Grapes for Latah Creek’s Award Winning Wines come from vineyards scattered throughout the state. Looking back to the mid-1980’s, nearly 70% of Latah Creek’s grape needs were filled from one vineyard site: Wahluke Slope. Over the next 30 years though, as new areas in the state were planted to grapes, Mike chose to diversify the winery’s vineyard sources. This gave him the ability to harvest grapes from areas that excelled in growing the specific varieties he needed. Today a majority of the vineyards Mike and daughter, Natalie, harvest from are located in two main geographical areas in Washington State, about 150 miles south and west of the winery; Wahluke Slope and Washington’s newest appellation, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. To clarify, Latah Creek Wine Cellars does not own any vineyards. It was Mike’s feeling from the beginning that it would be better for him to devote his time to his area of expertise: winemaking, while letting the professional viticulturists do what they do best: grow grapes. As a result long-term contracts, accounting for 95% of Latah Creek’s annual grape needs, were established for specific vineyard rows, giving winemakers Mike and Natalie the ability to receive grapes from the same vines every year. The only exception to this occurs with Latah Creek’s Monarch Reserve Red Series wines. Mike felt it important that Natalie experience a wide variety of grapes, not just the ones they contract for every year. His 30+ years of Washington wine industry contacts gives Latah Creek a unique opportunity to obtain small amounts of grapes on a regular basis to fuel their Monarch Reserve Red Program.
Mike has worked with a multitude of Washington State grape growers since Latah Creek’s start in 1982, and now that Natalie works side-by-side with him, she continues these relationships with the vineyard owners and managers. This communication is very important, as Latah Creek practices old-world winemaking techniques, part of which occur during the growing and harvesting of grapes.
When a winery wants to tell you the geographic pedigree of its wine, it uses a tag on its label called an Appellation of Origin. Appellations are defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county or state, or by federally-recognized growing regions called American Viticultural Areas. These “sub-appellations” are approved by the TTB based upon submitted information that these growing areas are unique enough from the surrounding region that they warrant an appellation on their own. Below is a list of AVA’s within Washington State that Latah Creek contracts grapes from and the corresponding varieties received. Each vineyard Latah Creek works with could be designated as being from the largest AVA in the State, Columbia Valley, but instead wines are listed by the smaller sub-appellations with specific vineyard names included where applicable.
Vineyards: Michael Vineyard, Alice Vineyard, Fries Vineyard, and Lee Paloma Vineyard
Current Varieties: Merlot, Sangiovese, Merlot
This 81,000-acre AVA is clearly defined geographically, and consists of a sloping, south-facing plateau situated in a bend of the Columbia River. The AVA covers a triangle of land measuring about 15 miles from east to west. It boasts one of the driest, warmest climates in the state. This desert environment and an abundance of water from Columbia River irrigation create perfect conditions for the production of perfect wine grapes. The soils in Wahluke Slope are made up of sediments deposited by the Missoula floods and of windblown material from the flood-eroded material of the surrounding landscapes. Its predominant gravel and rock landscape has been covered by a thin layer of sand and silt, providing a low-fertility, well-drained grape growing site. The vines here are put under stress by the harshness of the dry soils, and as a result produce small, concentrated grapes in lieu of leafy foliage.
It was from this gentle south-facing slope that Latah Creek’s first long-term grape contract was established in 1986 with Wahluke Slope Vineyards. Upon receiving the first grapes, Mike knew immediately this was a perfect area for growing grapes, especially red varieties. Recently a small quantity of Tempranillo was harvested from the Lee Paloma Vineyard; another unique addition to Latah Creek’s Monarch Red program.
Vineyard: Familigia Vineyard
Current Varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Malbec
Located within the Columbia Valley on soils left from the Missoula Floods, Ancient Lakes has elevations ranging from 570 feet at the edge of the Columbia River to 1,912 feet at Frenchman Hills in the southern portion of the AVA. The Ancient Lakes region soils are Aridisols, which are formed in arid conditions and contain little organic matter. Wine grapes thrive in these “poor” soils because less nitrogen in the dirt results in a smaller vineyard canopy and more intense flavors in the grapes. The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley has a 182-day growing season and receives very little rainfall, only 6.5” of rain a year.
Latah Creek started receiving grapes from this appellation in the early 1990’s, long before the rest of the state realized what a “grape gem” this area was. This one-of-a-kind southwest-facing vineyard sits atop the bluffs overlooking the Columbia River in the area surrounding the Gorge Amphitheater. Mike was a believer since the first harvest that this location was the best in Washington State for the growing of light and fruity white wines, especially Riesling. Numerous Gold Medals and Best-in-State awards by Latah Creek have shown this assessment to be true. This area has recently become so popular, that hundreds of acres of new grapes are being planted. In 2013, this area was awarded its own AVA, verifying its uniqueness in the state.
Vineyards: Hyatt Vineyard
Current Varieties: Riesling, Muscat Canelli
This appellation features an expanse of hills running east to west along the northern point of the Yakima River and south of Moxee Valley, and lies within both the established Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley appellations. With an elevation beginning at 850 feet and rising up to 3,085 feet, this viticultural area sits higher than any of the surrounding Yakima Valley region. The vineyards are typically located on ridges and terraces and in areas with good air drainage to avoid late spring and early fall frost and winter kill.
Dating back to 1986, Latah Creek had received Muscat Canelli grapes from the Wahluke Slope Vineyards in Central Washington. Unfortunately, back-to-back sub-zero freezes during the winter of 2010/2011 killed virtually every Muscat vine in this vineyard. Times were desperate as Muscat Canelli had been a mainstay for Latah Creek for nearly 25 years. Amazingly just before the harvest of 2012, Mike and Natalie discovered an intact Muscat vineyard that was not under contract. Coincidentally it was with a grower and location they had received Riesling grapes from in the past, so knowing the source they immediately signed a contract and grapes were picked within two weeks. This first harvest yielded both Gold and Double Gold awards for both Muscat Canelli and Moscato.
Vineyards: Sunnyside Vineyard
Current Varieties: Pinot Gris
This 60 mile long valley was Washington State's first federally-recognized appellation and contains 16,042 vineyard acres, over one third of Washington's vineyards. Silt-loam soils predominate allowing proper drainage necessary to keep vine's growth under control. A 190-day growing season is seen with annual precipitation of just 8 inches, allowing grapes to mature fully every year.
In 2010, Latah Creek started producing their first-ever Pinot Gris. This was initially made because Mike’s wife Ellena, wanted him to produce a dry white wine other than Chardonnay. Thanks to Ellena, this wonderful varietal has become one of Latah Creek’s most popular wines. Mike’s contacts led to grapes located in the southern end of the Yakima Valley, an appellation he hadn’t sourced from since early 1990s when he received Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling grapes.
Vineyards: Areté Vineyard
Current Varieties: Chenin Blanc
This is Washington's largest viticultural region, covering almost 11 million acres, which represents a full third of Washington State's landmass. The Columbia Valley contains 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State - 40,050 acres, when including all its sub-appellations. Columbia Valley's vast size allows for a number of meso- and micro-climates, which is a reason for the many sub-appellations within its boundaries. Vineyards are planted on predominately south-facing slopes, increasing solar radiation in summer and promoting air drainage in winter.
Chenin Blanc grapes typically used for our Maywine are acquired from vineyards in south central Washington, near a location called Radar Hill. This entire area is characterized by vast plantings of vineyards and apple orchards which dot the south facing slopes located almost dead center in the state.
Vineyards: Zephyr Ridge Vineyards, Coyote Canyon Vineyards
Current Varieties: Petite Sirah, Primitivo, Zinfandel
This appellation is an amazing area located on the southern border of Washington State overlooking the banks of the Columbia River. The proximity to the Columbia River creates 30% more wind than surrounding areas while at the same time helps moderate temperature extremes. The hills have steep south-facing slopes for optimum vineyard locations and provide well-drained, sandy-loam soils. Elevations range from 1,800 feet at the area's northern boundary to 300 feet at its southern.
To date, nearly all of Latah Creek’s Monarch Reserve Red Wines have come from this appellation. Vineyards here are ideally situated, benefitting from both the river and the high temperatures seen. These features allow the unique grape varieties found here to mature fully producing amazing full-bodied reds. Latah Creek’s Monarch Reserve Reds have included small productions of Primitivo, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah from this area. Typically these wines are made in very small lots, usually three to six barrels each.
Much of the above Appellation information was taken from the Washington Wine Commission website.