Great wines begin in the vineyard! Airfield Estates uses 100% estate grown fruit. Our first vines were planted in 1968 by Don Miller. Today, the estate vineyard spans over 860 acres and includes 27 different varieties.
The vineyard is located at the foot of the Rattlesnake Mountains in the Yakima Valley. All of the vineyard blocks are situated within a 3 mile radius of the original WWII airbase. Within this range, there is a considerable amount of diversity of soil and microclimatic conditions. To maximize quality, we carefully match grape varietals to the most suitable sites.
The interaction of our geographic, climatic, and environmental conditions in conjunction with our vineyard management directly affect the quality and personality of our wine. Below are some details about our vineyard site and farming practices:
Yakima Valley Appellation
The Airfield Estates Vineyard is located in the heart of the Yakima Valley Appellation (Washington State’s first designated AVA). The valley is located in the south-central portion of the state and is approximately equidistant from Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. It sits on the same parallel as the famous Bordeaux region of France, and some of its vineyards are amongst the best in the state. In total, there are over 11,000 acres of vineyards in the Yakima Valley -- making the Yakima Valley AVA the largest producer of wine grapes in Washington State.
Although not the warmest site in the state, the Yakima Valley offers a long 190 day growing season, which allows the vines to reach full metabolic maturity and balance. The warm days and the cool nights provided by the high desert environment allow the vines to produce ripe fruit flavor and plenty of natural acidity. Yakima Valley fruit is noted for its balance. To obtain comparable balance, many other regions have to make additions.
Unlike the Bordeaux region, the Yakima Valley sits in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to the west and receives less than 6 inches of annual precipitation. The valley is located within the anticlines of the Rattlesnake and Horse Heaven Hills. When weather fronts flow into the valley from the west, they typically split and ride the two ridge lines depositing most of the precipitation on the anticlines. During the summer months, our vineyards get nearly no precipitation. This allows us to vigorously manage our water to maximize fruit quality.
The Cascade Range is volcanic in nature, and over the course of time, lava flows and ash deposits helped form the sub strata of our soils. In the more recent past, approximately 10,000 years ago during the end of the ice age, gargantuan-size glacial floods occurred, resulting in massive erosion in areas where the water flow moved rapidly. The valley was created from these floods and provided slack waters, which allowed much of the finer eroded soil particulates to settle out. When the flood waters receded this relatively fine-grained, well-drained soil was left behind. Today, most of our farm’s soil would be classified as Warden silty loam. There are areas of shallow rockier soils, as well as sandier sites giving us quite a lot of diversity within a fairly small geographic unit.
The Roza irrigation district provides water for our vineyards. Water is diverted from the Yakima River in the Ellensburg Canyon, and flows through district works until it reaches our farm. Water is stored in a series of reservoirs on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, and is released during the course of the season to meet the needs of the crops, municipalities, and fishery. We have converted 100% of our vineyards to drip irrigation. In addition, we have built a number of on-farm water storage facilities, which we can use to augment the supply delivered by the Roza.
Airfield has been producing grapes for over 40 years. This viticultural experience has helped us tailor our vineyards to maximize each one’s potential. We are dedicated to the principle of sustainability, and we tirelessly search for softer, environmentally friendly products and methods to use in our farming operation.
Our dry climate coupled with sound viticultural practices result in a more disease free environment. For example, bunch rot, powdery mildew, and a number of other maladies are not as big of threat to us as they are to regions with significantly greater precipitation. Also, we are fortunate for our cold winters and coarser soils, which help prevent the spread of phyloxera (an aphid that feeds on the roots of grapevines and can have devastating effects). These soil and climatic conditions allow Yakima Valley grapes to be grown on their native roots rather than being grafted onto resistant rootstock. There are not many other places in the world where this can take place.