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Saturday, Mar. 14, 2009

Washington: Columbia Valley

This multi-state appellation is 11 million acres in size and takes up a third of Washington. It encompasses the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills, Wahluke Slope and Snipes Mountain. It was established in 1984.

Notable Columbia Valley vineyards

Cold Creek Vineyard: Planted in 1973, this 660-acre vineyard owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle has a lot of history behind it. In the notorious winter of 1979, most of the vineyard was lost after a straight month of subfreezing weather. Undaunted, owner U.S. Tobacco replanted to the vineyard - this time ripping the ground several feet down so the roots could grow deep. Few wineries outside the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates family get to work with Cold Creek's Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Riesling, but the grapes go to the finest wines made by the company, including Ste. Michelle's Ethos and vineyard-designated bottlings, Col Solare and Northstar. Despite its name, Cold Creek usually receives in excess of 3,000 heat units.

Stillwater Creek Vineyard: Stillwater Creek is a 245-acre vineyard in Washington’s Frenchman Hills. The Frenchman Hills are on the Royal Slope, a region north of the Wahluke Slope. Steeply sloped in some areas - as much as 22 percent in some areas - Stillwater Creek was planted in 2000 at the urging of former Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Mike Januik. Januik makes wines for his eponymous winery as well as Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville, Wash. Novelty Hill is owned by the Alberg family, which owned the sagebrush-covered land that became Stillwater for 40 years before Januik saw it. Stillwater Creek already is highly allocated by dozens of boutique wineries across Washington, especially top producers in Walla Walla and Woodinville. The primary grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. While most of the vineyard is south-facing, a few pockets are north-facing, which is where the Albergs have planted Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Red varieties make up more than 80 percent of this vineyard. Stillwater Creek is in a cooler area of the Columbia Valley, thanks to its higher elevations (above 1,500 feet) and slightly northern climes. Thus, winemakers can allow grapes to hang longer without excess sugar accumulation. Cabernet Sauvignon often will stay on the vine until late October.

Sagemoor Vineyards: Sagemoor Vineyards is an 800-acre vineyard north of Pasco that dates back to 1968. Today, its oldest plantings are from 1972, and Sagemoor supplies grapes to more than 40 Washington wineries. Sagemoor "proper" includes three vineyards: Sagemoor Farms, Bacchus Vineyards and Dionysus Vineyards. Additionally, Sagemoor owns Weinbau, which is due west, across the Columbia River and on the eastern edge of the Wahluke Slope. Sagemoor proper typically receives between 2,900 and 3,100 heat units. Among the wineries that rely on Sagemoor is Woodward Canyon in the Walla Walla Valley. Owner/winemaker Rick Small has included Sagemoor grapes in his "Old Vines" cabernet sauvignon, Woodward's best and most expensive wine dating back to 1981. Kent Waliser has managed the vineyards for the past four years after a long career in the tree fruit industry. Waliser has worked hard to keep the vineyards' viticultural practices up to date and to diversify the winery customers.