American Viticultural Areas are the U.S. equivalent of wine appellations in France.
In order to gain AVA status, an area must be shown to possess unique characteristics that separate it from neighboring areas. In some cases, it’s the general environment. In other cases, it’s the weather. Even the soil could be a determining factor in whether an area gains its own AVA status, or remains part of a larger AVA.
Naches Heights became the 12th AVA in Washington state in 2011. Located within the Columbia Valley on an ancient volcanic bedrock plateau, Naches Heights is above the level of the Missoula Floods, at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 feet.
Because I’m a huge fan of Washington state wines, I decided to do some research on this still relatively new AVA. Here’s what I found out…
At present, there are about 40 acres planted to wine grapes in Naches Heights, although the AVA encompasses 13,254 acres in total. The first grapes planted within the AVA’s boundaries were Pinot Gris, Riesling and Syrah in 2002. Those boundaries are the Naches River to the north and east, Cowiche Creek to the south and west, and the lower Tieton River on the west.
The land is comprised of windblown soil, also known as loess, which is heavy in clay and helps the soil to retain water. Around 10 to 13 inches of rain fall annually in the Naches Heights region, and it is considered a cooler region for Washington.
Several features distinguish Naches Heights from its neighboring AVAs, including its geological formation of Tieton andesite, rich volcanic soil, higher elevation (which reduces winter damage to vineyards), and sustainable farming. All seven vineyards in Naches Heights grow their grapes using organic, biodynamic or LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification program practices, making it Washington’s first exclusively sustainable AVA.
“We farm with love,” noted Phil Cline, proprietor of Naches Heights Vineyard and a third-generation farmer in the region. “Love of the land, grape-growing and making the region a sustainable place for generations to come.”
The region was formed 1 million years ago from a lava flow from the Cascade Mountains. After that flow, andesite cooled and hardened to form the single, elevated Naches Heights plateau.
“The Naches Heights Winery and Vineyard Association hopes that all future vineyards on the Heights will also agree to go organic,” said Cline. “With our ideal growing conditions, ample irrigation water from the Cascade Mountains, and 310 days of sunshine per year, there is no need to use chemical herbicides or fertilizers on Naches Heights.”
If there were degrees of uniqueness, that would make Naches Heights extremely unique.