Candy Mountain becomes state’s newest wine grape region

By Eric Degerman
Special to the TCAJOB

The sweet news about the establishment of the Candy Mountain American Viticultural Area gives the Washington state wine industry its 16th AVA.

Candy Mountain, a portion of which is in the Richland city limits, recently became the tiniest AVA in the state at 815 acres. Its famous neighbor, Red Mountain, had been the smallest at 4,140 acres, and is known to produce muscular, age-worthy red wines.

Marty Clubb, winemaker/co-owner of acclaimed L’Ecole N° 41 in the Walla Walla Valley, said, “Candy Mountain is a warm, south-facing site with mostly blown sand soil, thus excellent drainage. In many ways, it is very similar to Red Mountain. The reds made from Candy Mountain fruit are big and structured, with great balance and aging capacity.”

The successful petition was written by Kevin Pogue, a geology professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla. The Sept. 25 announcement marked the second AVA approved in September for the Evergreen State, following the Sept. 2 establishment of the Royal Slope in the Columbia Basin.

Starting Oct. 26, wineries may begin to list “Candy Mountain” as the AVA on bottles if at least 85% percent of the fruit was grown within that designated region.

The namesake Candy Mountain Vineyard, a 50-acre planting, recently was acquired by Oregon Potato Co., which is owned by Frank Tiegs and has headquarters in Pasco. Tiegs also is a part owner in Badger Mountain Vineyard/Powers Winery in nearby Kennewick.

“We have several other vineyards in the area, so this site was a nice addition to the orchard and vineyard holdings,” said Matt Upmeyer, senior director of commercial operations for Oregon Potato Co., in an email. “Candy Mountain Vineyard has the oldest vines in the AVA and our customers love the quality of the fruit grown at the vineyard. We look forward to seeing the AVA make a name for itself as one of Washington’s premium grape growing locations.”

Candy Mountain Vineyard was established in 1998. Customers for the fruit, previously managed by Premiere Vineyards, include Long Shadows Vintners, another famous winery in the Walla Walla Valley.

“Long Shadows Vintners is going to be picky about who they work with — and the same for us,” Clubb said.

Clubb’s first vineyard-designated wine featuring Candy Mountain Vineyard was in 2010.

“But we were working with that fruit long before that,” he said. “It’s been a staple for our Columbia Valley lineup, and it’s a very consistent and very reliable site.”

More vines have recently been established along the southwest portion of Candy Mountain by Northwest Vineyard Management, which is overseen by decorated viticulturist Marshall Edwards and owned by Dick and Wendy Show, who were inducted in the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame in 2018.

The Kitzke family planted Candy Ridge Vineyards on its estate soon after arriving in 2000, and the focus has been on red Bordeaux varieties, with Cabernet Franc as a standout. At this point, Kitzke Cellars is the only winery in the AVA, with Seth Kitzke making the wines for his parents, Paul and Vickie, as well as the Upsidedown Wine brand he owns with his wife, Audrey.

“It’s been a long wait the last few years,” Seth Kitzke said via email. “Everything at Kitzke is Candy Mountain except a small lot of Nebbiolo we produce. We will be able to label our 2018 Bordeauxs with the appellation this spring, which will be nice.”

L’Ecole long has viewed Candy Mountain fruit as a bargain, but Clubb quipped, “That will probably change as its reputation grows.”

More than 11 months passed between the close of public commenting on the Candy Mountain petition and its establishment as an AVA. Based on that timeline, it could be late spring/early summer of 2021 before the pending White Bluffs AVA is established.

Pogue, who wrote the petition for buzz-worthy The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla Valley, also has spearheaded petitions for White Bluffs and two other proposed AVAs in Washington that are pending — Rocky Reach and Wanapum Village. Public commenting recently closed on the White Bluffs petition and another proposed AVA called The Burn of Columbia Valley near the Horse Heaven Hills and the riverside community of Roosevelt.

Goose Gap, a region that’s nearly adjacent to Candy Mountain, has a petition by Northwest geologist/vintner Alan Busacca that was accepted as perfected on March 6, 2018. However, a public commenting period is pending. The former Washington State University professor is credited with AVAs for the Royal Slope, Lewis-Clark Valley (2016), Lake Chelan (2009) and Wahluke Slope (2007). His work also was cited in the establishment of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA in 2005.

As part of the final rule, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) expanded the Yakima Valley AVA by 72 acres east toward the Columbia River, an aspect that might help explain why the Royal Slope petition was established ahead of Candy Mountain.

The expansion of the Yakima Valley AVA — the first to be established in Northwest in 1983 — means wineries with bottlings that feature Candy Mountain grapes can use the new AVA, the Yakima Valley AVA or the massive Columbia Valley AVA on the label.

The Candy Mountain AVA also includes a young hiking trail that outdoors enthusiasts in the Tri-Cities hope will someday include a path linking the Red Mountain and Candy Mountain AVAs.

Eric Degerman is the president and chief executive officer of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998.


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