If you are afflicted by Ophidiophobia, do not fear: You are not likely to encounter any slithery reptiles when visiting the rural vineyards and tasting rooms of Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills winegrowing region.
The name of this American Viticultural Area provides a useful lesson in how AVAs are named. They are not named for the local fauna, but rather for geography. In this case, the Rattlesnake Hills are a nearby land mass.
Located approximately four miles southeast of Yakima, the 68,500-acre appellation has 1,566 acres under vines. Encompassing an expanse of hills running east to west along the northern point of the Yakima River and south of Moxee Valley, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA lies within both the established Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley appellations.
The hills form the northern boundary of Yakima Valley, and the AVA includes land between the north bank of the Sunnyside Canal and the entirety of the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Hills between Outlook and the Wapato Dam. The AVA is centered around the city of Zillah.
Fine, shallow silt loam soils left over from the Ice Age are the norm in Rattlesnake Hills. Sandier soils surround the AVA, but the silt loam on top of the rock and flood formations provide ideal soil structure for growing high-quality winegrapes.
Beginning at an elevation of 850 feet and rising up to 3,085 feet, the AVA sits higher in elevation than the surrounding Yakima Valley region. The vineyards typically are located on ridges and terraces, and in areas with good air drainage to avoid late spring and early fall frost.
With 17 wineries and 29 vineyards, the Rattlesnake Hills area provides many Washington producers with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling for their cuvees.
The first commercial vineyards in the region date back to 1968, when the Morrison Vineyard was planted to Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon for what has become Washington’s most famous wine estate: Chateau Ste. Michelle. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the Hyatt, Whisky Canyon, Outlook and Portteus vineyards were planted.
And now, as the area’s wineries are becoming better known, so, too, is the Rattlesnake Hills appellation.