Red Mountain is not really much of a mountain, and not really all that red. But it is the premier spot to grow Bordeaux varieties—particularly Cabernet—in Washington State. And that means some of the best Cabernet in the world.
It wasn’t always that way, and indeed, the story of Red Mountain and wine production is a twisty one.
Originally, “Red Mountain” was slated to be a housing development for the nearby Tri-Cities. Three friends borrowed money from Dad to buy up the land and start construction. Unfortunately for them, they were about 20 years ahead of the curve and ended up with a whole lot of arid land and no customers. What to do?
Having absolutely no experience with vineyards, or making wine, or anything else in the wine industry, they decided to plant a Cabernet vineyard. And once again, the friends were about 20 years ahead of the curve – Red Mountain has no water, and you need lots of water for vineyards.
Spending the absolute last of their money (Dad refused to give anymore) our three heroes dug a well 500 feet deep. And they got nothing. Nearly giving up hope, they borrowed an extra twenty feet of pipe from a local apple farmer and tried one last time. At 516 feet, they struck water.
That was 1971. Red Mountain’s vineyards were born, and Washington’s wine industry took a tremendous upturn in quality.
Red Mountain is one of those dynamic spots like Bordeaux, where certain grapes fit perfectly with the soil, climate, and aspect of the land. The soil is an iron-rich loess over large glacial sediments. The climate is continental, with a huge diurnal temperature change. And the aspect is a northwest diagonal ridge sloping down to the Yakima River. All of this combines to create amazingly inspired, Bordeaux-like red wines. Indeed, Red Mountain Cabernets have always reminded me of Margaux. Today’s example, CMS from the Hedges family, demonstrates that exquisitely:
Deep purple, pure and intense, with tremendous opulence and palate presence, the CMS Hedges is a wine of considerable nobility. It’s packed with loads of blueberry, black currant, pencil lead and sandalwood smoke-infused fruit. Its beautifully full-bodied texture gives way to ripe and powerful tannins, dark red cherry fruit, crème de cassis, graphite, touches of blackberry, and smoked sandalwood.
Like Bordeaux, it’s a blend of Cabernet with Merlot (and then, this being Washington, a splash of Syrah—hence CMS) that maximizes the qualities of each grape, resulting in a wine that’s greater than the sum of its parts. And like Bordeaux, this wine lasts – I had the privilege of sampling the ’89 vintage with Chris Hedges last summer, and it was simply ravishing.
But unlike Bordeaux is the price. I know there are some of you out there who think a wine at this price can’t be this good or last that long. You’ll be missing out. While the Hedges family were not our first pioneers of Red Mountain I earlier described, they were one of the first to buy and plant vineyards there.
Having met the Hedges, I’ve found them to be one of those amazing wine families that refuses to add ego cost to the price of their wines. They never submit the wines to rating magazines, instead choosing to make a very high-quality product at an incredibly reasonable price and earning loyal followers along the way. Count me among that set, and you should count yourselves there, too.