 750 and
1,310 feet) was just enough to protect the geologic
record of The Mighty Columbia's earlier course prior to
the last ice age. The soils of Snipes Mountain AVA
are dominated by fist- and melon-sized gravel, the
sediment of Washington's ancient Columbia River before
its re-routing by the Missoula Floods.
While only one
winery - Upland Estates Winery - operates on Snipes
Mountain at this date, grapes grown within this
appellation are used for wines produced by other
wineries in Washington. With geographic branding
becoming more in vogue among winemakers and wine
consumers, the Snipes Mountain AVA designation now
informs wine enthusiasts of another distinct terroir
worthy of exploration.