Fewer than 40 acres of wine grapes are grown in the Naches Heights AVA near Yakima, but the region shows great potential for more.
NACHES HEIGHTS is one of the least-understood American Viticultural Areas in Washington, thanks to its relative remoteness and small number of wines being made.
But Naches Heights shows much potential, thanks to warm days, cool nights, versatility and ample land available for future vineyards.
Naches Heights is a plateau above the city of Yakima. It was approved by the federal government as an American Viticultural Area in early 2012 as Washington’s 12th region. Fewer than 40 acres of wine grapes are grown in Naches Heights, and just two wineries operate within it.
Two to try
Wilridge Winery 2013 Estate Melange Noir, Naches Heights, $40: This Bordeaux-style red blend leads with cabernet franc. It reveals aromas of dark purple fruit and sweet herbs, followed by hedonistic flavors of blackberry, plum and ripe strawberry.
Naches Heights Vineyard 2014 Guinevere gewürztraminer, Naches Heights, $17: A crisp, aromatic example of this beautiful German grape, it shows off aromas of pink grapefruit and rosewater followed by flavors of ripe citrus and clove.
Naches Heights Vineyard is owned and operated by Phil Cline, who grew up in Eastern Washington, played basketball at Central Washington University and has worked in agriculture for many years. His tasting room is next to that of Wilridge Winery, owned by Paul Beveridge, a recovering lawyer who also owns The Tasting Room Seattle in Pike Place Market and makes wine in the Madrona neighborhood.
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Beveridge began planting vines on Naches Heights in 2007 and farms 22 grape varieties across 12 acres. He works with everything from sauvignon blanc to nebbiolo, all farmed biodynamically. His most unusual variety is a red Italian grape called sagrantino.
While only about three dozen acres of wine grapes are grown on Naches Heights, the potential is strong. The region is well-known for decades of high-quality agriculture, particularly apples, pears, cherries and other orchard fruits. The high elevation compared with surrounding viticultural areas reduces the risk of frost damage on Naches Heights. It’s also a late-ripening area, which can be good most years but can become a challenge in cooler vintages.
Indeed, some of the wines I’m reviewing that carry Naches Heights AVA on the label are remarkable. One of the best rieslings I’ve tasted in the Northwest has come from Naches Heights Vineyard. Beveridge has made nebbiolo from many areas around the state, and what he’s crafting now from his own estate grapes shows tremendous potential for a grape that rarely performs well outside its native Italy.
The area also has the advantage of being just 15 minutes from downtown Yakima and, more important for Beveridge, a couple of hours from downtown Seattle. He makes most of his wine in Naches Heights but still lives in Seattle, so the commute to his vines is of some importance.
Expect more buzz to come from Naches Heights as more vines are planted and wines are made.