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Gail Puryear believes it is time to redefine wine appellations in Washington State. In the early days, appellations (known as American Viticultural Areas) were created by drawing lines around a land form, such as a valley, and calling it an AVA, he said. “But that doesn’t work any more.”

Puryear, who is owner of Bonair Winery in Zillah and was instrumental in the recent creation of Washington State’s ninth AVA called Rattlesnake Hills, dubs the early AVAs in the state “mega AVAs.” The first few appellations approved in the Pacific Northwest encompass large valleys—Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“Now we know that grapes grow best on hills and slopes—not on valley floors,” he said, adding that high water tables found at the bottom land of valleys make it worthless for growing grapes.

He noted that Oregon has already begun redefining its AVAs, dividing the Willamette AVA it into six smaller ones.

Eight maps were submitted to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to support the Rattlesnake Hills appellation, which was approved by the bureau in March. Boundaries of the AVA were based on geography and climate, Puryear explained. Areas not conducive to grape growing that are home to orchards and dairies were specifically excluded from the appellation.

No bad publicity

The name of the new AVA was chosen because Rattlesnake Hills is a prominent land form in seven of the eight maps. The name must accurately reflect the area and not be “something made up like Rainbow AVA,” he added.

“The name Rattlesnake Hills AVA is memorable, even if some in the media have made fun of it,” Puryear said. “But there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

He believes the new appellation is already helping to better promote their wines. Wineries within the appellation are working together through the recently created Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail.

Puryear noted that the number of visitors to their winery has increased considerably. They are building a new wine-tasting room to accommodate 100 visitors at a time, the typical tour load on a Saturday afternoon.

For more information about Rattlesnake Hills, visit http://www.rattlesnakehills.com.