Washington State has a variety of popular places to visit for wine, Woodinville and Walla Walla among the most well-known. Arguably some of the best grapes in Washington come from the Red Mountain AVA and winemakers are willing to pay the price — three times the state average — to get their hands on this stellar fruit.
A serendipitous blending of heat, low rainfall, cooler nights, and a sand, silt, and loam soil create an ideal location for growing vinifera grapes. Grown mainly on the southwest slope of Red Mountain, the main varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The tasting rooms on Red Mountain are located off the beaten path in a rural area. It takes a bit more effort to visit but it is so worth it to taste the renowned wines.
The wineries and lodging profiled in this article hosted me as part of a press trip set up by Visit Tri-Cities. All opinions are my own.
Red Mountain Chronicles
Before heading to the Red Mountain area, pick up a copy of the Red Mountain Chronicles, a three-book series by author Boo Walker. Do yourself a favor and purchase all three. By the end of the first book, Red Mountain, you are so invested in the characters that the shocking ending will send you in search of Red Mountain Rising, the second book in the series. Walker is a gifted storyteller who lived and worked at a vineyard and winery on Red Mountain. His writing has an authenticity to it due to his experiences. Some of the characters are based on the legendary winemakers in the area.
The wineries in this article are all located in the Red Mountain AVA near the town of Benton City.
1. Col Solare
The Col Solare winery is a partnership between Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle, a pioneer of Washington winemaking, and Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori. From its inception, the mission was to unite these two cultures and utilize the best Washington fruit to produce a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. The Red Mountain Tasting Room looks like a Tuscan villa perched atop the mountain, and the interior is just stunning.
When you’re at a winery famed for Cabernet Sauvignon, make sure to try it. If you really want to step up your wine game, purchase a bottle of the 2017 Tenuta Cabernet Sauvignon for $150 a bottle. This limited-production wine is made from the 10 best barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon for a vintage that represents the best of Col Solare. For a red blend option, try the 2016 Shining Hill Red Wine, which is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Merlot. I enjoyed the 2019 Shining Hill Rose made from 100% red, ripe fruit. I found it crisp and refreshing, perfect for a summer wine.
2. Frichette Winery
Greg and Shae Frichette are the owners and winemakers behind Frichette Winery. Shae was inspired to create her own wine label after attending a Celebration of Black Women in Wine event. She chose the sassy name Sashay for her label. She describes her wine as soft and more approachable. A chance meeting with artist Chance Watt led to a meaningful collaboration. Watt produced the artwork for the Rose and Red wine labels, which feature strong women known as the Sashay Ladies.
Frichette offers a 90-minute Private Concierge Tasting Experience. You will have the opportunity to taste the current releases and enjoy a private tour of the estate vineyard and the barrel room. You will learn about their story and what makes the Red Mountain AVA so special.
3. Terra Blanca Winery And Estate Vineyard
The Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyard is perched on the southwest slope of Red Mountain in a Tuscan-inspired building. There are panoramic views of the vineyards and out into the lower Yakima Valley. Rather than doing a tasting, I opted to have lunch on the terrace at the Terra Blanca Vineyard Grill. I loved that there were recommended wine pairings to go with menu items. I ordered a wine flight with three 2-ounce pours. I tried the 2017 Arch Triple Threat which is a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. I paired it with a delectable antipasto of salami, prosciutto, capicola, fresh mozzarella, gouda, olives, grilled seasonal vegetables, and pan-fried crostini. It was perfect together. I also tried the 2017 Arch Terrace Syrah and paired it with the Balsamic Soy Wagyu Beef Tips. For my third wine, I chose the 2009 Signature Series Barbera, which I also enjoyed. The property is just gorgeous, and sitting on the terrace is so relaxing it was hard to leave.
4. Hedges Family Estate
The Hedges Family Estate is one of the most eco-friendly wineries in the state. The vineyards are run with an alternative form of agriculture called biodynamic farming. No artificial fertilizers or pesticides are used to farm the land. All planting, pruning, and harvesting are done by hand. Visitors love seeing the chickens that control the cutworm population. No commercial yeast is added during the fermentation process resulting in a cleaner wine.
The chateau on the estate is lovely, and you can easily feel like you are in the Loire Valley in France as you sit on the terrace enjoying the gentle bubbling sounds of the fountain as you sip a glass of Hedges wine. The winery is known for its red blends, and they were the first family to blend wines in Washington. The Bordeaux style is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2017 Syrah was Hedges’ entry to the prestigious Paris Wine Cup and the only American wine to receive a gold medal. It is composed of 34% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot. At $30 a bottle, this is a very good price for a wine of this caliber.
Fun Fact: Author Boo Walker worked at the Hedges Family Estate.
5. Fidelitas Wines
You can’t talk about Red Mountain wine without mentioning Charlie Hoppes. He is one of the pioneer winemakers of Red Mountain wine. Initially, he made Red Mountain wines for other wineries, then he went on to establish his own winery and estate vineyard at Fidelitas Wines. Hoppes has over 40 years of experience as a winemaker and it shows. Fidelitas means faithful, loyal, and true. Hoppes likes to say Fidelitas is faithful to the Bordeaux grape varietals, loyal to modern craft winemaking, and true to Red Mountain.
The tasting room at Fidelitas is all about the wine. On nice days, large glass doors open to reveal a patio with views of the estate and the mountains in the distance. Hoppes signature wine is the 2018 Optu Red Mountain, which is the best of the vintage. The top barrels are earmarked for this red blend. “This is our mainstay,” Hoppes told me. “It’s the wine we’ve made in each vintage since 2000.” It comprises 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. A truly wonderful wine.
Fun Fact: In the Red Mountain Chronicles by Boo Walker, one of the main characters is inspired to move to Red Mountain because of a bottle of Fidelitas wine. Now that’s a good bottle of wine.
6. Red Mountain Trails Winery
This is one unique winery. Visiting Red Mountain Trails Winery gets you outside (literally) to experience Red Mountain. The tasting room is outside around a fire pit and next to the horse corral. The focus is on Bordeaux varietals that flourish on Red Mountain, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. To truly experience this winery book an hour trail ride through Red Mountain vineyards where you will head out to vistas with views for miles of Rattlesnake Mountain, Red Mountain, Mt. Adams, the Horse Heaven Hills, and Yakima Valley. Another option is a wagon-ride wine tour during which you will learn more about the vineyards. Try to book near sunset for a beautiful experience.
Lodging and facilities in Benton City and the Red Mountain area are limited. Plan to stay in Richland at The Lodge at Columbia Point. This lovely hotel overlooks the marina and Columbia River in an area known as Columbia Point. Each of the hotel’s 82 guest rooms is dedicated to a local winery. The hotel offers wine tastings and the onsite restaurant Drumheller’s offers light bites and paired pours as well as a great locally sourced dinner menu. They inventory 82 of the most acclaimed wines from the regions’ best AVAs that you may order by the glass.
Pick up a copy of Washington Wine and Food: A Cookbook by Julien Perry, a great resource to know what food to pair your Washington wine with. Forty winemakers are profiled including some from the Red Mountain AVA with recipes from some of the best chefs in Seattle. The recipes are designed for home cooks. And, for additional Tri-Cities inspiration, consider