A Brief History of Wine in the Yakima Valley of Washington: Catch the Crush

I love Yakima Valley Wine! It’s the perfect Vino con Vista destination for Globe-Trotting Winos.

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The Yakima Valley lies between the Columbia River and the Cascade Range. The valley is actually 2 adjacent basins in Yakima County connected by the Yakima River, a 215 mile tributary of the Columbia.

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The Yakima Valley Wine Association invited Wine Enthusiasts to its annual
Catch the Crush event on
October 13th and 14th, 2018.

Each winery offered its own
celebratory events, including grape stomps,
harvest and crush activities, tours,
free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live
music, and of course wine.

A Brief History of Wine in the Yakima Valley AVA

The Yakima Valley is located in the southern center of the state, just across the spectacular Cascade Mountains from the metropolitan areas of Seattle and Portland, this magnificent Valley is home to more than 40 wineries and over one third of the state’s vineyards. Nearly 40% of Washington state yearly wine production is made from Yakima Valley grapes.  In addition to grapes, the Yakima Valley is also home to several fruit orchards.

The Yakima Valley’s borders include the sub-AVA of the Rattlesnake Hills to the north, the Horse Heaven Hills to the south and Red Mountain forming parts of its eastern boundaries. The Snipes Mountain AVA also lies within its boundaries. To the west, the Cascade Range forms a natural border.

The Yakima Valley AVA now cultivates more than 17,000 acres of vineyards. Yakima and Benton counties are home to more than 152 wineries, and collectively they make up more than half of the wine production in Washington State.

On March 23, 1983, the Yakima Valley appellation was officially designated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. It was the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Washington State, and also the only recognized AVA north of California at that time.

Four wineries operated in the new appellation: Kiona Vineyard and Winery, Hinzerling Winery, Yakima River Winery, and Tucker Cellars. But some of our region’s finest vineyards were coming on stream in those years, including the now-famous Boushey in 1980, Klipsun in 1984, and many more opening later including Owen Roe.

Three sub-appellations have been created for areas within the Yakima Valley AVA that demonstrate unique microclimates and soil conditions: The Red Mountain AVA was created in 2001, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA was created in 2006 and the Snipes Mountain AVA created in 2009.

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The Red Mountain AVA is an American Viticultural Area that includes the land surrounding Red Mountain in Benton CountyWashington. It is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Located between Benton City and the City of West Richland, the Red Mountain AVA is the smallest in the state at only 4,040 acres.


The area is known for producing powerful tannic red wines. These wines are known for their balance in flavors, with an intense concentration of berry flavors and the Cabernet here are more structured than fruit-driven. Grapes from this area are in high demand and vineyards with notable reputations can receive as much as 30% above market price for their crops.

Many of Washington’s Cult Wines are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in this AVA including: the 2002, 2003 and 2005 Quilceda Creek Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon, which scored the rare 100 point rating from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. The Quilceda Creek wines were blends from three Red Mountain vineyards: Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and Tapteil; and one vineyard from the nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

“The primary Cabernet Sauvignon clone planted is clone #8, which in Red Mountain produces a Cabernet wine similar in profile to a California wine, while the same clone planted in nearby Horse Heaven Hills AVA produces a wine similar in profile to Bordeaux.”

Red Mountain Vineyards:

Red-Mountain Wineries:


The first grape vines in the valley are credited to a French winemaker named Charles Schanno. In 1869, he planted cuttings taken from the famous Hudson’s Bay Company trading outpost at nearby Fort Vancouver. In the early 20th century, a Seattle attorney William B. Bridgman pioneered the modern wine industry in the Yakima Valley. Many of the vineyards established across the region during this time were planted from Bridgman’s own vine cuttings. After Prohibition, Bridgman opened Upland Winery and initiated some of the earliest varietal labeling for American wines.

The Yakima Valley AVA was the first American Viticultural Area established within Washington State, gaining the recognition in 1983. Part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA, Yakima Valley AVA is home to more than 11,000 acres of vineyards.

This area has the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the state of Washington. The most widely planted varietals in the area are ChardonnayRieslingMerlotCabernet SauvignonPinot gris, and Syrah

Yakima Valley AVA
Wine region
Yakima Valley AVA.JPG
Type American Viticultural Area
Year established 1983
Part of Columbia Valley AVAWashington
Sub-regions Rattlesnake Hills AVARed Mountain AVA
Growing season 190 days
Climate region Continental
Precipitation (annual average) 8 inches (20 cm)
Soil conditions Siltloam
Total area 600,000 acres (2,400 km2)
Size of planted vineyards 11,000 acres (45 km2)[2]
Grapes produced AligoteBarberaBlack MuscatCabernet FrancCabernet SauvignonChardonnayChenin blancGamay BeaujolaisGewurztraminerGrenacheLembergerMalbecMarsanneMerlotMourvedreMuscat CanelliOrange MuscatPetit VerdotPetite SirahPinot grisPinot noirRieslingRoussanneSangioveseSauvignon blancSemillonSyrahViognierZinfandel[2]
Wine produced VarietalDessert wineSparkling wineMeritage

The Yakima Valley cultivates as much diversity and quality as any agricultural region on Earth. Apples, cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, and more fill a rich cornucopia. Completing this bounty is a remarkable spectrum of world-class wine grapes.



The foothills of the Cascade Mountains form the western boundary of the appellation with the area extending east to the Kiona Hills near Richland. Its northern border follows the crest of the Rattlesnake Hills and the southern edge traces the 1000-foot contour line along the Horse Heaven Hills to the Toppenish Ridge.


Interstate 82 forms a convenient route for visitors to tour the many wineries scattered throughout the Valley’s landscape, which offers a rich diversity of micro-climates, rugged hillsides, and wetlands.

“The sunny slopes of the Yakima Valley foothills provide the perfect growing conditions for producing intensely flavored, balanced and complex wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Syrah. Long sun-drenched days and cool evenings in this desert climate yield bold, hearty, and luscious world-class wines.”


Check out these links for more information:
Scientific support for viticulture, or the craft of grape growing, began in the Yakima Valley as early as 1917. In that year, a 200-acre plot of sagebrush near the city of Prosser was designated as an agriculture research site. Known today as the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, it is operated by Washington State University and the USDA. In 1937, this facility hired Dr. Walter Clore, who initiated grape plantings that proved vital to the nascent Washington State wine industry.



Red Willow 1973 Cabernet vines

During the 1980s, along with the rest of the Washington State wine industry, the Yakima Valley experienced a boom in the planting of new vineyards and the opening of new wineries. These included Hogue Cellars and Covey Run, both established in 1982, and Chinook Wines in 1983.


MERLOT ::2090 acres ::840 hectares

(mer-LOW) Yakima Valley Merlot is known for its sweet cherry, berry flavors and complex aromas that include plum, mint, cigar box, and sweet spices. Traditionally used in blends in much of Europe, Merlot gained popularity as a stand-alone wine in the USA in the early 1970s. Yakima Valley Merlot, with its cherry flavors and aroma, tends to be full-bodied with typically soft tannins, slightly higher in alcohol than its Bordeaux cousins and higher in acidity than Merlots from California.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON ::1350 acres ::550 hectares

(cab-air-NAY so-veen-YOWN) The king of the red grapes grows magnificently in Washington. The heady, fruity character of this complex grape develops slowly. In its youth, the wine appears more subtle and restrained than Washington Merlots. Its character can emerge as black currants, cherry, berry, chocolate, leather, mint, herbs, bell pepper or any combination of these. This wine ages beautifully. While several years of bottle aging are often needed for the wine to show its best, most can be appreciated in their youth. Many of the Yakima Valley vintners employ traditional blending practices, adding Merlot or Cabernet Franc to the wine.

SYRAH ::650 acres ::260 hectares

(sear-AH) The first Syrah grapes in Washington were planted in the Yakima Valley in 1986. National recognition for Yakima Valley Syrahs, together with the wines wide consumer appeal has lead to a substantial increase in Syrah plantings in the past few years. Syrah is just one of the Rhône varieties sparking new interest in Washington State. A spicy, rich, complex varietal, Syrah grapes turn into big, dark, intensely concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee and leather.

CABERNET FRANC ::250 acres ::100 hectares

(cab-air-NAY FRAWNK) Cabernet Franc has captured the attention of Washington winemakers who are exploring the grapes unique varietal characteristics, using it both as a blending grape and as a stand alone variety. A hardy grape, Cabernet Franc has been of primary value for the sturdy core and firm tannins it adds to softer wines. On its own, it offers delicious, spicy notes with mellow coffee and intense blueberry fruit.


Lemberger (LEM-burr-gurr) (also Blue Franc) Makes soft fruity wines, enjoyable when young.
Sangiovese (san-gee-o-VASE-ee) The classic wine grape of Chianti, these wines are great with tomato-based dishes.
Malbec (MALL-bek) One of the five permitted red varietals of Bordeaux, this distinctive wine is most often used for blending.

CHARDONNAY ::3180 acres ::1290 hectares

(shar-doe-NAY) Yakima Valleys most widely planted grape is also the best manifestation of the states special winemaking character. Diverse styles made by Washington winemakers vary from crisp non-oak versions to richer barrel fermented wines. Both of these styles showcase Chardonnay varietal intensity and typically good Washington acid balance. Many wineries also use secondary malo-lactic fermentation to add rich vanillin and buttery nuances.

RIESLING ::920 acres ::370 hectares

(REES-ling) Yakima Valley Riesling is one of the original grape varieties grown in Washington and one of the first to bring national attention to Washington wines. The Valleys Rieslings tend to be very floral in the nose, with vivid apricot-peach flavors. Most Washington Rieslings are vinted in an off-dry to slightly sweet style, all balanced with typically good acidity. Occasionally, “noble rot” works its magic on Riesling, concentrating the sugars and flavors to produce a late-harvest or ice wine of incomparable intensity.

SEMILLON ::150 acres ::60 hectares

(SEH-me-yown) Washington is known for its Semillon, and while this wine is most often enjoyed young, Washington Semillons have been known to age beautifully into rich, honeyed, nutty wines. When young, it offers a broad spectrum of flavors, ranging from crisp citrus to melon and fig, and from fresh pears to vanillin. A wine with somewhat lower acidity than Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon is luscious, yet light. On rare occasions we see “noble rot” on this grape giving us a rare late-harvest bottling.

SAUVIGNON BLANC ::270 acres ::110 hectares

(SO-veen-yawn BLAWNK) These grapes make wines that appear under two names-Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc. They are becoming increasingly popular for their distinctive character, often described as fruity with a touch of herbaceousness and lively acidity. As with Chardonnay, styles range from slightly tart and grassy to tangy pineapple laced with oak.

GEWÜRZTRAMINER ::420 acres ::170 hectares

(ge-VOORTZ-tra-me-nair) An early Washington success story because of its ability to withstand the cold winters, Gewürztraminer typically offers allspice as well as tropical fruit with zesty aromas and flavors. Previously made only in an off-dry, or slightly sweet style, Gewürztraminer is now being explored by Washington winemakers who wish to make dry styles that retain its rich aromatics.


Chenin Blanc (SHEN-nin BLAHNK) Lively fruit and mouth-watering acidity make this the perfect oyster wine.
Pinot Gris (PEE-no GREE) Produces soft wines with delicate varietal elements of melon and spice.
Viognier (vee-own-YAY) A richly-textured wine with distinctive aromatic notes of peaches and honeysuckle.

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