Horse Heaven Hills copyright Richard Duval

Wine Reviews March 6th 2024

(50+ wines reviewed below and in the database, including the latest from Betz Family, Capital Call, City Limits, Covington, Fidélitas, Gramercy, Quady North, Sagebreaker, Sweet Cheeks, Trothe, Two Vintners, and Windhorse.)

Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills is a massive, sprawling appellation. At 665,600 total acres and with 17,082 acres planted, it is one the state’s largest growing regions and production houses. (Washington has approximately 60,000 total acres planted.) The Horse Heaven Hills is also the location where much of Washington’s best Cabernet Sauvignon is grown.

For many years, all of the fruit for Quilceda Creek’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon has come from the Horse Heaven Hills. Champoux Vineyard, holy ground for Washington Cabernet, makes up the backbone of that wine, but Quilceda has other plantings in the appellation.

Champoux Vineyard has been known as a top site for Cabernet for decades. However, nearby Phinny Hill has also established a name for itself with Cabernet. A number of prominent producers, including Gramercy, Mark Ryan, and Sleight of Hand, source Cabernet from the site. May’s Discovery Vineyard has also distinguished itself, providing the backbone for Passing Time’s stunning Horse Heaven Hills-designated Cabernet Sauvignon and also vineyard-designated bottles from Two Vintners and Covington (both reviewed below) as well as others.

More recently, the Andrews family, who have farmed in the Horse Heavens for generations, launched Trothe. This is a top-end, cult-worthy quality (and priced) Cabernet Sauvignon that uses fruit from the very best spots at Andrews Family Vineyards. Ray McKee, former red winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle, serves as winemaker. The results thus far, such as with the 2021 vintage wine reviewed below, have been beyond impressive.

To date, the Horse Heavens have not received the full credit they deserve. Part of the reason, as I wrote in one of my last articles for Wine Enthusiast, is that the appellation is remote even by eastern Washington’s standards and has very few wineries. In that regard, it does not meet many of the criteria I listed for appellations to be successful.

Another reason is that Quilceda Creek’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, though entirely made from Horse Heaven fruit, is designated Columbia Valley. Quilceda has been using that designation since the early aughts, when it changed from simply labeling the wine ‘Washington.’ The Columbia Valley designation has been part of the wine’s brand. (The wine also historically included some fruit from other appellations.) Quilceda does, however, brand other Cabernets Horse Heaven Hills.

The H3 brand from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has surely given the Horse Heaven Hills wider name recognition than it would have otherwise. Wines from Mercer, Canoe Ridge, and others also see ample distribution. However, those wines are generally speaking more entry to mid-tier priced. The Horse Heavens can do that and do it exceptionally well.

Make no mistake though, the Horse Heaven Hills is unequivocally one of the best if not the best area in Washington to grow top-end Cabernet Sauvignon. Horse Heaven Cabernets bring every bit of the intensity of Red Mountain while offering fine-grained but very much present tannins that are unique to the region.

Ultimately, the Horse Heaven Hills boasts a near-perfect combination of heat accumulation, slope, aspect, and wind to produce exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine quality has, for a very long time, proven this. The area and its wines very much deserve more attention and recognition.

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At Northwest Wine Report, all scores come from blind tastings in varietal/style sets. Read more about this site’s process for rating and reviewing wines. See the Northwest Wine Report rating system and special designations. Read about how to interpret scores. See a list of recently reviewed producers.

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