One of the most fascinating stories in Washington wine country is the resurrection of Upland Estates.
In 1917, a Canadian immigrant named William B. Bridgman planted wine grapes on a hill in the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside. He was the first to plant commercial wine grapes in a region that has been the center of the Washington wine industry ever since. The hill, called Snipes Mountain, turned out to be a great place to grow wine grapes.
Bridgman, a two-time mayor of Sunnyside, managed to keep afloat throughout Prohibition and, when the federal ban on commercial alcohol production lifted in late 1933, Bridgman quickly took advantage, opening Upland Winery on Snipes Mountain in 1934.
Of all his contributions, one of Bridgman’s greatest was convincing Walter Clore of the Washington State University experimental station in Prosser that wine grape production was viable in Eastern Washington. Clore went on to champion wine grape vineyards and is now affectionately known as “the father of Washington wine.”
Meanwhile, Bridgman’s efforts faded into history. While he wanted to focus on producing table wines using European grape varieties, he found most of his success in sweeter fortified wines that were popular with consumers in the ’40s and ’50s. Bridgman sold the winery in 1960 and died in 1968. The winery closed in 1972, and his vineyards were sold.
That might have been the end of Bridgman’s legacy, except the man who purchased his vineyards was Al Newhouse, a second-generation Yakima Valley farmer. He expanded the plantings over the years to several hundred acres.
His grandson, Todd Newhouse, joined the family business in 1996 and revitalized Bridgman’s dream by launching Upland Estates in 2006. He and winemaker Robert Smasne have enjoyed quick success, with the 2007 Malbec winning best in show at the 2009 Tri-Cities Wine Festival. In early 2009, the federal government recognized Snipes Mountain as an official American Viticultural Area, or AVA. At 4,145 acres (with about 600 planted to wine grapes), it is the second-smallest AVA in the state after Red Mountain near West Richland.
And those vines Bridgman planted in 1917? Astonishingly, several of them survive to this day, including Thompson Seedless and Muscat of Alexandria. And Black Muscat grapes from the ’50s and Cabernet Sauvignon from the ’60s also are farmed by Newhouse.
Somewhere, Bridgman must be smiling.
Here are a few Upland wines we’ve tasted recently.
Upland Estates 2008 Ampeli Muscat Ice Wine, Snipes Mountain, $24: The grapes for this rare ice wine were planted in 1917, and the wine is made in nearby Grandview. This opens with aromas of peaches and apricots, followed by lush, round flavors of ripe pears and apples. It’s plenty sweet at 24.7% residual sugar.
Upland Estates 2007 Old Vine Cabernet, Snipes Mountain $28: Simply called Cabernet, it’s Cabernet Sauvignon (96%) and Cabernet Franc (4%), and vines dating to 1973 contributed the majority of the fruit. The history lesson opens with pie cherries, cassis, watermelon, eucalyptus and leather aromas. It’s black currants on the palate with cranberries, bittersweet chocolate and the Cab Franc arrives with some leafiness.
Upland Estates 2008 Gewrztraminer, Snipes Mountain $14: Pink grapefruit, green apple, marshmallow and cinnamon splash about in an off-dry style.
Upland Estates 2007 Malbec, Snipes Mountain $28: This wine features lively raspberry, pie cherry and pomegranates. There’s also chocolate and a cup of espresso on the entry, with some allspice for complexity.
Upland Estates 2007 Syrah, Snipes Mountain $28: Blackberry fills the nostrils along with cherry jam, coffee, a chocolate brownie and herbal tea. It’s a big, rich, mouth-coating wine that presents expressive boysenberry, blueberry and cherry flavors. Zesty acidity and well-managed tannins make it all fit.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. Find out more at www.winepressnw.com.