Washington State Appellations

Washington State AVA Map

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Distinctive Regions

Washington has 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVA), or "appellations." These are distinctive wine-growing regions with clearly defined geographical, climatic and soil features. All but Puget Sound are in Eastern Washington.

They include Columbia Valley (the largest), Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Gorge, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Puget Sound, Lake Chelan, and the newest, Snipes Mountain.

Columbia Valley

The Columbia Valley is Washington’s largest appellation, comprising more than 60% (17,000 acres) of the state's total vinifera grape plantings. This high-desert region encompasses parts of three rivers – the Columbia, Snake and Yakima – as well as the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills appellations.

Its volcanic, well-drained, sandy loam soils are low in nutrients, which stresses the vines and contributes to concentrated fruit flavor in the grapes. Dominant varieties are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Columbia Gorge

The Columbia Gorge appellation, which extends into northwestern Oregon, begins east of the Cascade Mountains near the White Salmon River and extends up the Columbia Valley to the Columbia Valley appellation. Primarily planted to classic white varieties, it produces excellent Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris in its cooler western precincts and high-quality reds in its warmer eastern districts.

Yakima Valley

Established in 1983, Yakima Valley is Washington’s oldest appellation. It lies within the Columbia Valley and includes 10,000 acres of wine grapes, roughly one-third the state’s total. Yakima Valley’s most widely planted variety is Chardonnay, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Riesling and Syrah also represent significant acreage.

Walla Walla Valley

The Walla Walla Valley also lies within the broader Columbia Valley appellation. Located in the far southeast corner of the state and crossing into the northeast corner of Oregon, Walla Walla is a small growing region with only 1,200 vine acres (but 55 wineries), most planted within recent years. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah are the prevailing varieties.

Horse Heaven Hills

Horse Heaven Hills is a sub-region of the Columbia Valley. Located in southeastern Washington, it’s named for the wild mustangs that used to roam its hills. Today, it has over 6,000 acres planted to grapes, many on steep, south-facing slopes rising up to 1,800 feet.

Wahluke Slope

Established in 2006 and located entirely within the established Columbia Valley appellation, Wahluke Slope is a dry, warm appellation with only a handful of wineries, but 5,200 acres of vineyards, nearly 20% of Washington’s total. Its top varieties are Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.

Rattlesnake Hills

One of Washington’s more recently established AVAs, Rattlesnake Hills is located within both the Yakima and Columbia Valley appellations and boasts ridgetop vineyards over 3,000 feet in elevation that benefit from excellent water and air drainage. With 1,500 vine acres and 17 wineries, the region specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Red Mountain

A warm sub-region of the Yakima Valley, located at its easternmost tip at a sharp bend of the Yakima River, Red Mountain encompasses approximately 4,000 acres with about 700 currently planted primarily to red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese.

Puget Sound

The Puget Sound appellation, located in Western Washington, spans the islands and land adjoining the Puget Sound waterway, extending into the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It receives more rainfall than the other six appellations and produces a number of unique wines from its 80 acres of vineyards.

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan, one of Washington’s most sought after summer destinations, is now the 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA) officially recognized in the state.It is encompassed completely within the larger Columbia Valley AVA, but Lake Chelan has a higher elevation and more temperate climate than the more southern AVAs also contained within the Columbia Valley.

The 24,040-acre Lake Chelan AVA includes the southern and eastern portions of land surrounding the lake and shares a northern border with the Columbia Valley AVA. Due to the ice age glaciers that formed Lake Chelan, the soil surrounding it has distinctive properties such as coarse, sandy sediment with notable amounts of quartz and mica, and these result in grapes with discernable textures, minerals, and nutrients.

The AVA is also distinguished by a significant “lake effect” that creates mild and favorable temperatures for surrounding areas, resulting in a longer growing season and a reduced risk of frost.

Grapes have been grown in the Chelan Valley since before the turn of the 20th century by a few Native Americans and a group of Italian immigrants. In 1949, the area produced grapes from 154 vineyard acres.

Modern wine grape growing began more extensively at the turn of the 21st century, and the first winery was opened by the Kludt family in 2000. Now the area is home to 15 wineries and about 260 acres of planted grapes.

The leading varieties being produced in the new AVA include Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Snipes Mountain

In the 1850s a rancher named Ben Snipes built a house and settled his cattle operation on a Yakima Valley mountain north of the Yakima River, later known as Snipes Mountain.

In 2009 the Snipes Mountain AVA became Washington State’s 10th official viticultural area, named after its most prominent landmark, but also including eastern neighbor Harrison Hill.

Both slopes, encompassing 4,145 acres, share similar rocky soils and elevation levels and are planted with 665 acres of commercial grapes. Snipes Mountain is the second smallest AVA in Washington, bigger only than Red Mountain, and home to six wineries. Its vineyards grow more than 30 different wine grape varieties and the fruit is used in more than 25 wineries.

Vineyards have been planted on Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill since 1914, and Washington State’s second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines have been producing grapes on Harrison Hill for more than 40 years.

While the Snipes Mountain AVA lies entirely within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley AVA its uniqueness comes from an elevated topography and unique soils not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.