Ciel du Cheval vineyard, Red Mountain
Part 12, Washington State: visiting one of North America's leading wine growing regions

Red Mountain is an important appellation in Washington State, and we met with Jim Holmes, one of the founders of winegrowing in this AVA. He’s been here 43 years, and founded the Ciel du Cheval vineyard in the mid-1970s. Along with John Williams, he was one of the two pioneers of Red Mountain, which became an AVA in 2001.

Jim Holmes

‘There was nothing here back in the early 1970s,’ he recalls. ‘It was pretty sleepy.’ He was from the north bay area and grew up near Napa. In the 1960s he came to Washington State to do research as part of the Handford project, which worked with atomic energy. ‘When I first came here in the 1960s the whole area had just 10 000 people.’


Jim’s research was looking at how materials worked down in the core of a nuclear reactor. ‘Back in those days we thought nuclear power was going to save the world,’ he recalls.


Jim had grown up in wine country and had travelled to Europe, so he thought he’d try his hand with wine here. He notes that at the State College of Washington Irrigated Agriculture Research and Experiment Station (Prosser), they’d already done 20 years of research on wine grapes. ‘Our only interest was that land was really cheap. I paid $200 an acre. There were no roads, water or electricity.’


‘We applied for water rights and in those days no one cared,’ he says. ‘We were really lucky that we were able to come here.’ Jim began by planting Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the first vines going into the ground in 1975. ‘I thought we’d put them in a pick-up and sell them in Seattle,’ he says. But he found a guy over in Pascoe who’d built a winery but didn’t have any grapes. The winemaker there was Rob Griffin, who told Jim that his Cabernet was really good.


Now, Red Mountain is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon. Ciel du Cheval itself is 110 acres, with 20 additional acres farmed in partnership with De Lille, and another 20 with Cedar Creek. Overall, there are 1400 acres of vines in the AVA, with the potential for perhaps another 1000.


The appellation itself was defined by the Yakima river to the west, the top of the Mountain to the north and the lowest point before the next ridge to the south. Recently Aquilini planted another 270 acres in the appellation, which will change things a bit. The irrigation district were selling the land.


Columbia Winery
De Lille
WT Vintners
Savage Grace
Chateau Ste Michelle
Andrew Will
Airfield Estates
Milbrandt Vineyards
Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
Col Solare
Powers/Badger Mountain
J Bookwalter
Pacific Rim
Gordon Estate
Long Shadows
Seven Hills
Charles Smith
Geology with Kevin Pogue
Woodward Canyon
Gramercy Cellars
L'Ecole No 41
Columbia Crest
Memaloose/Idiot's Grace
COR Cellars

Wines tasted 06/15  
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