Red Mountain is a small American Viticultural Area in the US state of Washington, located entirely within the Yakima Valley AVA, itself part of the larger Columbia Valley wine region. Red Mountain AVA covers just 4,040 acres (1,635ha), but produces some of Washington State's most prestigious wines, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.
Red Mountain is the easternmost AVA in Yakima Valley, occupying the land within a curve of the Yakima River just before it joins the Columbia River near the town of Richland. The mountain (on which grows cheatgrass that turns red in spring, hence its name) is more like a slope. It rises to 1,410 feet (430m) above sea level in the northeast corner of the AVA whilst vineyards are found on favorable aspects facing southwest above the river.
This placement of the vineyards creates a high exposure to sunlight throughout the growing season – almost two hours a day more than Napa Valley. This sunshine is followed by nights cooled by air from the north sinking into the Yakima River valley. This contributes to the balance of the grapes, with the diurnal temperature variation slowing ripening and allowing for the retention of acidity during the development of flavor. The Yakima River itself also helps to moderate the temperatures during the growing season.
Red Mountain's terrain is the result of the Missoula floods of the last Ice Age, when the then-sizable Lake Missoula in Montana burst through its glacial dam, sending a wall of water through eastern Washington and into Oregon. The waterflows around the mountain led to an uneven deposition of soils throughout the AVA. Generally, vineyards sit on gravelly loam soils that are high in calcium and alkalinity. This is important, as it encourages deep root systems and is beneficial to the uptake of minerals into the vines. These dry soils limit vigor and yield, and Red Mountain grapes can be up to 60 percent smaller than those of other Columbia Valley AVAs, resulting in powerful, tannic red wines with concentrated fruit flavors.
Rainfall in Red Mountain is just seven inches (180mm) a year on average, and very little of it occurs during the growing season. Irrigation is therefore needed, the water drawn mainly from the Yakima River and deep wells. However, a limit on well-drilling caused problems for producers in the past, limiting vineyard expansion. As these limits are loosened, the acreage is steadily increasing.
The region's first vines were planted in the 1970s, and Red Mountain was delimited as an AVA in 2001. Cabernet Sauvignon is largely responsible for the region's fame. The Quilceda Creek winery used old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills to produce a wine that was awarded a rare 100-point Robert Parker rating for its 2002 and 2003 vintages – the first time an American wine from outside California had achieved this rank. Subsequent vintages did equally well.