The Yakima Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) encompasses a significant diversity of climate, topography and soil; and this diversity yields a broad spectrum of high-quality grapes and wines. Four AVAs — Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain — highlight this impressive regional complexity.
The Yakima Valley wine growing region grows more than 47 grape varieties. The success of this diversity can be attributed to the many mesoclimates — variations of heat, soil and aspect variations that play a major role in successfully growing so many grape varieties.
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA is one of four appellations within the Yakima Valley. It was established in 2006 and is completely within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley appellation. Rattlesnake Hills is named after the hills of the area, which are named after the Northern Pacific rattlesnake. It is located around the town of Zillah.
As a growing region, 56 percent of the grapes grown in the Rattlesnake Hills are red and 44 percent are white. Riesling is a dominant white grape producing wines with aromas and flavors of lime, lemon and green apple. Other sites in the appellation offer flavors with more stone fruit, particularly peach.
Merlots are notable for red fruit aromas and flavors, such as sweet cherries, red currants and raspberries, along with chocolate and mint. For cabernets, black cherry, cassis and light, high-toned herbal notes are often the hallmarks.
The east-west trending Rattlesnake Hills are an anticline of the Yakima fold belt, a series of geologic folds that define a number of viticultural regions in the area.
The appellation itself lies on the south slope of the Rattlesnake Hills and includes the highest point in the Yakima Valley AVA. The Rattlesnake Hills’ distinguishing feature is its elevation relative to the surrounding area. Elevations range from 850 feet to 3,085 feet, although vineyard plantings are limited to the lower-lying areas.
The appellation’s heightened elevation lessens the risk of spring and fall frosts. Winter temperatures are warmer than the surrounding area, limiting the danger of hard freezes. The predominant soil types are silt-loam and loam.
Rattlesnake Hills has an arid, continental climate and receives an average of 6 to 10 inches of rainfall annually. Irrigation is therefore required to grow vinifera grapes. The earliest vines at Rattlesnake Hills were planted in 1968.
The following wines represent the true characteristics of the fruit from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA:
■ J. Bell Cellars 2016 La Blanc, $25: A lively Rhone-style blend of roussanne, viognier and grenache blanc offering aromas of stone fruit. This wine is balanced and bright with flavors of peach — a perfect summer wine.
The grapes are from Bosetti Vineyards, a 4-acre vineyard on Lombard Loop in Zillah, growing at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,300 feet.
■ Pollard 2016 Red Blend, $35: A blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon with a medium body and floral notes. With great balance and good acidity, this wine represents Rattlesnake Hills to a T.
Pollard Vineyard is a 10-acre site just west of Zillah. The vineyard was planted in 2014 with a higher-than-average plant per acre. Pollard Vineyard has 2,400 plants per acre versus 1,700 plants per acre in a typical vineyard. Vineyard altitude is 1,150 feet.
■ Andrew Will 2014 Two Blondes, $63.50: A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec with aromas of tobacco and smoke and flavors of licorice, tobacco, oak and herbs. This is a full-bodied wine representing a classic Yakima Valley Bordeaux blend, perfect to drink now or put in your cellar.
Two Blondes vineyard is a 30-acre site just north of Zillah planted in 2000. The vineyard altitude is 1,150 feet.
• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries.