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Wine Scene: Celebrating the hills with a new wine appellation

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The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Yakima Valley’s fourth sub-American Viticultural Area on Sept. 25. This recognition acknowledges the distinctive topography and effects of the 815 acres located just 4 miles southeast of Red Mountain near West Richland.

“We are very excited to announce the official approval of the Yakima Valley’s newest AVA, Candy Mountain,” said Kathy Shiels, president of Wine Yakima Valley, a trade organization representing the Yakima Valley’s wine industry.

Candy Mountain is the smallest AVA in Washington. There are currently 110 acres of vineyards, almost all of which are red varieties. It is wholly contained within the Yakima Valley appellation with a similar, warm climate to that of both the Red Mountain and Snipes Mountain appellations.

The Yakima Valley AVA now has four recognized microclimates that have been noted to possess distinct terrain and soils that imprint recognizable characteristics on the grapes. These AVAs are commonly referred to as sub-appellations. This diversity means a wide range of wine grapes grow well in the designated area and provide the winemaker a diverse palette from which to create his or her wine. The Yakima Valley’s four sub AVAs are Red Mountain, established in 2001; Rattlesnake Hills, established in 2006; Snipes Mountain, established in 2009; and Candy Mountain, established in 2020.

A common theme of these appellations is hills. The community’s namesake, Yakima Valley, denotes a depression or flatland, but it is the hills that climb up from the Valley’s floor that are celebrated. The airflow, temperature, soils and perspectives of the vineyards on these hillsides are a major factor that make grapes from this region so desirable.

Establishing an American Viticultural Area is a lengthy exercise of jumping through bureaucratic hoops. An application takes hundreds if not thousands of hours to complete and is very expensive. Yet growers and wineries around the state continue to charge at those hoops, because they believe AVAs pay off in terms of consumer awareness, higher wine prices and eventually higher grape prices. Washington state now has 16 appellations, with more in the works.

Marshall Edwards, owner of Northwest Vineyard Management, has recently added vines along the southwest portion of Candy Mountain. When asked how the AVA status will help him as a grower, he said, “The AVA provides a venue to identify the characteristics of our specific growing area. It is these unique characteristics that impart identifiable tastes into the fruit.”

The greatest benefit to the addition of a new AVA will be to the consumer. Highlighting the characteristics of the appellation will help educate wine lovers on the diversity of the region. The second group of benefactors will be the wineries who use the grapes from Candy Mountain. They will be able to tell the story of the wine within the context of the soils and climate to a public willing to devour the information.

AVAs don’t need to be populated with wineries to be successful — Snipes Mountain AVA doesn’t have a winery in it, and Candy Mountain AVA has just one within its boundaries — but high-quality wines are being produced from grapes grown within these areas. Some of these smaller AVAs may be owned by one or two individuals, which negates the ability for multiple wineries to pop up within the boundaries, but rest assured, vineyard-designate wines give the AVAs visibility.

Shiels says that interest continues to grow in the Yakima Valley.

“We are constantly being asked about vineyard specifics — soil, water, climate,” she said. “Sub-AVAs can be important tools in telling the Yakima Valley story to consumers and the trade as educational tools.”

With the finalization of the new AVA, wine lovers and members of the wine trade will have the opportunity to become more familiar with the distinctive quality and flavor profile of Candy Mountain wines.

• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries. Her column runs bi-weekly in SCENE.

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