Naches Heights in Yakima Valley received federal approval yesterday to become a certified American Viticultural Area effective January 13, 2012. Naches Heights is an elevated plateau in Yakima County, Washington that encompasses 13,254 acres. Currently just over 37 acres of wine grapes are planted in the new AVA, making it the smallest planted wine region in the state.
The new AVA is the fifth appellation located in Yakima County (other county appellations are Columbia Valley AVA, Yakima Valley AVA, Rattlesnake Hills AVA and Snipes Mountain AVA).
Several features distinguish Naches Heights from its neighboring AVA’s including its geological formation of Tieton andesite, rich volcanic soil, higher elevation which reduces winter damage to vineyards, and sustainable farming. All seven vineyards in Naches Heights grow their grapes using organic, biodynamic or LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification program practices, making Naches Heights Washington state’s first exclusively sustainable AVA.
“As a third-generation farmer in the region, I am elated to announce this designation,” said Phil Cline, owner of Naches Heights Vineyard. “It is a true testament to a lot of hard work. We farm with love – love of the land, grape-growing and making the region a sustainable place for generations to come.”
The region was formed one million years ago from a lava flow from the Cascade Mountains. After the volcanic flow, andesite cooled and hardened to form the single, elevated Naches Heights plateau. The soils, termed Tieton Loam Loess, are an ideal topsoil for growing grapes and other crops such as apples, cherries, pears and peaches – all contributing to the terroir of wines from Naches Heights. The andesite cliffs ending the plateau differentiate the area from the Naches River Valley, Cowiche Creek Valley and Yakima River Valley. The plateau’s height ranges from 1,200 to 2,100 feet and is one of the highest elevated appellations in Washington state.
“The Naches Heights Winery and Vineyard Association hopes that all future vineyards on the Heights will also agree to go organic,” said Cline. “With our ideal growing conditions, ample irrigation water from the Cascade Mountains, and 310 days of sunshine per year, there is no need to use chemical herbicides or fertilizers on Naches Heights. We hope all new vineyards on Naches Heights will support our commitment to organic agriculture.”
“For over twenty years, I have purchased grapes from some of the best vineyards throughout Washington State,” said Wilridge Winery owner and winemaker Paul Beveridge. “I decided to plant grapes on Naches Heights because I think it has the potential to produce the finest wines in Washington State. I also enjoy the convenience of the location, less than 100 miles from our winery in Seattle.”
There are two wineries operating in the Naches Heights AVA – Naches Heights Vineyards and Wilridge Winery. Wines from Naches Heights grapes are available at The Tasting Room Yakima located at 250 Ehler Road on Naches Heights. For directions and maps to the Tasting Room click here.
Naches Heights Vineyard is expected to open a new Tasting Room in spring 2012.
For more background, see this column in the Washington Wine Report.