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Discover the Wines of the Horse Heaven Hills

You may be familiar with some of Washington's American Viticultural Areas (AVAs); such as Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, Red Mountain and The Columbia Valley. But do you know the way to the Horse Heaven Hills AVA?

Washington State is the nation's second largest producer of wine. And that's premium wine friends. With 43,000 acres planted to vine we have an ideal climate in Eastern Washington for growing vinifera. It's dry in Eastern Washington with only 6-8 inches of annual rainfall. Since vinifera require at least 22 inches of annual rainfall, irrigation and vineyard management are key to producing high quality fruit.

Clouds rolling off the north side of the Horse Heaven Hills.

As a long-time resident of SE Washington and a Washington native, I have lived beside the Horse Heaven Hills most of my life; named for the feral horses which once roamed the area. Bordered by the Columbia River to the south and 50 miles long, there are 11,062 acres planted to vines in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This AVA is home to 25% of the state's vineyard acreage and the source of the four 100-point wines from Washington.

Destiny Ridge Vineyard above the Columbia River, Horse Heaven Hills.

The terrain consists of south facing slopes. Well drained sandy soils allow precise control of vine growth patterns. Fed by the Columbia River Gorge, fierce winds can blow off the Horse Heaven Hills. Those strong winds reduce canopy size and density, which creates better sun exposure and moderates temperature extremes, contributing to even ripening. As much as I hate dodging tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, those winds are helping produce premium grapes.

This summer I had the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful selection of 9 wines, white and red, produced from Horse Heaven Hills fruit. These wines showcase the premium fruit grown by Horse Heaven Hills wine growers.

Samples were provided by the Trellis Growth Partners. Thank you.


1. Martinez and Martinez 2011 Viognier Alder Ridge Vineyard

The Martinez family has grown grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills for more than 30 years. Andrew Martinez crafted this white wine from Alder Ridge, not far from the estate vineyard in the Phinny Hill region.

Tasting Notes:
Color was pale straw, with bright highlights. The nose was melon, mineral, toast, lemon, mango. On the palate it was creamy, fresh, apple pie, expressive medium finish, melon, citrus, mango. Well balanced, tasty and a wonderful example of Washington Viognier. Party in a glass, just add friends. Pair with Tilapia, Halibut, Tuna, shrimp cocktail and grilled chicken. Recommended.
ABV: 13.6%
Closure  natural cork
Production: 130 cases
Price: $13
Sergio Martinez winemaker and owner
Martinez & Martinez Winery
357 Port Ave.
Prosser, WA 99350

2. McKinley Springs 2010 Chenin Blanc

I've mentioned it many times on this blog, McKinley Springs makes wines which are expressive of variety. Their wines are honest representations of Washington wines. I am continually impressed by the quality of McKinley Springs wines - and their affordable price points. They are doing Washington wine justice. Seek out these wines and you will be impressed by their fantastic value.

Tasting Notes:
Color was clear gold, with a nose of baked bread and apricot skin. The palate was lively with stone fruit, minerality, and a clean and fresh nectarine finish. Lovely. Grilled corn on the cob was a good match to this wine. Chenin Blanc was once ubiquitous in Washington, today McKinley Springs is one of the few remaining producers of Chenin Blanc in Washington. This wine was made from an original 1981 planting.
Closure: Natural cork
ABV: 14.3%
Production: 389 cases
SRP: $14
1201 Alderdale Rd.
Prosser, WA 99350

3. Mercer Ranch 2011 Horse Heaven Hills Reserve Chardonnay

This is the first release of Mercer Ranch Reserve Wines. These wines are only produced in very small quantities. All wines in this line are part of the exclusive “Twenty Barrel Program.” The Mercer Family came to the Horse Heaven Hills more than 125 years ago and has been farming for four generations. They planted their first grape vines in 1972, making them the first family to plant and grow vinifera in the state.

Tasting Notes:
Rich, toasty, buttery, ginger, nutty, peachy nose. Pale gold color, apple and pear on the palate, with a supple buttery finish. Well done. Recommended. Grapes were sourced from Horse Heaven Hills' Zephyr Ridge Vineyard. Fantastic value at this price point.
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
ABV: 13.9%
Closure: Screw cap
SRP: $15
3100 Lee Road
Prosser, WA 99350


4. H3 2010 Merlot by Columbia Crest

Columbia Crest has produced an outstanding wine at this price point. It is an excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with Washington Merlot. The H3 in the name of this wine stands for Horse Heaven Hills.

Tasting Notes:
Dark garnet color. Chalky cherry, cola nose. Big flavor at opening with a pleasant spike mid-palate, moving to cherry, cola and coffee. Fine tannin makes this an easy drinking wine, smooth but with plenty of character to please many. An excellent selection for a dinner wine, just open and pour. With some air and about an hour, this wine became more earthy with dark chocolate and tea. Cherry and cocoa danced brightly on my tongue and gums. A little light mid-palate, but overall a great value in an affordable bottle of Washington State Horse Heaven Hills Merlot. Boo ya! This wine was more integrated on day two; rich, red fruit, cherry candy, cranberry circles on tongue and gum, touch of coffee on the medium dry finish. I think this wine would rock with Chicken Mole. Dark chocolate works too. Recommended.
Blend: 100% Merlot
Closure: Natural cork
SRP: $15
Hwy 221, Columbia Crest Drive
Paterson, WA 99345

5. Canoe Ridge Vineyards Reserve 2010 Merlot

2010 was an unusually cool growing season in Washington. Resulting in lower alcohol and higher acidity wines than typical.

Tasting Notes:
At opening:  Dark ruby color. On the nose, currant, taffy, vanilla. On the palate it was fluid,tart, grippy and dry. It drank young at opening, likely needs at least another year in bottle. On day two black cherry and pepper mill on the nose, flowing into the palate, medium finish, firm tannin, cherry dominant. Still tight. By day three this wine finally began to open, it was still similar to day two, but more expressive. This wine is going to be wonderful in a year or two. Hold for 1-10 years.
Vineyard: Canoe Ridge
Blend: Merlot 88%, Cabernet Franc 7%, Malbec 5%
ABV: 14.8%
Closure: Natural cork
Production: 4,400 cases
SRP: $22
1102 W. Cherry St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362

6. Chateau Saint Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Planted in 1991 the Canoe Ridge Vineyard lies on a steep south facing slope on the bank of the Columbia River. Soils are sandy with bits of coblestone. The vineyard is LIVE and Salmon Safe certified.

Tasting Notes:
It had a lovely dark color. On the nose it was spicy, dark coffee, baked bell pepper, cherry, vanilla, mint. This wine was smooth drinking at opening, with modest tannin, rich flavors, green tea, cherry, black pepper, coffee. It made for a wonderful after dinner sipper too.
Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 95%, Merlot 2%, Syrah 2%, Malbec 1%
Closure natural cork
Production: 6,000 cases
SRP: $30
14111 NE 145th St
Woodinville, WA 98072

7. H/H Estates 2009 Michael Andrews Red Estate Reserve
In 2006, Mike Andrews son, Jeff, joined the winery, bringing with him both business and legal experience. Since then, the vineyard has more than doubled in size, expanding to over 1,100 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills. In 2006, Mike Andrews added Coyote Canyon Winery to the long list of accomplishments.

Tasting Notes:
Color: Ruby dark, with a violet rim. Affectionate nose at opening with black fruit, chocolate, caramel, coffee. On the palate was cherry, a little heat, medium body, smooth, cherry, coffee, tobacco on the medium finish. Very approachable at opening, delivering a pleasing nose and satisfactory flavor, with a touch of heat. After an hour the wine lost the heat, became rounder on the palate with similar aroma and flavor profiles as at opening. Deep color at this point too. After two hours the nose was dark fruit, white pepper and sage. The palate blackcurrant, coffee bean and dry on the gums. Lip smacking occurred at this point. This Spanish, Rioja styled blend consists of Graciano, Tempranillo, and Grenache.
ABV: 14.3%
Closure: Natural cork
Vineyard Source: Coyote Canyon Vineyard: Horse Heaven Hills
Cases Produced: 223
SRP: $35.00
Vintners Village
357 Port Avenue Studio A
Prosser, WA 99350

8. Januik 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Mike Januik has made wine in the Columbia Valley since the mid 1980s. Champoux Vineyards stands out as one of the outstanding vineyards in the State.

Tasting Notes:
After 20 minutes this wine had an inviting nose; meaty, sage, baked cherry, vanilla, rose petal. With good mouth feel, it was smooth, cherry dominant, a little oily, dry edges, unsweetened cocoa, medium finish, a little heat. It took 1.5 hours for this wine to begin to open, fuller, richer, longer finish. On day two this was a deep wine, with a nose of currant and spice, the palate was tobacco and coffee dominant, with black fruit, tarragon, slate, black tea. This wine needs to be decanted to show well at this young age. Hold for another year or more for optimum enjoyment. I would cellar for up to 10 years.
Champoux Vineyard
Blend: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Closure: Natural cork
ABV: 14.4%
Production: 372 cases
SRP: $40
14710 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE
Woodinville, WA 98072

9. Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2010 Petit Verdot Little Big Man

Alexandria Nicole Cellars and their Estate Destiny Ridge Vineyard, is owned by Jarrod and Ali Boyle. Jarrod named Alexandria Nicole Cellars after his wife, Ali (Alexandria) Boyle. Situated near the Columbia River, Destiny Ridge Vineyards is a protected location. It benefits from constant wind generated by the Columbia River and special micro-climate characteristics of the vineyards location. Of the 367 acres of land 263 acres is applied to vineyards. The first vines were planted in 1998. Planted varietals include: Riesling, Merlot, Grenache, Viognier, Malbec, Lemberger, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Mouvedre Cabernet Franc, Marsanne, Syrah, Petit Verdot. Jarrod and Ali sell approximately 75% of their grapes to many well-known Washington wineries. They use the rest of this top quality fruit to make their own Estate wine.

Tasting Notes:
Gorgeous, seductive nose of gingerbread, chocolate, tarragon, tobacco and mint. It had a luxurious mouth feel. Dark almost black color with a ruby rim. Good grip on the big, dry, cherry, chocolate, coffee, vanilla finish. Luxurious. What a treat! Ended with a floral flourish. At first taste I did not think this was a food wine, after 30 minutes I reconsidered. This wine would be fantastic with a juicy steak. My favorite red wine of this selection, heck my favorite Petit Verdot of the year! Strongly recommended.
Vineyard: Destiny Ridge Horse Heaven Hills
Blend: Petit Verdot 94%, Cabernet Sauvignon 6% (Block 5)
ABV: 14.4%
Closure: Natural cork
Production: 168 cases
SRP: $42
2880 Lee Rd.
Prosser, Wa 99350

I'd like to thank the growers and wineries who made these wonderful Horse Heaven Hills wines and Trellis Growth Partners, LLC. for sending them to me for review. I encourage you to explore the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. If not in person, then by purchasing wines made from Horse Heaven Hills fruit. Just look for the Horse Heaven Hills AVA on the bottle.

* On Saturday, July 20th 2013 is the Horse Heaven Hills 8th Annual Trail Drive - includes: wine tasting, BBQ and transportation options. Select the package which suits you.

Horse Heaven Hills Resources

  • Alder Creek
  • Alder Ridge
  • Alderdale Farms
  • Andrews-Hogue
  • Andrews Horse Heaven Ranch
  • Austin Sharp
  • Canoe Ridge
  • Champoux Vineyards, LLC
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate
  • Cloud Vineyard
  • Columbia Crest
  • Coventry Vale
  • Coyote Canyon
  • Dead Canyon
  • Destiny Ridge 
  • Discovery
  • Double Canyon
  • Gunselman Bench
  • Lady Hawk
  • Martinez & Martinez
  • McKinley Springs
  • Mercer Canyons
  • Palengat Vineyard
  • Phinny Hill
  • Quilceda Creek Vintners
  • Six Prong 
  • The Benches
  • Windy Ridge
  • Zephyr Ridge

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