As plantings increase in the Columbia Valley, growers and winemakers are looking to add to the specificity of their wines. It is therefore no surprise that four new appellations, or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), have been proposed this year for Washington. The proposed appellations are, in order submitted, Candy Mountain, Royal Slope, The Burn of Columbia Valley, and White Bluffs.
If approved, Candy Mountain would be a new sub-appellation of the Yakima Valley, which in turn is a sub-appellation of the larger Columbia Valley. The area is located near West Richland, just north of Interstate 82. Candy Mountain, along with nearby Red Mountain, Badger Mountain, and Little Badger Mountain are collectively referred to as “the rattles” due to their alignment with Rattlesnake Mountain.
At 815 acres, Candy Mountain would be Washington’s smallest appellation, with most of the acreage lying on the mountain’s southwestern slopes. The area currently has 53.7 acres of wine grape vines planted. The largest vineyard is Candy Mountain Vineyard, with much of the fruit going to Long Shadows and L’Ecole No. 41. There is one winery located within the appellation, Kitzke Cellars. The application was accepted January 24, 2017.
Royal Slope would also be a new sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley. The proposed appellation is located in east-central Washington, near the town of Royal City, with Highway 26 cutting through it. The area is located between the Ancient Lakes AVA, which forms part of the Royal Slope’s northern boundary, and the Wahluke Slope, which lies to the south.
The proposed area is 156,389 acres and currently has more than 1,400 planted to wine grape vines. It includes 13 commercial vineyards, among them Stillwater Creek, Lawrence, and Stoneridge, along with one winery, Foxy Roxy Wines. Of note, Stoneridge was the source of the fruit for the 2006 Charles Smith Royal City Syrah, which received a 100-point rating from critic Paul Gregutt at Wine Enthusiast. The application was accepted April 14, 2017.
The Burn of Columbia Valley appellation would be located in south-central Washington, west of Sundale. The area lies east of the Columbia Gorge AVA and west of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA on a bench above the Columbia River, which forms the area’s southern boundary. According to the application, the name ‘The Burn’ has been used to refer to this area since the early 1900s.
There are 16,870 acres in the proposed appellation, of which 1,261 are under vine. Cabernet Sauvignon comprises the vast majority of the plantings. The application was accepted on October 31, 2017.
Finally, White Bluffs would also be a new sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley. The proposed appellation is located in south-central Washington, north of Richland by the Columbia River, which forms part of the western boundary. The area encompasses 93,738 acres, of which 1,127 are under vine. The proposed appellation takes its name from an escarpment of whitish sedimentary rock along the eastern bank of the Columbia River.
The appellation would include a number of well-known vineyards, such as Sagemoor and Gamache. Claar Cellars is the only winery located within the appellation. The application was accepted on November 7, 2017.
Washington currently has 14 federally approved growing regions. If all of these new areas are approved, that number would expand to 18. Washington’s first appellation, Yakima Valley, was approved in 1983. Its fourteenth, Lewis-Clark Valley, which Washington shares with Idaho, was approved in 2016.
Each submitted application will undergo a review process as well as a comment period before a determination is made about its status. That process can take several years. Once an application is approved, wineries may begin using the appellation name on wine labels.
The further carving up of the Columbia Valley into additional sub-appellations is a natural and necessary part of the evolution of the Washington wine industry. The Columbia Valley was designed as a massive appellation, encompassing more than one quarter of the state’s acreage. In essence, when you buy a bottle of wine that says Columbia Valley, it’s broadly saying that it comes from somewhere in eastern Washington.
Winemakers continue to source fruit throughout the Columbia Valley and blend it together to create wine, and there’s no doubt the Columbia Valley designation continues to have value. However, many winemakers are also increasingly focusing on particular areas and vineyards. For this reason, adding specificity to the label can be helpful in talking about where the wine comes from. Of course, then comes the heavy lifting of working to promote and distinguish the new appellation and to create a brand that can be used to successfully market the wines.
This takes time. Walla Walla Valley is an excellent example. This appellation was approved in 1984, when there was very little wine grape acreage in the valley. Flash forward 30-some odd years and the appellation now has nearly 3,000 acres planted to wine grape vines, and it is increasingly establishing a reputation as a premier winegrowing region.
The Washington wine industry remains fast-growing. With other appellation applications in the works, expect additional sub-appellations of the Columbia Valley to be proposed in the future.