OUR AVAs- Naches Heights

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Naches Heights: special rocks and sustainable practices


“Naches Heights” sounds like a housing tract, but it’s actually a 13,000-acre agricultural plateau at the northwest corner of the Yakima Valley. The plateau covers 20 square miles located within the larger Columbia Valley AVA; it overlooks the rugged Cowiche Canyon as it descends from the Cascades to Yakima. From the plateau’s southwestern ridge, one looks down into the valleys carved through the ancient lava flows by the Yakima and Naches rivers. The outdoor playgrounds of Cowiche Canyon Nature Conservancy include miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, climbing walls and some of the best bird watching in the state.

Because of its elevation, the Naches Heights plateau is less likely to suffer from the frosts that often threaten the valley floor. The soil is a rich loam; it’s volcanic with a unique component.  It’s loaded with a crystalline, basalt-like mineral first identified in the Andes mountain range of South America and hence named andesite.


As we’ve been writing for the past couple of years, the entire Columbia Valley region was formed a million years ago by massive lava flows from the volcanic mountains of the Cascade range. Eventually, the minerals cooled and the andesite, in particular, hardened to form a single, elevated plateau.

The snow and cold winter air atop Naches Heights don’t bother growers like Phil Cline, a third-generation farmer who planted the first commercial vineyards here a decade ago and later brought along Seattle wine maker Paul Beveridge. They understand the topography: there’s a gentle slope from the 2,000-foot-high plateau that drains off the coldest air. And once the warmer temperatures return, there’s as much sunlight here as anywhere in the state, yet those higher elevations bring cool nights to the vineyards and help the grapes maintain their food-friendly acidity.


Several features distinguish Naches Heights from its neighboring AVAs (Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, the greater Yakima Valley), but the most important is the andesite. Scientists geek out over details such as the amount of plant-available iron from a “weathered” soil, but they agree that the relatively high silica content of andesite soils is important.


All seven vineyards in Naches Heights grow their grapes using organic, biodynamic or “LIVE” (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification program practices, making Naches Heights Washington state’s first exclusively sustainable AVA.

“This may be Washington’s best site for northern Italian reds,” says Beveridge. The Naches Heights wines from four-year-old vines—sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera—all had an intense depth of flavor, easily distinguished from similar wines grown in adjacent AVAs. The difference is clearly due to terroir, more specifically in this case, that near-magical mineral named andesite.

More winery information is available at nachesheights.com.

Ronald Holden, author of Northwest Wine Country, blogs at cornichon.org.

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