In the high desert, Red Mountain stands above vineyards growing hundreds of acres, harvesting some of the best grapes in the state — leading some to call it The Napa Valley of Washington.
“It’s the slopes, it’s the elevation, and then it’s the soils,” said Quintessence and Shaw’s Vineyard Manager Marshall Edwards, who is a decades-long expert deep appreciation for the mountain’s terrain.
“These ancient soils brought in from the Missoula Flood that swirled around Red Mountain and deposited in here that are so rich … It’s the combination of those three things that make it so special,” he said.
Red Mountain isn’t just an American Viticultural Area (AVA) — a federal designation that recognizes a region for wine growing — but part of it is public trust land, which is owned by Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
DNR gives agriculture leases out to private businesses, and in turn, generates $24 million annually that goes to funding public services.
“Most of the revenue generated goes to the public trust, so the Common School Construction Fund, and another small portion is leasehold tax, and that tax goes back to the county in lieu of property taxes,” said DNR Land Manager Tim Kopf. “So the [revenue generated] for the Common School Construction Fund helps to offset taxes in local communities for helping to pay for the construction of schools for local communities.”
Additionally, the property itself can become more valuable when leased out. When it comes to Quintessence, they took a bare piece of land and turned it into a crown jewel of a property — increasing the value by an 100 fold from when DNR initially bought it in the 1990s.
“The asset value for the department has increased remarkably,” Koph said. “The Shaw’s are good stewards of the land. They take good care of that property, and we like folks who take good care of [the] ground like it’s their own, and they do a great job of that.”
Quintessence just wrapped up its 18th fall harvest with nearly 1,000 tons of grapes hand picked from the vine. Trucks bring the fruit over the Cascades to wineries, and they create full-bodied cabernets, merlots, and syrahs.
It’s wine that’s not only good for happy hour, but it’s good for Washington.