Tasting Notes: New Heights
Category: Tasting Notes
Tucked away in the hills northwest of Yakima, a tiny new winegrowing region is slowly emerging. Naches Heights, eight miles south of Highway 12 in Cowiche Canyon, has long been known for apple orchards and the largest organic raspberry farm in the world. But two wineries—Naches Heights Vineyards, and, more recently, Wilridge Winery—have settled in, believing in its untapped potential for growing high- quality wine grapes.
Winemaker Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards started growing grapes here six years ago on his family’s 70-year-old orchard, ripping out plum, apricot, apple and pear trees and planting Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Syrah grapes, making wines that have been gaining a following for their crisp, clean flavors and ability to pair well with food.
“Everyone said I was crazy,” he says, looking every bit the rogue, with his flowered shirt, wild crop of red hair and rose-colored eyeglasses, as he makes his way through a small block of Riesling, one of his most successful grapes so far. “No one had grown grapes up here before.” “Up here” is right, since because the small, five-and-a-half 5.5-acre vineyard is more than 1,800 feet above sea level; the Naches Heights area is one of the highest in elevation in the state. “It has its own characteristics, its own unique soil,” he says.
A million-year-old andosite andesite plateau formed from lava flowing from the Goat Rocks area near Mount Rainier, Naches Heights was never affected by the layers of silt laid down by the Missoula floods about 11,000 thousand years ago, forming much of the soil in the Columbia Valley AVA[***Spell out and explain?***]. But the deep loess soil blown in over centuries is the same that covers the rest of the valley—and it is the combination of this higher altitude, cooler temperatures and organically rich soil that Cline hoped would create perfect growing conditions.
Cline was going it alone until fellow winemaker (and now friend), Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Winery in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood bought land in the area, with a similar experimental attitude. At his small urban winery, Beveridge, a lawyer by day and “garagiste” winemaker by night for almost 20 years, made his wines from grapes he purchased from vineyards on Red Mountain. at his small urban winery. He wanted to make wine full-time when he fortuitously met Cline just as he started looking at sites in the area, and they hit it off. An old orchard down the road from Cline caught his eye, and although he was also skeptical of the area’s potential, Cline’s experience assured him of its promise. The two have since formed a partnership, with Cline managing the new vineyard while Beveridge is busy at his winery in Seattle. Last spring, they planted an 8-acre test plot with more than 20 types of grapes, including five Bordeaux varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec—and the Italian grapes Cline has had success with at Wilridge, such asincluding Nebbiolo and Barbera, and Rhône varieties such as Syrah, Rousanne and Marsanne. And those are just the reds. He’s also hoping Beveridge hopes the cool site will also create crisp, clean whites such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
“We are going to spend a lot of time in the vineyard, farming it biodynamically ([an increasingly popular method of farming in which farmers plant according to moon cycles, use no chemicals, and create habitats for beneficial insects to control pests]) and experimenting to see which grapes grow well here,” he says. He plans on making two wines next year, both named for local Native American petroglyphs in the area: Painted Rocks Red and Painted Rocks White will be blends of the grapes he recently planted, expanding his lineup as the best grapes reveal t