Would you like to continue discovering new AVAs around the US? Today we reach the state of Washington to learn about its largest wine region, the Columbia Valley. It represents a full third of Washington State’s land mass and contains 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State (56,190 acres), which makes it slightly bigger than Napa Valley (45,000 acres). The Columbia Valley includes 12 other AVAs, such as Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and Red Mountain.
The Columbia Valley is located in central, south-central, and south-eastern Washington, although a small part of this wine region gets into Oregon. It is centered around the valleys formed by the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Walla Walla, the Snake and the Yakima Rivers. These floods and the consequent weathering of the landscape result in a great diversity of soil textures, that range from silt to sand. Volcanic, alluvial and windblown material can be found throughout the valley. Most vineyards lie below the floodwaters with soils of loess overlying gravel and other sediments. These characteristics are perfect for the vine since it concentrates its resources into the grape cluster, resulting in wines with increased aromatics.
Fruit-forward red wines
Since the Columbia Valley lies in the rain of the Cascade Mountain range, this region has a continental, semi-arid climate. Although the great size of the appellation allows for a diversity of microclimates, the region shares cold winters and long dry growing seasons with low humidity. As a consequence of low precipitations, irrigation is required to grow grapes. This fact provides growers with more control over the plant development and leads to high-quality wines. Deep winter frosts are the main environmental threats to the industry of the Columbia Valley. Temperatures can drop from 40 ºF (4 ºC) to 0 ºF (-18 ºC) in a few hours. That’s the reason why many vineyards have incorporated wind turbines to keep air circulation and avoid frosts. However, this contrast between warm days and cool nights gives Washington wines their characteristic balance of acid and sugar levels. Grapes last a bit longer than in California during the growing season, which allows them to develop a special aroma and profile characteristics.
Fruit aromas are the main hallmark of wines from the Columbia Valley. Currently, nearly 60% of the vineyards grow red varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is in the top. This variety adds black cherry and light herbal notes to the wines, while Merlot gives red fruit aromas and flavors. White grapes leave aromas that range from fresh green apple, as Chardonnays, to lemons or even peaches, as Riesling. The amazing potential of grapes from the Columbia Valley is shown in Syrah. Depending on the growing area, its aromas and flavors can vary from dark fruits –blackberries, blueberries or cranberries- to savory notes as olives and roasted meats.
If you are a lover of fruit-forward red wines, the Columbia Valley AVA is a must when visiting Washington. Remove the false idea of this state as a rainy area – it receives about 300 days of sunshine a year (Napa Valley receives about 260 days/year) and start a new trip out there!