The Hunt for Red Mountain

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During the years when I taught my Professional Wine Studies class at a local culinary school, I had a standard set of wines I used on tasting days. Red wine day always included Napa Cabernet, Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, Sonoma Zinfandel, Oregon Pinot Noir, and Washington State Merlot. You have to admit, it’s a pretty good flight for wine newbies.

My favorite wine to use for the Washington Merlot was from Fidélitas Wines. Fidélitas Red Mountain Merlot, to be exact. I adore that wine—rich with aromas of blackberry, strawberry, pomegranate, and dried cherry—with a hint of sage, tobacco, and rose petal as well. It was a great example of Merlot for my students, and remains one of my favorite red wines.

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When my husband and I decided to embark on a road trip after this year’s SWE Conference in Portland, we had the idea to drive through Oregon and Washington, down through Idaho, and onward to Salt Lake City (we’d fly home from there). This was a great trip, and we planned some wonderful experiences, including hiking though the Columbia Gorge, seeing the actual “rocks”of Milton-Freewater, lunching at the Crossings Winery in Idaho, and visiting Shohone Falls. But I had one main goal—to seek out and find the source of my long-time favorite Washington State wine: Fidélitas Red Mountain Merlot.

And thus began our hunt for Red Mountain.

To begin the hunt, we headed west from our hotel in Richland assisted by our handy rental car GPS device and anticipating an easy 15-mile drive. The first part of the drive was a bit confusing, as we rolled past suburban strip malls and then a whole lotta nothing…but then we experienced one of those magical wine touring moments where the lazy highway looped around a corner and suddenly we were at the bank of the Yakima River staring at an expanse of vineyards as far as the eye could see.

Obviously, we were getting warmer and when the GPS squawked at us to take a sharp turn off the highway and head north, we obliged. It wasn’t long until madame GPS told us get off the highway altogether and make a sharp U-turn and turn south, followed by a quick turn east. It made sense, seeing we were surrounded by vineyards, but the very road we had been ordered to take soon turned to gravel, and then to dirt, and then to cinder blocks, abandoned tractors, and  a few discarded washing machines. This was not the place.

Without beating the story to a pulp, let’s just say that after four more tries, we gave up on GPS and switched to iPad navigation—with the same results. After giving that a try, we decided to just drive around and see what we could find. We soon found a street called Antinori Drive. Well…what wine lover could resist a drive down Antinori Drive?

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We didn’t know it yet, but we had driven around in circles enough to find ourselves in the heart of the Red Mountain AVA, and as we slow-drove down Antinori Drive we passed Force Majeure Vineyard, Longwinds Canvasback Vineyard, and the Hedges Family Estate. We turned on North Sunset Road and stumbled upon Red Mountain Vintners and the Kiona Ranch at the End of the Road.

We decided to make our way home and opted for more scenery by taking a different road out—and drove directly into the parking lot at Fidélitas Wines’ Red Mountain Tasting Room. Of course, we made an afternoon of it and sampled an array of delicious wines—the Malbec and the Chardonnay were among my favorites—they were almost as good as the Red Mountain Merlot. They had a large map of the Red Mountain AVA on the wall and we were able to figure out where we had been (and how to get home in one piece). We purchased a slew of bottles, enjoyed the amazing view from their back patio, and even ran into some folks from the SWE Conference that had ended just a few days earlier. All in all, it was a pretty good day in wine country.

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Here are a few fascinating fast facts about the Red Mountain AVA:

  • At just 4,040 acres, Red Mountain is the smallest AVA in Washington State.  Just under 3,000 of these acres are planted to vines.
  • Red Mountain is a sub-appellation (along with Rattlesnake Hills and Snipes Mountain) of the Yakima Valley AVA (which is itself a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley AVA).
  • The AVA  has an elevation of 1,410 feet (430 m) at its highest point.
  • The name “Red Mountain” derives from the invasive Cheatgrass that covers parts of the mountain—it turns a reddish color in the summer.
  • The entire AVA is located on the south/southeast slope of Red Mountain (which really looked like more of a hill to me) that faces the Yakima River. This combined with the northerly latitude (46°N) and minimum rainfall (just 7 inches in a typical year) means the area has long days, an extraordinary amount of sunshine during the growing season, and a large diurnal temperature variance.
  • Red Mountain is largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and a smattering of other grapes are seen here as well.
  • In 2002, Quilceda Creek Winery used Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Red Mountain and Heaven Hills AVAS to produce the first American wine from outside of California to earn a 100-point score from Robert Parker.  As of this year (2017), Quilceda Creek Winery has produced six wines that have earned “100 Parker Points.”

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

One Response to The Hunt for Red Mountain

  1. Jean P says:

    We must have the same palate. We had our “ah-ha” moment at Fidelitas in their Woodinville tasting room. We have a pretty strong regional palate going on down here in Paso Robles, so we were having a harder time with the Washington wines on our 5 day stay in Woodinville. But day 4, we hit Fidelitas, took one sip of their Malbec and I almost cried. I told the staff pouring that THIS wine was the first that I had really enjoyed in 4 days, and wondered why! She told me it probably was because the fruit was from Red Mountain. She told us a few others to visit and sure enough, Red Mountain ava wines were our sweet spot! Kind of like our Willow Creek ava here in Paso Robles. Thanks for sharing all the info!!

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