Washington's 10th AVA
As one of Washington's first grape-growing regions, Snipes Mountain recently became an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) on February 20, 2009. However, according to the federal document, citing Ron Irvine's The Wine Project: Washington State's Winemaking History, growers first planted vineyards here between 1914 and 1917.
Todd Newhouse, owner of Upland Estates Winery (the only winery currently located within Snipes Mountain AVA), and Joan Davenport, a soil scientist based at Washington State University’s research and extension center in Prosser, worked together to research and write the petition for federal AVA recognition of this small area. The application process is complex, requiring research and reporting of the proposed area's geologic history, historic justification for its proposed name and the area's history related to the growing of grapes and the production of wines.
With a total of only 4,145 acres within the entire Snipes Mountain AVA – only 535 of which are in production, the question arises... why has this small area been designated as distinct from its surrounding Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs. A short visit to the area provides a clear answer.
Snipes Mountain and neighboring Harrison Hill rise up in the middle of the Yakima Valley west southwest of Sunnyside, and it is that increased elevation that insured the survival of the area's earlier geologic history and its distinctiveness. Some 10,000 years ago, most of the Yakima Valley landscape and that of many other areas of Eastern Washington were violently altered throughout the dramatic and repetitive onslaught of the Missoula Floods that marked the end of the last ice age. Even the course of the ancient Columbia River was cut off and re-routed during these epic floods.
The rise in elevation in the Snipes Mountain area (between 750 and 1,310 feet) was just enough to protect the geologic record of The Mighty Columbia's earlier course prior to the last ice age. The soils of Snipes Mountain AVA are dominated by fist- and melon-sized gravel, the sediment of Washington's ancient Columbia River before its re-routing by the Missoula Floods.
While only one winery - Upland Estates Winery - operates on Snipes Mountain at this date, grapes grown within this appellation are used for wines produced by other wineries in Washington. With geographic branding becoming more in vogue among winemakers and wine consumers, the Snipes Mountain AVA designation now informs wine enthusiasts of another distinct terroir worthy of exploration