My knowledge of the Tri-Cities area had been somewhere between the Hanford Site and the Kennewick Man over the last fifteen years of my Northwest residence. It seemed a flat, uninteresting corridor in the lower middle of Washington state with nothing but space to offer, overshadowed by the evergreen of Seattle further west. I was curious when I received an invitation to visit and explore.
The conglomeration of cities itself – Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco – were underwhelming when I arrived, a standalone in the nearly empty countryside. Box stores, chain restaurants, and strip malls, abandoned areas amid renovation, new construction where open space once stood. But on the weekend of my summer visit, neighbors lined the streets pre-sunset for a car show and parade. Lights were bright from softball and baseball fields around the area, hosting boys and girls of every age for statewide tournaments. It reminded me of home, a small-town comfort and charm so common across the Midwest. I was smitten before I even made it to the wine.
Just beyond the Tri-Cities, along the Yakima River, I discovered the wines of the Red Mountain AVA, only adding to the area’s charm. It’s really the heart of the Washington wine movement, as evidenced by last year’s opening of the Washington State University Ste. Michelle Wine Science Center nearby. Generations of families harvesting, growing, crushing, pouring, pushing the region forward, bringing to light the hard work and successes of the AVA.
“Red Mountain’s reach throughout Washington is vast,” explained Jenn Nance of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance. “The grapes grown from our region are made into wines all over the state. It’s one of the most densely planted wine grape growing regions, with roughly 2350 acres planted in 2016.”
Certain geographical features, unique to the Red Mountain AVA, create wines with incomparable richness and intensity, exceptional tannin structure, and aging potential. We call these the ‘Five Pillars of Red Mountain’: a Southwest facing slope, a warm growing season, low rainfall, AVA specific spoils (Warden, Hezel and Scootney), and consistent winds that create a warm airflow, keeping the clusters small.
1. Take a winery tour with Red Mountain Trails. The folks at Red Mountain Trails have a few options for traveling through your wine tastings, but the horse-drawn carriage is by far my favorite means of transportation.
2. Enjoy all the wines. The wines in the area are somehow all wonderful (must be the Five Pillars) but my favorites were the 2014 Suspense from J. Bookwalter, the 2012 Envoy from Ambassador, the 2013 Red Mountain Malbec from Frichette, and the 2014 Klipsun Vineyard Optu from Fidelitas.
3. Have dinner at J. Bookwalter’s Fiction and breakfast at the SagePort Grille. You’ll love the avocado fries at Fiction and the strong, biker bar drinks of SagePort.
***Many thanks to the folks at Visit Tri-Cities for hosting me during this media trip.
Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender