Did you know the Rattlesnake Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) is the ninth federally recognized AVA in the country? It is entirely contained within the Yakima Valley AVA, which is in turn is entirely contained within the larger Columbia Valley AVA. The hills form the northern boundary of Yakima Valley, and the AVA includes land between the north bank of the Sunnyside Canal and the entirety of the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Hills between Outlook and the Wapato Dam. The AVA is centered around the city of Zillah. With elevations ranging from 850 feet to 3,085 feet, this AVA contains the highest point in the Yakima Valley AVA.
Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA include the Morrison Vineyard, planted in 1968 to Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon for Chateau Ste. Michelle. It is the oldest vineyard in the AVA. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the Hyatt Vineyard, Whisky Canyon, Outlook, and the Portteus Vineyard were also planted. Many of the wines from other regions across the state are made with grapes that come from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA in the Yakima Valley.
Those traversing the Rattlesnake Hills Trail won’t likely encounter slithery reptiles as they visit the various rural tastings rooms and vineyards. AVAs are named for geography, not local fauna. In this case, the Rattlesnake Hills are a nearby land mass.
Every March in celebration of the anniversary of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area), St. Gail of Bonair Winery will read the official proclamation and then perform the ritual of Chasing the Snakes out of the Rattlesnake Hills. This will ensure our visitors and friends that no snakes will ever interfere in the enjoyment of all of our fine wines. See pictures of the 2011 event.
American Viticulture Area, a wine grape-growing region distinguished by geographical features. It is also known as an appellation.
Rattlesnake Hills was established an AVA in 2006
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a federal department, regulates the AVA process, and decides when an application has merit.
In order to become an AVA, there is a petition process that defines boundaries, land formation, soils, climates, historic and current support for the name, and supporting evidence. There is a period for comments by the public, then the TTB reviews all information and documents, and rules whether the area can be called an American Viticulture Area.
Several factors distinguish the Rattlesnake Hills area from others close by. These include temperature, soils, and climate.
Temperature: The Rattlesnake Hills has 2683 - 2870 annual degree-days (each degree that a day’s mean temperature is above 50 degrees F is called a degree-day), which is temperate compared to the surrounding regions. Moxee is more than 500 degree-days cooler, and Parker, Badger Canyon and Benton City are more than 100 degree-days hotter annually.
Soils: Fine, shallow silt loam soils left over from the ice age are the norm here. Sandier soils surround the AVA, but the silt loam on top of the rock and flood formations here provide the perfect soil structure for quality grapes.
Climate: To the west, the high Cascade Range shields the Rattlesnake Hills, and much of Eastern Washington, from ocean influences, and Umptanum Ridge, Yakima Ridge and the Rattlesnake Hills ridgeline shields the grapevines from the freezing polar air from Canada that can severely damage or kill the vines.
From Union Gap just south of Yakima, the boundary follows the Sunnyside Canal (at about 900 feet elevation) to the power line just east of Tefft Cellars. It follows the power line to the summit of Rattlesnake Hills, than back along the ridge to the point of origin.
An AVA must be given the most common name both currently and historically. The Rattlesnake Hills name originated in the 1850s with the first settlers in the area. It has appeared on Yakima Valley maps since 1910, and was the only choice since the AVA lies on the Rattlesnake Hills slopes.
An AVA defines where the wine grapes come from. Grapes will take on certain flavors, based on the soil, climate and temperature from the region they were grown in. Consumers and vintners can then determine the “flavors” of the grapes in a certain wine based on the AVA where the grapes were sourced. When a vintner prepares a wine, if 85% of the grapes in that mix are from the Rattlesnake Hills, the label can say “Rattlesnake Hills” on it.