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August is Washington wine month which affords us the opportunity to reflect on the substantial strides the Washington wine industry has made in a relatively short amount of time. In the early days of vine planting the importance lay in selecting the strongest vitis vinifera varieties that would adapt, survive, and thrive in the soils and climate of eastern Washington. These selected international or “noble grape” varieties were chosen because they had a proven track record of staying true to their varietal characteristics, all while establishing a home in foreign lands - varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Riesling, and Chardonnay to name a few.

Today, we are highlighting Horse Heaven Hills, Washington’s largest AVA, established in 2005. Because of its sheer size and location, with over 3 miles of vineyard land overlooking the Columbia River, Horse Heaven Hills is able to successfully grow 37 different grape varieties. It’s here that Washington growers and producers are able to experiment with lesser known indigenous grape varieties - those planted outside of their places of origin that don’t particularly hold true to their varietal characteristics, such as Tempranillo from Spain, Blaufränkisch from Austria, and Carmenère from France.

The proximity of the Columbia River helps moderate extreme temperatures. This massive body of water takes longer to heat up in the spring and summer as well as to cool down in the fall and winter and protects the region from frost which is a hazard to vineyards. Only receiving an average of 9 inches of rain per year, Horse Heaven Hills falls into the category of arid to semi-arid continental in climate. Its south-facing slopes also play a role in maximizing sunshine absorption to the grapes and vines during the day. The well-draining soils, a mixture of wind-blown loess, sand, and alluvial sediment from the Missoula Floods, keep the vines from becoming water- logged.


The Horse Heaven Hills AVA draws a similarity to the Wahluke Slope AVA by possessing more individual vineyards than wineries. 30% of Washington’s wine grapes come from the Horse Heaven Hills and, due to the factors stated above, it’s no surprise the region produces more red grape varieties than white grape varieties.

We at Columbia Winery, along with many other wine producers in Washington state, rely on the amazing fruit grown in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Our Horse Heaven Hills Grenache Rosé is aromatic with touches of strawberry and ripe melon along with mouth-watering acidity and our Horse Heaven Hills Syrah is fruit-forward with boysenberry, black and red plum, licorice, and spice. Both are amazing expressions of this AVA!

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the delicious wine that comes from the Horse Heaven Hill AVA. Cheers and Enjoy!

- Shelly Fitzgerald, Wine Education Specialist, CS, CSW, AWE, WSET Level 3