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Boudreaux Cellars - Off the Grid

by Christina Kelly

Boudreaux Cellars is Off the Beaten Path with Hand-Crafted, World Class Wine

Driving past the city of Leavenworth, WA, into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and past the electricity poles and lines that carry current into the homes along Icicle Creek, one wonders how a winery could be located in such a remote place.

Eight miles straight up into the mountainous, craggy region, climbers can be seen slowly and carefully scaling vertical rock faces, while endurance athletes train on foot or mountain bikes, grinding out one more step, one more pedal push to make another forward motion on the steep grade. Just as you think you have gone too far and are too remote for a commercial winery to exist in such an unlikely location, you reach a bridge that leads you to a rustic log cabin housing the only winery in the Northwest, and likely the U.S., that runs on generator power only - Boudreaux Cellars.

Winemaker Rob Newsom is a multi-talented and dedicated winemaker who produces some of the best hand-crafted wines in the state while entertaining you as a musician, telling jokes about the Cajun folklore character Boudreaux and thrilling you with tales of his adventures as a former alpine guide and extreme sports enthusiast. He and his wife Tamara have created an oasis near the former Alpine Trail in the foothills, complete with log cabin, a guest house, sauna and a winery, nestled against steep, rocky cliffs and the effervescent sounds of Icicle Creek behind the house. A walk into the kitchen will bless you with some of the most mouth-watering Cajun cooking this side of Louisiana, from where the couple hails.

Boudreaux Cellars produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and small amounts of Syrah from some of the best vineyards in the state. Newsom is one of the few winemakers who sources some of his grapes from Leonetti Cellars, one of Washington's premiere and oldest wineries in the state. His connection with Gary Figgins, Leonetti's founder and winemaker, happened by accident more than 20 years ago.

The Leonetti Connection

It was while working for Gore Tex in 1990 that he first tasted a 1985 Leonetti reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Not realizing that Leonetti wines are highly allocated, Newsom called up the winery and asked to buy a case. The startled Figgins family managed to collect enough bottles to fill his first order after being captivated by the charismatic Southerner.

It was the beginning of a long friendship and mentoring, since Newsom and winemakers Gary and Chris Figgins rafted and fished together, and Newsom would entertain with Cajun folklore and bluegrass music. At their urging, Newsom made his first home wines in 1998, and his first commercial wines in 2001.

"It seemed fitting to call the winery Boudreaux, since Gary and Chris kept asking me how that 'Cru Boudreaux' was doing," Newsom said. "By 2001, we were making so much wine we finally got bonded."

Newsom credits the Figgins family and John Abbott from Abeja Winery in Walla Walla for gently guiding him to his next adventure of alpine winemaker. He had already conquered all things alpine - from mountain climbing in Alaska to white water rafting on some of the most challenging rivers. The idea of alpine winery didn't phase Newsom one bit.

Although off the electricity grid, he uses generators to run the winery and his home. The wine is stored in a man-made underground cave, where it is kept cool enough in the summer, and warm enough in the winter.

Off the Grid

Most of us take for granted that when we flick on a light switch, we have electricity, including light, heat, hot water, and all the amenities that come with belonging to a community powered by a utility company. Wineries have special needs, including cooling during the summer months, heating during the cold winter months and steady temperatures that help wine ferment. Rob Newsom in the Tasting Room

Boudreaux Cellars is powered by an industrial strength 15 KW generator, complete with a battery bank and a trace inverter that converts DC to AC power. The winery has 1,500 gallons of propane tank capacity to fuel their needs year-round. The house is heated by a huge fireplace, consuming up to 10 cords of wood during the cold winter months. And it does get cold in the Cascade Mountains - averaging 20 degrees in the winter, which generally lasts weeks longer than other Northwest regions.

In fact, it generally takes Newsom an extra 10 days or more than other wineries to ferment his grapes. This is less due to the cold temperatures (since the wine is fermented inside) and more to do with fermenting in one-ton batches. Other wineries will ferment grapes in five and 10-ton batches, creating greater heat, which speeds up the process. Boudreaux Cellars has one-ton, open top fermentors, providing an extended maceration period and longer contact with the skins.

"We try to find a balance. When the skins are on longer, it creates more tannin," Newsom said. "Our job is to make certain the wines are not extremely tannic, but rather elegant and refined."

Multiple Talents

Newsom hasn't met a project he couldn't take on. He once camped on the site where his log cabin is now situated and thought it would be a beautiful place to build a home. The logistics of bringing in supplies to build a log cabin, having to cross a rugged wooden bridge to build the house on Icicle Creek seemed difficult at best. But the Newsoms were undaunted, spending several years perfecting the house.

The landscaped yard, complete with an array of beautiful flowers, river rock and garden located near a small waterfall is bucolic in the spring and summer. Newsom has about one-fourth of an acre of vineyard planted with Lemberger and Pinot Noir - albeit small for an eight-year-old planting. He says the deer usually eat the small grapes that survive the cold of winter.

Tamara runs a boutique shop, "Inside and Out," in Leavenworth, offering everything from imported soaps to art, fashion wear and other items of interest to tourists and the local community. Since her husband works at the home winery, Rob often cooks dinner, and has a box full of yellowed and tattered recipes he spent years collecting.

"I grew up hungry," says the always smiling, tall, lanky winemaker who originally majored in forestry in college. Newsom burns more calories in the winter just getting wood to heat the home, plowing snow and keeping things running.

Louisiana natives, Rob & Tamara's bottles have Mardi Gras beads

"My mother taught me if you want to eat, you have to learn to cook."

The former mountain and rock climbing guide had a stint as a radio personality and turned inventor when he developed a fly fishing wader for Gore Tex Fabrics. His spare cabin houses everything from hip waders for fishing, crampons for mountain climbing, and all such gear in between. He says that as he gets older, he isn't doing as much of the extreme sports, choosing instead the challenge of making wine in somewhat extreme conditions.

"It's interesting and challenging," Newsom said. "We're always looking for ways to make the wines better. It does start with the fruit. I try and stay out of the way, for the most part."

Boudreaux wines begin with the best grapes Newsom can find. In addition to purchasing grapes from Leonetti's estate vineyards, Newsom also buys from Bishop's, Champoux, Homestead, Pepper Bridge, Sagemoor, Seven Hills, Wallula, Celilo, Loess, Klipsun and Weinbau - some of the most outstanding vineyards in Washington.

He crafts the wine from the perspective of a gourmand - pairing wines with food to create a gastric synergy. The fruit is gently handled without much manipulation - Newsom says he lets Mother Nature do her thing, in a location where nature has a hand in everything around him.

Wine Songs

Given his past interests, winemaking has finally gathered all the left-brain, right-brain elements for him - science, invention and process, combined with the art of blending, cooking, tasting, music and yes, jokes. Boudreaux wines are serious contenders for awards, but Newsom sells them with a wink and a nudge, and has little ditties for each wine.

"Drink this merlot, eat smoked Coho, kick off your flip flops, dance on rooftops," says Newsom about his recent Merlot. You can almost hear the music to his ditties - syncopated accordion and washboard sounds of zydeco roots from south Louisiana.

"Smokey, smooth and stinky, this syrah could make you kinky, get down the shotgun, Jim, we need to get some wild game in," he wrote about his 2003 Syrah. The 2004, possibly released this fall, is very similar.

"Get out your pirogue (pier-o), open up the Boudreaux, there's gonna be a party, down on the bayou," from the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.

"Laughing at yourself is a great way of entertaining," Newsom said. "We have as much fun at it as we can. The little songs help to set the wines apart from other wines on the shelves."

Boudreaux Cellars' truck, used to haul grapes up to Icicle Creek from Walla Walla

The Wines

Boudreaux Cabernet Sauvignon 04 $41.95/$37.76

This is a luscious fruit bomb, with hints of chocolate, lots of black cherries, violets and cassis. It isn't the overly-extracted Cabernet from California - this is elegant, classy and very food friendly. It has balance and a heft from the tannins, but not an in-your-face, overly oaked drink. The wine spent 24 months in barrel and three extra months in the oak blending tank. The Vineyards: Bacchus (Sagemoor Farms), Block 9 Cab Sauvignon. 40 % Merlot 4%; Champoux, Block 2 Cab Sauvignon. 11 %; Katherine Leone (Milbrandt), Cab Sauvignon. 30 %; Wallula, Block 10 Cab Sauvignon. 10 %; Weinbau (Sagemoor Farms) Block 13 Cab Franc 5 %.

Boudreaux Cellars Merlot 04 $41.95/$37.76

The usual fruit sources for this Merlot were lost in the 2004 freeze in the Walla Walla region. Newsom sourced fruit from the Columbia Valley and ended up with Bacchus Vineyard and Desert Hills Vineyards near Grandview. The first hit of this Merlot is deep chocolate, followed in the mouth by dark fruit and hints of cinnamon and pepper (from topping of the barrels with a bit of Syrah), mocha and violets. A lovely wine to sip and contemplate a sunset, or serve with barbequed rips. Newsom has made a classic Merlot that should be snatched up and consumed over the next four or five years.

Boudreaux Chardonnay, Columbia Valley:

A terrific food wine with tropical fruit flavors, pineapple and enough acidity to take on Étouffée, a spicy Cajun stew with seafood served over rice.

Boudreaux Tasting Case - $480

Save $59.40 from $539.40 retail

You get:
6 Boudreaux Cabernet 04
6 Boudreaux Merlot 04

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