After taking the staff of Sullivan’s to Col Solare on Red Mountain recently, I wanted to write a little about Red Mountain as an AVA (American Viticultural Area).

First, Red Mountain is named for the red-hued, native grass that grows on its slopes. It is located on the eastern end of the Yakima Valley, about 65 miles southeast of Yakima, and it lies within the Yakima Valley AVA, as well as the larger Columbia Valley AVA. 

Red Mountain is more of a slope than a mountain and faces southwest over the Yakima River, where it turns north at Benton City. There are approximately 1,200 acres currently planted to vine; the AVA only has 4,040 total acres, making it the smallest AVA in the state. 

Red Mountain became an AVA in 2001, and Hedges Family Estates was instrumental in the effort. 

The thing that is unique about Red Mountain is the slope, the high-heat units and the winds from the north. The high heat helps the grapes ripen, even in cooler vintages (like 2010). The strong winds make the skins of the grapes thicker, which creates more tannic and concentrated wines (a lot of tannins in red wine comes from the grape skins). 

The majority of the vines planted are red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. There are a few whites planted, including some Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion in Klipsun and some Chenin Blanc in Kiona. 


A storied history

Jim Holmes and business partner John Williams first developed the land back in 1972, when they purchased an 80-acre plot. Nothing had been planted, it was just a pile of sagebrush, with no electricity, no water, no roads — it was quite the gamble. 

The price of the land at that time was $200 per acre.

They initially planted 10 acres of Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In the early 1990s, they purchased Kiona Winery.

Holmes and Williams amicably ended their partnership. Holmes now has Ciel du Cheval (French for “Horse Heaven” — this is where the term “Dead Horse” comes from for Mark Ryan Winery’s Cabernet blend from the vineyard. 

Holmes has also collaborated with quite a few wineries that have planted their own vineyards. Among the projects are Grand Ciel with DeLille. 

Scott Williams, John’s son, owns three large vineyards: the original Kiona, Ranch at the End of the Road and, most recently, Heart of the Hill. 

In 1982, Patricia and David Gelles purchased land on Red Mountain and began planting began in 1984. The vineyard was named Klipsun (a Chinook Indian name for “sunset”), and it has become one of the most prestigious and most expensive vineyard for grapes on Red Mountain. 

In 2002, Wine and Spirits Magazine named it among one of the 25 best vineyards in the entire world. Red Mountain is definitely getting noticed. 

Case in point: Enter Col Solare, a collaboration with Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchesi Antinori, which purchased 40 acres from the Williams family and opened the winery in 2007, as well as planted 28 acres of vines. 

Col Solare’s mission has been “to unite these two unique viticultural and winemaking cultures to produce a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine from the best Washington state fruit.” What a great place to set up shop! 

The goal of the winery is to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain. It wants to eventually use all Red mountain fruit in Col Solare; currently, it has two tiny releases of Red Mountains AVA wine: one being a Syrah; the other, a Cabernet Sauvignon. 


All about the local wine

The field trip I took the staff on made for a long day (it is 211 miles from Seattle, about a 3 1/2 hour drive). I would recommend the trip: The winery is incredible, and the tour, very informative. 

During the week, it is only open by appointment on weekends since it has a number of events. 

If you have time make a weekend out of it, go to Hedges Family Estates, Hightower, Fidelitas or any number of wineries that are there. It is all about the wine on Red Mountain — something I applaud them for.

JEFFREY DORGAN, the Washington Wine Commission’s 2009 Sommelier of the Year, is the wine director at Sullivan’s in Downtown Seattle. He previously worked at Willow’s Lodge/Barking Frog in Woodinville and at the Space Needle. He also co-owned Smash Wine Bar & Bistro in Wallingford and is a Capitol Hill resident.