Vineyards: 117 (47 hectares)
Top Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Rocky Reach is located in the northern reaches of the Columbia Valley south of Lake Chelan. The appellation straddles the Columbia River and is wholly contained within the larger Columbia Valley.
As a growing region, Rocky Reach is defined by four characteristics: geology, soils, topography, and climate. In terms of its geology, Rocky Reach is unique from almost all other appellations in the Columbia Valley in that it has crystalline basement bedrock, a feature it shares with only Lake Chelan.
This bedrock is largely composed of metamorphosed sedimentary and igneous rocks. Unlike the basalt bedrock found throughout the rest of the Columbia Valley, these rocks are silica-rich and dominated by minerals such as quartz and mica. For this reason, grapevines planted in Rocky Reach that reach bedrock will interact with a different suite of minerals than those found elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.
The soils of Rocky Reach are also distinctive. While the area has the windblown sand and silt (loess) that is ubiquitous throughout the Columbia Valley, in Rocky Reach, these soils overlie cobblestones and gravels. These soils were deposited by glacial outwash and glacial floods.
The cobblestones on the surface warm quickly and radiate heat to the vines, promoting faster ripening of grapes. These cobblestone soils are also coarse grained and transmit water more efficiently to deeper soil horizons. This encourages vines to grow deeper roots compared to vines planted on silt and sand elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.
While Rocky Reach’s soils share similarities with those found in the Lake Chelan appellation, there are important differences. Rocky Reach has a greater percentage of cobblestones. Meanwhile Lake Chelan soils have more volcanic ash and pumice. Additionally, Lake Chelan soils contain glacial till and erratics, which Rocky Reach does not.
In terms of topography, Rocky Reach is located on an area of the Columbia River where the river has eroded a deep canyon. Within this canyon are flat-topped terraces along both sides of the river near the valley floor. These flat-topped surfaces are ideal for viticulture and other agriculture and are where most vineyards are currently planted.
Finally in terms of climate, Rocky Reach is located at low elevations within this valley. These lower elevations are considerably warmer and have a longer growing season relative to the surrounding mountains and plateaus, allowing wine grapes to ripen.
Rocky Reach gets its name from steamboat captains, who in the late 1800s used the term to describe this particularly rocky stretch, or “reach,” of rapids of the Columbia River (the Rocky Reach Dam is contained within the area). The appellation is 32,333 total acres, with 117 currently under vine. The Columbia River and Rocky Reach Reservoir constitute approximately 24 percent of the total area within the appellation.