Through a combination of good terroir and hard work—and perhaps a bit of luck—these vineyards are producing great wines vintage after vintage.
A defining moment for any emerging wine region is when specific vineyards are recognized and sought after by winemakers, wine sellers and knowledgeable consumers. In Napa, Martha’s Vineyard was among the first to become iconic. Oregon, following in Burgundy’s footsteps, has made a fetish out of its pricy, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Now it’s Washington’s turn to put the spotlight on its most favored soils.
What makes the grapes from a specific vineyard desirable? Simply put, it is their ability to express terroir. In other words, to demonstrate that these grapes, grown in this place, offer something both distinctive and desirable in terms of aroma, flavor and ageability. To do so requires a rare combination of hard work, talent, good fortune—and time. Though Washington is widely perceived as a very new wine region, it has numerous vineyards well into their fourth decade, and wineries that can show 20 or more vintages, more than enough to demonstrate ageworthiness.
Washington, in fact, can claim some of the nation’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines, planted as much as a half century ago. Because they were never threatened by phylloxera (which cannot survive the cold winters), they have outlasted almost everything in California.
In each of Washington’s most productive AVAs there are vineyards that are emblematic and time-tested. I could easily name 25 or 30 that could qualify for star status, but in choosing just four I have looked for well-established sites that sell grapes to some of Washington’s best wineries. All are frequently used for vineyard-designated bottlings, generally of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. All have shown over decades that they not only reflect, but to a large degree exemplify, the specific flavors that characterize their AVA.
In short, these are all-star vineyards whose name on any bottle of wine is a reliable indication that you are drinking some of Washington’s finest.
Ciel du Cheval (Red Mountain AVA)
Jim Holmes pioneered viticulture on Red Mountain in the mid-1970s with then-partner John Williams. Holmes knows more about that blessed stretch of dusty desert than anyone alive. The partnership split amicably in 1994, and their original vineyard is now part of Kiona’s holdings. Ciel du Cheval, purchased in 1991, belongs exclusively to Holmes, but in a larger sense it belongs to the (roughly) two dozen winemakers who work with him to explore its vast potential.
Ciel du Cheval (“horse heaven,” so-named because it looks out on the Horse Heaven Hills) captures everything that is great and unique about Washington grape-growing. Alex and Paul Golitzin (Quilceda Creek) thought so highly of its fruit that they planted their own Galitzine vineyard on an adjacent 20 acres, a joint venture with Holmes. So did DeLille Cellars. Nearby is the new $6 million Col Solare winery and vineyard. It’s no accident that Ciel fruit has mesmerized, then magnetized, some of Washington’s best winemakers, ultimately drawing in the Antinoris of Tuscany. It has a flavor profile unduplicated anywhere else.