Monday, June 1, 2015

Columbia Crest Winery and the Horse Heaven Hills AVA

It was a joyous household in May after receiving a package of H3 wines from Columbia Crest Winery, the largest producer in Washington State's Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The viticultural area was cut out of the larger Columbia Valley AVA in 2005 and consists of half a dozen wineries.The region is unique in that the hills face south, providing plenty of sunshine and airflow - 30% more wine patterns than other areas of the Columbia Valley. Temperatures are hot with little rainfall (9 inches annually) as the 14,000 foot peaks of the Cascade Mountain range block moisture from the Pacific.

According to local historical records in 1857 rancher James Kinney was camping in the range of hills in south-central Washington. When he woke up to discover his herd had wandered up a mountainside and into an upland plain where they were munching on succulent bunch grass. “Surely this is Horse Heaven,” Kinney commented. The area has been known as the Horse Heaven Hills ever since.
Columbia Crest  has been operating for 25 years and maintains 2,500 out of the 6,040 acres of vines in the AVA. The soil in these vineyards are primarily sandy and silt loam with the vineyard's height ranging from 200 to 1,800 feet.  In 2003 Juan Muñoz-Oca joined the Columbia Crest team with a pedigree of working his grandfather's Bodegas Toso winery in Mendoza, Argentina. In 2011 he became winemaker after spending the preceding years enhancing the winery's red wine program.

Their H3 brand are affordable wines intended to "express the appellation’s terroir".  In general, the five wines I tasted were very approachable and mostly true to style.

H3 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($15, 13.0%) - with 1% Semillon. Whereas there is plenty of lemon citrus, the mineral aspects were as prevalent as the acids. Very nice.   

H3 2013 Chardonnay ($15, 13.5%) - a very complex Chardonnay resulting from various oak treatment, several yeast strains, and 70% undergoing malolactic conversion. The aroma starts with plenty of pears but the fruit gives way to a toasted buttery character that remains through the finish. Not my style of Chardonnay, but for those who prefer an oaked Chardonnay - give it a try.

H3 2012 Merlot ($15, 14.5%) - a very different Merlot, with 4% Cabernet, extended maceration on the skins and varying oak aging. There is a dominant spicy character that mingles with blackberry and dark cherry flavors. This is not your fruit bomb Merlot.

H3 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15, 14.5%) - blended with 1% Cabernet Franc with various oak treatments; this was my favorite of the group. It starts with a loads of dark fruit on the nose, transitioning to subtle vanilla and earthy leather. The finish is very approachable, with a slight layer of chocolate and berries.

H3 2012 Les Chevaux Red Blend ($15, 14.5%) -a blend of 60% Syrah, 27% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Viognier, 2% Malbec, 3% Other Varietals. The Horses is another excellent wine where the fruit is allowed to express itself with some silky texture and a bright finish. Love the Rhone dominant aspect of this wine.
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