In the 1850s a rancher named Ben Snipes built a house and settled his cattle operation on a Yakima Valley mountain north of the Yakima River, later known as Snipes Mountain.
In 2009 the Snipes Mountain AVA became Washington State’s 10th official viticultural area, named after its most prominent landmark, but also including eastern neighbor Harrison Hill.
Both slopes, encompassing 4,005 acres, share similar rocky soils and elevation levels and are planted with 820 acres of commercial grapes.
Its vineyards grow more than 30 different wine grape varieties and the fruit is used in more than 25 wineries.
Vineyards have been planted on Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill since 1914, and Washington State’s second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines have been producing grapes on Harrison Hill for more than 40 years.
While the Snipes Mountain AVA lies entirely within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley AVA its uniqueness comes from an elevated topography and unique soils not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.
Snipes Mountain is the second smallest appellation in Washington at 4,145 acres (1,677 ha). The area gets its name from Ben Snipes, a cattle rancher who built a house there in the 1850s.
As of 2011, there were more than 700 acres planted to over 30 vinifera varieties, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon the most planted. For many years, most grapes from this appellation went into Columbia Valley blends, making it difficult to define Snipes’ unique aromas and flavors. Recently, however, a number of wineries have begun making Snipes Mountain-designated bottles.
Located in south-central Washington between the towns of Sunnyside and Granger, Snipes Mountain is less a mountain and more an anticline of the Yakima fold belt, a series of geologic folds that define a number of viticultural regions Washington.
The area has an arid, continental climate, receiving an average of 7 inches (18cm) of precipitation annually. Irrigation is therefore required to grow vinifera grapes. Steep north and south-facing slopes allow cold air to flow downhill, preventing frost damage that occasionally affects nearby regions.
The predominant soil type is loess—wind blown deposits of sand, clay, and silt—over Missoula Flood sediment, with all but the top 15 meters of Snipes lying below this series of cataclysmic events. Many areas of Snipes Mountain are covered with fist- and melon-size gravel deposited by the ancient flow of the Columbia River.
Snipes Mountain, a sub-appellation of Yakima Valley (which is a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley), is unique from the surrounding environs in that a larger percentage of soils are classified as Aridisols, which are low in organic matter. This is believed to reduce vigor in the vines and increase fruit concentration.
Though the area only received appellation status in 2009, Snipes Mountain boasts a long viticultural history. Muscat of Alexandria vines from 1917 still produce grapes. Harrison Hill, which is part of the appellation, is home to some of the state’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines dating to 1963.