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No Longer a Secret, Red Mountain Earns Its Place In the Spotlight

Photo by Kim Feltrow, Courtesy Red Mountain AVA Alliance

Over the last four decades, Red Mountain has established itself as not only Washington’s premier winegrowing region, but one of the finest in the world. Once a well-kept secret, the recent boom in plantings and investments have served notice: Red Mountain has arrived.

From Humble Beginnings

Red Mountain’s ascent began quite modestly. In 1972, General Electric engineers Jim Holmes and John Williams decided to invest in a piece of property.

“We had tried the stock market, and we were miserable failures at that,” says Holmes with a laugh.

At first blush, their land venture didn’t look much more promising. The 80 acres they purchased and the surrounding area were barren and isolated. The two had a hard time even determining the exact location of their land.

“There was no road, no signs,” says Holmes. “There was nothing.”

The idea of planting a vineyard—based on research at Washington State University that stated growing wine grapes nearby was possible—seemed absurd.

“Everybody thought they were nuts,” says Dick Boushey, a grower who now manages vineyards comprising hundreds of acres in the Red Mountain area.

The area’s lack of infrastructure only reinforced those doubts.

Photo by Kim Feltrow, Courtesy Red Mountain AVA Alliance

“There was no water, no power, no roads,” says Holmes. “Strangely enough, we decided we’d go ahead and do it anyway.”

In 1975, Williams and Holmes planted a 12-acre parcel to RieslingChardonnay, and even Cabernet Sauvignon, which they planted because they liked it, not because they thought it would succeed.

“No one thought red wine grapes had a chance in those days,” says Holmes. Most areas of Washington were believed to be too cold and the growing season too short to ripen red wine grapes, especially the heat-loving Cabernet Sauvignon.

They named their vineyard Kiona, an Indigenous name for the region that translates to “brown hills,” and in 1980, founded the first winery on Red Mountain.

Red Wines with a Distinctive Style

Planting red wine grapes in 1975 seemed quixotic but turned out to be prescient.

“It’s red wine country,” says Master of Wine Bob Betz, the founder of Betz Family Winery. Over 95 percent of the appellation’s 2,382 planted acres are now dedicated to red varieties.