The fine people behind the Snipes Mountain AVA are very serious about what they do. I contacted the Snipes Mountain AVA media contact Todd Newhouse of Upland Estates winery on Friday when Snipes became official, and I had a media kit in my mailbox by Monday. Yes, these people mean business.
I’d say check out the Washington Wine Commission’s website for more information, but they Mr. Newhouse at Upland Estates.
Basic Information on Snipes Mountain AVA
The Snipes Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) was officially established last Friday, February 20, 2009. According to the media kit, Snipes Mountain AVA is, “the state’s second-smallest appellation at 4,140 acres. Approximately 665 acres of vineyards are already planted in the new AVA including the state’s oldest cultivated vinifera grape vines…Snipes Mountain is home to more than 30 distinctive wine grape varieties. The fruit is used by over 25 different wineries and is supplied by five different growers. Their vines are grown on some of the most unique and rocky roils found in Washington state which is ideal for the cultivation of wine grapes. The steep, south-facing slopes of Snipes Mountain provide excellent air drainage to protect the grapevines, making them less susceptible to spring and fall frost damage.”
Namesake & History
In addition to its unique geology, climate, and other aspects of “terroir”, Snipes Mountain also carries with it a rich history. Contrary to my own guesses which included the common Snipe bird of New Zealand and method actor Wesley Snipes, Snipes Mountain AVA gets its name from renowned Washington pioneer and “Cattle King” Ben Snipes, who settled the area in the late 1850s. According to the media kit, “William B. Bridgman saw advantages to Snipes Mountain in regards to wine grapes and, in 1917, became the first to commercially grow and later produce wine from them in 1934. Due to the unique drainage aspects and he higher heat units of Snipes Mountain, he discovered that he could grow many varieties of grapes that proved unsuccessful for other eastern Washington growers.”
Reading about soil history is always an intense proposition, with the abbreviation MYA, which stands for “millions of years ago”, not to be confused with the R&B singer Mya appearing throughout and lots of strange and confusing words taking center stage. According to the media, the bottom line is that, “Overall, the differences in the soils suggest that compared to the [Yakima Valley AVA], the Snipes Mountain AVA consists almost entirely of older soils, are reflective of the dry environment, and have a higher proportion of rocky soils from an ancient flood event that is not present in such a high concentration elsewhere in the [Yakima Valley AVA].”
Quotes and Testimonials
The Snipes Mountain AVA media kit is very cool in that it includes some quotes from people familiar with the new AVA:
“I source grapes from throughout the Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Tri-Cities and the first Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that I harvest each year comes off the south slopes of Snipes Mountain. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes off Snipes Mountain produce wines of deeper color but riper and softer tannins compared to other Yakima Valley sites.”
Dr. Wade Wolfe, Owner, Thurston Wolfe Winery
“The new Snipes Mountain American Viticultural Area is an important step forward for the Washington wine industry and wine consumers. The AVA designation recognizes one of the very first places in the Northwest that vinifera were planted an it formalizes the special qualities of Snipes Mountain, such as the soils from ancient river cobbles and the tremendous, steep, wind washed south-facing slopes that incline the vines to the sun. The climate is different than surrounding lands, and the geology is different. The mountain was created by ancient fault activity and is covered in many areas with fist- and melon-sized gravel deposited by the ancient flow of the Columbia River. The soils are more dominated by these really ancient river sediments. The climate also allows for water drainage, so there’s no stagnating moisture, and cold air can flow down hill.”
Dr. Alan Busacca, Emeritus Professor, WSA and Vinitas Vineyard Consultants
“In 1972 my grandfather, Alfred Newhouse, bought all of what used to be Upland Vineyards. Over the next 35 years he and my Father, Steve Newhouse, would continue to expand their holdings on both Snipes Mountain and Hamson Hill. Today the Alfred Newhouse family farms cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, prunes, pears, apples, juice grapes, table grapes, and of course, wine grapes. Altogether they make up approximately 1,200 acres of what today is once again called Upland Vineyards, of which about 550 acres is wine grapes grown in some of the most unique soils in the world.”
Todd Newhouse, Grower, Vineyard Manager, Winery Owner