When we were in college we used to drink Red Mountain wine, a very bad tasting but cheap gallon of wine you could buy at Walgreen’s for $1. It was bulk wine from the Central Valley in California made by Gallo and now a long discontinued label. Last week in the Yakima Valley we tasted several wines that had on the label the designation “Red Mountain.” We could not help but chuckle a bit as we thought about those long-ago Red Mountain college days in contrast to the wines we now tasted from the Red Mountain AVA vineyards of the Yakima Valley. These wines are lush and complex and some of the best wines we have ever tasted. The man most responsible for the development of the prized-Red Mountain AVA is Jim Holmes, who began growing grapes here in 1975. We were lucky enough to do a vineyard walk and listen to how he manages and grows the grapes of his Ciel du Cheval Vineyards.
Jim Holmes has 120 acres of vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. Some 30 wineries get their grapes from Jim and many more are waiting in line to buy his grapes. Jim states that over the past ten years, the wines made from his vineyards average 92 points in the five major wine publications he follows. It is his way of keeping track and evaluating his performance as a grape grower. Jim explains that it all begins with the terroir. The soil here is unique as he shows us a trench he has dug to point out the structure of the soil. He shows us the calcium carbonate in the soil. This substance creates a high ph in soil that makes the vines struggle to gain nutrients. The sun gets very hot here and the days are very long, providing lots of sunshine for the vines. At night the temperature swing can be 40 degrees. But after soil and climate, Jim, the master of vineyard farming, takes control. He is a scientist at heart so he is constantly researching how to make his vines better without damaging the terroir that is so unique to this area.
Later that evening we were lucky enough to taste a few of these wines made from Ciel du Cheval Vineyards at a Grand Tasting of Red Mountain wines. These wines, like the Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Bordeaux blend, are elegant wines with rich flavors. They don’t come inexpensively, as many of the wines from Ciel du Cheval Vineyards sell above the $50 mark. If you ever find yourself in the state of Washington, head to the nearest wine shop and ask the proprietor to show wines made from the Ciel du Cheval Vineyards. Give yourself a wine lover’s treat.