Inside the Issue

Down to Earth: Washington Wine, Terroir, and the Very Exceptional Red Mountain

Lessons from our state’s smallest AVA.

August 24, 2011

Red Mountain: It all started with a flood.

There’s so much about wine that inspires the words: "You can’t be serious." The fanciful descriptors, the spitting into the silver bucket, all the talk of palates and bouquets. The baroque nature of the wine world is so ripe for satire, it can be hard to take seriously.

Then you go to Red Mountain.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Washington’s smallest grape-growing region. I was there to meet the growers and winemakers and find out what made the wines special. If you’ve tried them, you know what I mean. They’re just…different. In a good way—in such a good way. Basically, I came to talk to them about terroir, which sounds like perhaps the snottiest, most absurd wine concept of them all but is in fact mostly a question of dirt. Well, dirt, and climate, and the angle at which a piece of land faces the sun…and a lot of other things. Listening to to Benton City grape growers talk terroir, any associations of pretentiousness surrounding that word faded away, and for the first time I really, really got the connection between a wine and the place where it is from.

Put simply, there is no place in the world like Red Mountain. Every Washingtonian should have the chance to spend some time there: To dive into a goopy plate of eggplant Parmesan at Monterosso’s in Richmond, an Italian restaurant housed in a train car, and watch the sun set over the vines at spectacular Col Solare. To visit Versailles-esque Hedges, and lounge in the grass with the world’s sweetest dog at Cooper Winery. And also, to hold some of that strange soil in their hands—a cocktail of elements and minerals that, combined, create the totally unique situation in which the grapes there grow.

Here’s the story I wrote about Red Mountain for our September issue; the issue of course also includes the ever-important 100 Best Washington wines, created by tireless taster Sean Sullivan. Sean knows a lot about wine, but like the people I met on Red Mountain, there’s nothing pretentious or insider-ish about him. His works shows that, he just breaks it down.

And actually, that’s what I like the most about Washington wine generally—apart from the fact that a lot of it tastes delicious. The people that make, sell, pour, and love wine here take something that often feels exclusionary, overwrought, and make it approachable and enjoyable, something everyone can be a part of. And that makes it truly exceptional.

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