Wine grapes in the Rattlesnake Hills have little trouble getting fully ripe, thanks to the climate. And a higher elevation than some vineyards helps retain acidity.
THANKS TO BEING home to some of the state’s most-sought-after grapes, Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills is a region that is coming into its own.
It has been a decade since the federal government gave its official nod to the Rattlesnake Hills as an American Viticultural Area. For the first few years after, it seemed that only a few wineries were choosing to recognize Rattlesnake Hills as a great place to grow wine grapes.
Now the region is breaking out of that shell as the viticulture of the Rattlesnake Hills is becoming increasingly perceived as high-quality. This is thanks in part to established vineyards (the oldest of which date back to the 1960s) and newer plantings that have captured the hearts of winemakers statewide.
Three to try
Bonair Winery 2012 Chateau Puryear Vineyard cabernet franc, Rattlesnake Hills, $15: This charming red unveils aromas and flavors of ripe blueberry, dark plum and a hint of sage, all backed by plush tannins and a hint of dark chocolate.
Tanjuli Winery 2012 carménère, Rattlesnake Hills, $32: This rare Bordeaux grape is often a joy when grown in Washington, and here is a superb example, thanks to aromas and flavors of boysenberry, black pepper and pomegranate, all backed by juicy acidity.
Ruby Magdalena Vineyards 2011 tempranillo, Rattlesnake Hills, $34: The Spanish tempranillo is a racy red grape that is right at home in warm Eastern Washington. This projects notes of blackberry, lilac, black cherry and elderberry, all wrapped inside firm yet approachable tannins.
The Rattlesnake Hills surrounds such Yakima County communities as Zillah, Wapato and Outlook. While only a few wineries outside of the AVA use “Rattlesnake Hills” on the label, that is changing because of the widely realized quality of vineyards such as Dineen, DuBrul, Elephant Mountain and its sister planting, Sugarloaf. Winemakers love the fruit from these vines, so “Rattlesnake Hills” is beginning to show up more often on the front of bottles.
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This is one of the centers of Washington agriculture, home to diverse crops that have been grown here for the past century, and the vineyards do well because of the region’s higher elevations and warm days.
Thanks to the region’s climate, wine grapes in the Rattlesnake Hills have little trouble getting fully ripe, while the generally higher elevation helps the fruit retain all-important acidity. The result is wines that can be both generous in flavor and balanced in structure.
Because of the Rattlesnake Hills’ reliance on irrigation water from the Yakima Valley, the area is more exposed to occasional drought conditions, such as those of 2015.
For Puget Sound residents, the Rattlesnake Hills is relatively close to home, with a 2½-hour drive or 35-minute flight from Seattle. This makes a weekend visit to wine country rather easy.
Rattlesnake Hills is a well-established wine region waiting to be explored. Put it on your to-do list this year.