Washington Wine Country: Horse Heaven Hills AVA
In a little over a week, I’ll be on the road heading north from Eugene, Oregon, to a part of Washington State’s wine country that I have never visited: Horse Heaven Hills AVA (American Viticulture Area). Horse Heaven Hills AVA is part of the larger and well-known Columbia Valley AVA and is located in southeastern Washington, bordering Yakima Valley to the north and the Columbia River to the south. The northern portion of the AVA reaches as high as 1,800 feet above sea level, while the southern part sits at just 300 feet above sea level. Vineyard slopes that face to the south benefit from strong winds that blow from the west through the Columbia Gorge, decreasing chances of the vines obtaining rot or fungal diseases – a very important factor in the health of the vines. Arid and warm, this area has an average of 3,000 heat units annually and just 6-9 inches of rain, mostly during the winter months.
The total land size of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA is 50 miles wide and 20 miles deep with 570,000 total acres – 11,062 are planted with wine grapes. The oldest block of vitis vinifera (cultivated grapes for making wine) were planted in 1972 by Don and Linda Mercer of Mercer Estates Winery – the first to be planted in the entire state. There’s a total of 24 red varieties planted in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec being the top five. Top five white varietals (out of 13 total) are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.
Invited by Janel Lubanski of Trellis Growth Partners (on behalf of the Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers), I’ll be joining a group of wine writers at the Mercer Ranch House of Mercer Estates Winery on July 19 for a media experience of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. We’ll be touring several of the areas vineyards: Martinez Vineyard, McKinley Springs, Three Crosses at Coyote Canyon, and Wallula Vineyard / The Benches. We’ll have lunch at Columbia Crest followed by a wine seminar, and a wine reception and dinner will take place at Alexandria Nicole Cellars.
Having just recently tried a number of stellar wines from each of the wineries we’ll be visiting, I am overloaded with excitement to visit the vineyards and meet the people behind the delicious wines I sampled, all of which I’ll be writing about. The photos in this post (from the Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers Facebook page) clearly depict the beauty of this region, and I’m wholeheartedly enthusiastic about this opportunity to experience the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.
We’ll not only be experiencing and learning about the Horse Heaven Hills area through this incredible upcoming media trip, but we’ll be able to truly appreciate this stretch of wine territory through their annual Trail Drive, Wine Tasting and BBQ Event. On July 20, the Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers 8th Annual Trail Drive Event will be taking place; a great opportunity for wine enthusiasts to experience this unique region while meeting the vintners and winemakers behind the highly rated wines of the Horse Heaven Hills. For more information about this event, click here.