We live, work and farm in a desert. Not going to pull any punches, it would be a vast wasteland if it wasn’t for two important factors. 1. Much of the soil in the Horse Heaven Hills is a loamy sand with enough clay content (about 5%) to hold and capture water and, 2. We have been blessed with irrigation from the Columbia River.
The Horse Heaven Hills were named such because of the vast grass fields that spread across the plateau of the hill from the Yakima River to the Columbia River, an expanse of about 30 miles wide and 60 miles across. The plateau is flat except that it has numerous canyons and draws that cut through running in the general direction of the southeast or southwest. It is arid, dry, and is technically considered a desert. A desert is a barren area of land where little precipitation occurs and consequently living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. About one third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid.
As you might imagine, it is beautiful; but it is also vast, lonely and desolate. When my father and my uncle set about turning this barren land into productive farmland, one of the first things they did was plant trees. Trees served two purposes, the first was to create barriers from the wind (helping to reduce soil erosion), and the second was to create a visual cue that you were somewhere, a reference point to know that you were on the Mercer Family Farm. In the middle of this vast grassland, you will see trees, from as far as sixty miles away, and when you see them, you will know that it is the Mercer Ranch.
Lombardi Poplars were the first trees that my father planted on the ranch, chosen for their fast growth and tall structure (better to block the wind). We have planted several thousand Poplar trees over the years. But, the first trees that I remember as a child were Locust trees, which had been left behind by early settlers in the bottoms of a few of the canyons around the ranch. Once established, the locust trees managed to survive on the little natural rainfall of the area. The Locust trees in the Horse Heaven Hills look like they belong. They have a gnarled, rugged look that seems to communicate determination and perseverance. The qualities needed for farming and surviving in the desert.
So last year we started planting clusters of Locusts around the farm. We planted about 200 trees last year and are planting another 300 this year.
So for the next 100 years, when you are traversing across the Horse Heaven Hills, and you come across the stoic Locust trees, you will know that you are on Mercer Ranch.
–Rob Mercer, Owner, Mercer Canyons/Mercer Wine Estates