The nomadic Yakima Indians used Red Willow Creek as a travel camp on their annual route between the huckleberry fields on Mt. Adams, and their winter camp at the confluence of the Yakima and Naches Rivers. The red “willows,” are in fact, sumac bushes. Located within the Yakima Indian Reservation, the land that now includes Red Willow Vineyard was purchased by the Stephenson family in the 1920’s. The family spent decades farming the land. Their son-in-law, Mike Sauer, first planted Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973 on a peninsula of land jutting out from the south-facing Ahtanum Ridge. It is the most westerly and the most northerly vineyard in the Yakima Valley appellation of Washington state. To the west rise the foothills of the Cascades with Mt. Adams’ snowcapped peak dominating the landscape. At 1300 feet above sea level, Red Willow stood above the cataclysmic Missoula floods at the end of the last ice age, floods that deposited silt and sand over the surrounding area.
High atop the hillside of Red Willow Vineyard sits the Monsignor Chapel, inspired by the historic chapels in the great vineyards of France. The virgin vineyard slopes were cleared of rocks for cultivation and these stones were used to build the chapel. The Red Willow Vineyard’s well-drained and nutritionally poor soil, its south, east and west facing slopes and the cool nights and long sunny days of Washington’s summers, Red Willow Vineyard supplies a richly varied palette for producing exceptional wines. Known for being the inspiration for new varietals in the state, Red Willow successfully pioneered varietals such as Syrah, Sangiovese, Malbec, Viognier and Cabernet Franc and has long produced award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The relationship between Columbia Winery and Red Willow Vineyard is long-standing. Since the first blending of Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into Columbia Winery wines in 1979, Mike Sauer and winemaker David Lake have developed a deep understanding of the soils, slopes and exposures and their impact on fruit quality. As a result, throughout Red Willow Vineyard there are 27 distinct blocks of six red grape varietals along with small blocks of white varietals. In 1981, Columbia Winery released the first vineyard-designated wine from the vineyard with its Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon. With the release of Syrah from Red Willow Vineyard in 1988, Columbia Winery produced the first Syrah in the Pacific Northwest.