The Columbia, Yakima and Snake meet with intensity.
Benton City’s Red Mountain is Washington’s smallest AVA, and its most intense. That’s because the “mountain” (it’s only about 700-feet tall) is the state’s hottest AVA. But its slight elevation and proximity to the Yakima River, which skirts the base of the hill, help cool things down at night. These are among the factors that lend intense fruit characteristics and remarkable structure to Red Mountain wine, most notably cab sauv, merlot, cab franc and syrah.
The region’s plantings began with a 10-acre vineyard in 1975. Today, the area is home to 54 vineyards (covering 2,300 acres), whose berries are coveted by top winemakers across the state. (The per-ton price for Red Mountain grapes is about three times the state average.) There are about a dozen wineries set within the Red Mountain AVA. Of these, about half require tasting-room appointments, while the rest welcome drop-ins. And there is truly something special about tasting Red Mountain wine at the source. Fun fact: Red Mountain gets its name from the cheatgrass that gives its slopes their reddish hue each spring.
Lodging and dining
With no hotels, inns or restaurants to speak of on Red Mountain, most visitors stay in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick and Pasco), about 15 miles east. The latter towns form a bustling population center around the Columbia River’s confluences with the Yakima and Snake rivers. And the area offers a plethora of restaurants and hotels, plus several more wineries and tasting rooms. National chains seem to dominate the restaurant scene. But creative local entrepreneurs are bringing artisan aesthetics to the local hospitality scene. This is best demonstrated at three wineries along Tulip Lane: Barnard Griffin, J. Bookwalter and Tagaris. Each offers full-service dining on-site, live music on select nights and other fun amenities and activities.
Meanwhile, Columbia Point Marina offers easy access to boutique lodging, locavore dining, watersports and golf. And Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village is emerging into another epicurean-focused destination. (The region is also home to several well-kept, moderately priced golf courses.)
For a unique wine-tasting experience, sign up for a tour with Red Mountain Trails. The company offers winery tours on horseback, in a horse-drawn wagon and by bike, straight from the proprietors’ Red Mountain farm. They also offer a sunset dinner tour that features a gourmet, four-course cookout in a scenic vineyard location. In Richland, Northwest Paddleboards offers gear rentals at its shop, near the entrance to Howard Amon Park. The company also offers guided tours and classes, delivers rental gear to popular put-in spots.
In addition to their proximity to Red Mountain, the Tri-Cities are less than an hour’s drive from Walla Walla to the east and Prosser to the west. From Seattle, the Tri-Cities are about 215 miles southeast, and about 215 northeast of Portland. Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines serve Tri-Cities Airport (PSC). For mileage-plan members, Alaska waives baggage fees on up to one case of wine and offers other benefits in select wine regions, including the Tri-Cities. Map it.