Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yakima Valley Is Not for Cabernet (or other Bordeaux reds)

The final growing degree days (GDD) are in and it pretty much tells us what Ste. Mickeys knew a long time ago when they moved their red wine sourcing out of the Yakima Valley - It is too cool to consistently grow Bordeaux varieties in the Yakima Valley. 2010 proved this point well when the Yakima Valley was the coolest growing area in eastern Washington with only 2331 GDD - far below the amount of heat needed for non-herbaceous reds.

Here are the results by AVA:


2010 GDD

Yakima Valley


Walla Walla


Rattlesnake Hills


Red Mountain


Horse Heaven


Last year the warmest AVA title was given to the Rattlesnake Hills. This year it goes to the Horse Heaven Hills. Red Mountain came in second both years. These are all good places for premium red wines. (As a footnote, most of the Horse Heaven Hills wineries and some Wahluke Slope wineries have winery facilities in the city of Prosser (Yakima Valley). This does not make them Yakima Valley wineries per se since their fruit does not come from Prosser Flats.)

All of our fruit at Bonair winery is from our estate vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills, but we have been labeling the cheap stuff sold in Seattle as Yakima Valley, reserving the Rattlesnake Hills label for our barrel-select wines. In light of this information, I am seriously considering relabeling our inexpensive reds as Columbia Valley. There are lots of areas in the Columbia Valley that are warm enough to grow Bordeaux reds that do not have a more specific AVA or a wine might be from a combination of AVA's where cab grows well. The generic Columbia Valley is not all bad.

Let's reserve Yakima Valley for cool-climate reds like Pinot Noir and nice whites like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. This will start to give some credence to the AVA's of Washington.


  1. Grumpy. The Yakima Valley is large and varied, yet you seem to associate the name only with the Prosser Flats. Was that the intention when it was created? I’m sure you where around back then.

    Let’s say a winery (we shall call this winery “La Bomba”) makes a Cabernet by blending fruit from your neck of the woods with a little from the eastern Wapato Hills, then adds some from the Snipes Ridge and throws in some fruit from the Red Mountain and a little more from the (very warm) southern Prosser Horse Heaven foothills. All areas are in the Yakima Valley AVA. First question. What AVA shall La Bomba put in the bottle? Second question. Will the wine taste like vegetables? (assuming La Bomba’s winemaker is at least somewhat competent). Third question: What will the MSRP of the wine be? Fourth question: Where will the tasting room be? Last question: When will the winery fail?

    Perhaps we should petition for a Prosser Flats AVA and dismantle the Yakima Valley AVA.

  2. I think you should label it Columbia Valley - lots of warm places there. No, it won't be vegetative because you have chosen good vineyard sites. MSRP of your wine is what the market will bear - the higher the better. Your tasting room should be in Zillah and by keeping it small you will not fail.

    Prosser Flats should do it's own AVA. You will notice all the warm regions have pulled out except for Badger Canyon - which really should do an AVA.

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to answer these questions :).