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The Rock District

The Walla Walla Valley AVA straddles both Oregon and Washington and cradles a remarkable variety of wines—Grenache, Cabernet, and Merlot, to name a few. As of 2022, more than 475 planted wine-grape acres thrive in this sweeping landscape of rolling hills. Just south of the Washington border.


The Rocks District appellation near Milton-Freewater has been called “the most distinctive terroir in America” by Wine Spectator, thanks to the prodigious basalt cobblestones found in the region’s mineral-rich soil. This sun-drenched destination has an uncharted feel (the AVA was officially christened in 2015), with 40 vineyards providing a green splash of vines against the relaxed silhouette of the Blue Mountains.

The Rocks District is wholly contained within both Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs. It is found in northeastern Oregon, 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Pendleton, Oregon, and five miles (eight km) south of Walla Walla, WA. The Rocks District occupies a very gently sloping alluvial fan deposited by the Walla Walla River, where it exits the foothills of the Blue Mountains and enters the broad flat floor of the Walla Walla Valley. Elevations range from 800 to 1,000 feet (245-305 m).

Most days during the growing season are sunny and straightforward with very low humidity, so sizeable daily temperature variations are common. During summers, the region often experiences 5-10 days with temperatures exceeding 100 °F (38 C).

The unique soils of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are its defining characteristic. They consist of pebbles and cobbles of basalt (dark volcanic rock) in a matrix of sand and silt. The rocky soil is extremely well drained, encouraging the vines to root deeply, and the dark rocks efficiently transfer heat into the soil and radiate heat to the ripening grapes. The Rocks District is the only AVA in the United States whose boundaries were determined by a single landform and a single soil series.

Wines produced from this region showcase a lovely aromatic bouquet with a savory palate and a prominent, lingering minerality on the finish.

Region History:

Wine grape production in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater was initiated by Italian emigrants who first arrived in the area in the 1860s. By the early 1880s, the region produced thousands of gallons of wine, mainly for consumption by miners in the gold fields of northern Idaho. A cold winter in the late 1880s, combined with the end of the gold rush, forced the farmers to turn most of their vineyards into orchards. However, many farmers maintained small vineyards and continued to produce limited quantities of wine for family and friends. Isolated wild vines that are the remnants of these small family vineyards can still be found in The Rocks District.

The modern era of wine production began in the 1990s when vineyards planted by winemakers in the region earned acclaim for producing wines with sumptuous aromas and unique flavor profiles. By 2015, the cobble soils near Milton-Freewater hosted more than 475 acres (115 ha) of vineyards, and The Rocks District was approved as Oregon’s 18th AVA.

A favorite Winery in the Rock District to visit is:

The Rotie Rocks Estate

Taste through six of their latest releases while taking in the best view in the Walla Walley Valley. Wines are served on two flights for you to enjoy and compare, and they currently have inside and outside seating on their covered patio. Reservations are highly recommended to ensure the best-tasting experience.

Per the Great Northwest Wine Magazine

Judging for the 23rd annual Platinum Awards took place October 26 -28, 2022. Here are this year’s winning wineries:


Double Platinum – 96 points

Zerba Cellars - 2018 Barbera Red Wine


Double Platinum – 95 points

Zerba Cellars – 2018 Estate Zinfandel


Platinum – 93 points

Zerba Cellars – Cockburn Vineyard Estate Tempranillo


Platinum – 93 points

Watermill Winery – Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

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