Don’t Sleep on Washington State’s Red Mountain Wine Region
If you have not heard of Red Mountain, it’s only a matter of time until you do. Arguably Washington State’s most unique American Viticultural Area (AVA), the region is quietly turning out some of the most distinctive wines the Pacific Northwest has seen in at least a generation.
IN THIS GUIDE:
Let’s begin with why this place is so special. Red Mountain resides in the south-central part of the state, where the Yakima River empties into the mighty Columbia River. About the only town of real significance here is Benton City, although it’s a short drive from larger metro areas like Tri-Cities. The AVA was established in 2001 and has since been responsible for wines that find the perfect balance between muscle and grace.
What’s the secret? For starters, bone-dry conditions prevail here. The appellation gets less annual rainfall than Phoenix (to the tune of five inches a year). This is the desert, not the soggy version of the northwest you see on the west side of the Cascades. There are frequent, tempering breezes that keep frost and mildew away and the soils are fantastic. The gravelly soil holds a lot of calcium and encourages the vines to dig deep for their nourishment. That’s all led to a backdrop that has produced some of the highest-scoring wines in the country.
Red Mountain is a wilderness of sorts, home to sagebrush, rolling topography, migratory birds, and vines going back to the 1970s. Those first plantings are the work of Kiona Vineyards. Founders Jim Holmes and John Williams bought land in the area in 1972.
While Kiona makes wine from fruit grown elsewhere, they really focus on the estate, meaning you get a broad taste of the appellation. Check out the fantastic blends, one-of-a-kind Merlot, and other reds like Lemberger and Sangiovese. Kiona’s even behind a lovely Sauvignon Blanc, full of personality thanks to the use of amphora eggs in the winemaking process. They make a bonafide Ice Wine too, something very much worth inquiring about while in the tasting room.
Domaine Magdalena is a newer player in the Red Mountain scene and is a highly-focused one at that. The label specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, made in a way that shows the influence of the landscape. This is not your overly-oaked red with lots of alcoholic heat. This is a graceful wine full of detail that just keeps changing and intriguing as you sip it in the glass. If you think of Cab as just another red, this release will change your mind.
Another great stop along the way is Hightower Cellars. The property is welcoming, the wines are well-made, and there are even high-end nibbles like Serrano ham and a selection of cheeses. Of particular note are the Syrah and Cabernet Franc wine releases. Settle in, pet the winery dog, and enjoy the ample shade in this well-designed and intimate estate. Sustainability is written all over the operation, from the build-out of the tasting room to the farming practices.
Frichette Winery should be on your to-do list as well, a Black-owned winery making some outrageously-good Rosé, Merlot, Malbec, and more. A trio of wine flight options are available, including a mystery version for those who want to test their palates. For a deep dive into the operation, try the private concierge tasting, a two-hour affair led by a knowledgeable guide and accented by special tastings.
Hedges Family Estate is worth frequenting for the property alone. It’s about the closest thing to a genuine chateau the appellation has, with sprawling grounds and gorgeous French-inspired architecture. Turns out, the wines are attractive too, and they’re even certified biodynamic and organic. The operation, which launched in the late 80s, specialized in layered and lasting Syrahs. But be on the lookout for some lesser-known options too, like reds made from Portuguese grapes.
One of the better-known names in the area is Upchurch. It’s owed to Chris Upchurch, who started his eponymous Red Mountain label in 2007. He’s a vastly experienced and talented winemaker making some very sought-after stuff. The tasting room is one of the best in the region, a modern barn with a fetching patio. The estate reds are drool-worthy but be sure to investigate both the Sauvignon Blanc options as well as a Rosé made from Mourvèdre.
Something to keep in mind is that in some cases, it’s just a vineyard operation along these arid slopes. For example, the Ciel du Cheval vineyard is among the most celebrated in Red Mountain, if not the entire west coast, with fruit that often ends up in the hands of other producers in the appellation or elsewhere in the state (there’s also a house Cotes de Ciel label now worth trying). Ask around while you’re there to see where this roughly 100-acre patch of landed fruit ends up.
The best bets for overnight accommodations are in nearby Richland (part of the three towns that make up the Tri-Cities, the other two being Kennewick and Pasco). The relatively new Lodge at Columbia Point is ideal for a long weekend and is just 12 miles away. The four-star venue is positioned right on the water and includes a spa as well as some quality in-house dining featuring many local wines.
If you want to stay right in the appellation, there are a few rentals worth looking into. There’s the bucolic oasis otherwise known as The Grove, or, if you’re feeling rather luxurious, get the gang together and book The Glass House. It can accommodate 15, includes a pool, and will surely have you feeling like a celebrity.
With the Yakima and Columbia rivers so close, there are plenty of angling, boating, and floating opportunities. The Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve is very close and home to an easy 1.2-mile trail that affords great views of town as well as Red Mountain.
When you get hungry, fuel up at Monterosso’s Italian in Richland. It’s housed in an antique dining car and will give you all the wine-friendly carbs you need. Also check out The Bradley for some thoughtful, farm-fresh cuisine or Hacienda Del Sol II, situated right in Benton City and purveys of some satisfying Mexican fare.
You are reading “Red Mountain Wine Region Travel Guide: Background, Best Wineries, Hotels & Restaurants” Back To Top
things to do in Washington State, best red mountain wineries, red mountain wine tasting: best wine country road trips
If you enjoyed this guide, make sure you register to become a Winetraveler for free! You’ll get access to all of our content and interact with other Winetravelers and for travel inspiration around the world. Be sure to follow along with us on Instagram as we continue to feature more exciting destinations.