Designated as an AVA in 2005, Horse Heaven Hills has been producing wine grapes since 1972 when Mercer Ranch owner, Don Mercer planted a seven acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon with the hope of growing grapes that would rival those of Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux. That vineyard, now owned by the Champoux Family in partnership with the Andrew Will, Powers Winery and Woodward Canyon produces high quality Cabernets. Twenty vineyards are located within the AVA, including Washington’s largest which belongs to Columbia Crest. The majority of the vineyards are producing for grapes for wineries in other appellations. Seven wineries call Horse Heaven Hills home.
Wines produced on the south facing slopes of the hills have reduced rot and fungal diseases due to the strong winds blowing up from the Columbia Gorge. Additionally the winds keep the area dry, stressing the vines and producing higher quality fruit. Other varietals produced in the area include: Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Riesling, Roussane, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Viognier and Zinfandel.
The appellation and the mountains got their name from James Gordon Kinney an early settler of the area who, remarking about the knee high grasses that fed the feral horses in the area, “This is surely a horse heaven!” In fact, the fossil record of the area shows that early horses were in the hills as early as 12,000 years ago (the feral horses seen by Kinney were actually re-introduced into North America by the Spanish Conquistadors). Either way, I keep thinking of that Poco album, Legend that had the cover art designed by the late, great Phil Hartman. And yes, that means I am old enough to remember record albums.