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Cadence Winery

Rhythm is the way of life for Cadence Winery

By Christina Kelly

Cadence Winemaker Ben SmithWhen is it time to skip a beat, break away from the paced steps of life’s forward motion and create a tempo all your own?

For Ben Smith, a Boeing engineer, it happened in 1997, when he and his wife, Gaye McNutt, created Cadence Winery in Seattle. The couple produces small quantities of Bordeaux blends with big, luscious flavors, lots of fruit and spice.

Producing commercial wine was not in the plans for Smith, who went to work for Boeing in 1993. McNutt, a Microsoft attorney, was busy with litigation and traveling for the software company. Smith dabbled in making homemade beer, and he and McNutt enjoyed wine as consumers.

Colleagues at Boeing introduced Smith to the aeronautic company’s wine club, where Smith became a member and quickly began making his own wine.

“I just got hooked,” Smith said. “People liked the wine I produced and I was getting noticed at the annual Boeing wine competition. It became a passion.”

The modest Smith was winning the top awards for winemaking at the Boeing gatherings, when someone planted the seed that he should make wine commercially. He was somewhat frustrated as an engineer and looking for ways to express more creativity.

As McNutt recalled, the couple decided to purchase 10.5 acres of land on Red Mountain, one of the state’s finest regions for growing grapes.

“This happened before we got engaged or concretely decided that we were going to start the winery,” McNutt said. “Over the summer of 1997, we developed a business plan. My experience as a business lawyer and earlier financial analyst experience turned out to be the perfect complement to Ben’s knowledge of the (wine) industry.”

Cadence labelCadence took on life in 1998, as Smith produced two distinctive wine blends, released commercially last year. He produced a 1998 Tapteil Vineyard blend, featuring 49 percent of cabernet sauvignon, balanced with 26 percent of merlot, 21 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent of petit verdot. The 1998 Spring Valley Vineyard blend from Walla Walla is 70 percent merlot, with 17 percent petit verdot and 13 percent cabernet franc.

In 2000, Smith released four wines Spring Valley and Tapteil, along with Ciel du Cheval and a reserve. Release dates are in June, August and November.

The Spring Valley is very good, but best to drink now versus cellaring. The Tapteil is a balanced wine with depth, good tannic structure and a wonderful feel in the mouth. I would rate this very high in the atmosphere of Bordeaux blends, and I can’t wait for the reserve blend due out in November.

In three years, Smith and McNutt are producing one of the highest quality Bordeaux blends in Washington, and it is not by accident. The couple decided to make some sacrifices so that Smith could work in the winery full time and give up his day job. McNutt agreed to continue working for the bread and butter in hopes that Smith could produce a comfortable living from the winery, located near downtown Seattle.

“It was a bit of a leap of faith,” McNutt said. “Balancing a little short term pain for the chance of long term success of the winery seemed like a very good trade. We knew we were heading in the direction of Ben doing this full time, anyway.”

Business has been good so far. Cadence is sold in premiere restaurants in Seattle, and mailing lists have nearly guaranteed a sell-out of the 900 cases produced. Barrel tasting of the 1999 versions promises to be even better than the 1998 and the 2000 is outstanding.

Both Smith and McNutt appear to be content with the pace, or the cadence of the winery. McNutt juggles a heavy schedule at Microsoft to find time for harvest and crush, weekend bottling and blending. Family members help out during crucial times. Early mornings or late evenings will catch both Smith and McNutt performing punch downs during harvest, or blending experiments.

The winery name, Cadence, represents many factors in the young couple’s lives. Both played classical music on violin and piano and support the Seattle Symphony. But music cadence is only a part of the rhythm of their lives. In addition, Smith is a cyclist and McNutt a tri-athlete. Cadence is the number of pedal revolutions in cycling.

“It just seem to fit,” Smith said. “It’s about balance in the wines in life.”

The winery will relocate sometime in the next year. Inadvertently, the winery shares a building with a non-profit group designed to help recovering alcoholics.


Smith and McNutt are searching for a new site, knowing they will need a larger building in the future. Their goal is to produce about 2,500 cases each year.

copyright 2001 Jean Yates Inc all rights reserved

from the winemakers:

Cadence Winemaking Philosophy

Gaye and I are dedicated to showcasing the finest vineyard sites in Washington State. We feel this is best accomplished by blending individual lots of wines made from the varietals grown on the vineyard site. Blending allows us to create a balanced wine of greater character than the individual components. Our wines express the power, intensity or elegance of the vineyard only as those qualities are already present in the vineyard. In this way our Bordeaux-styled blends become our interpretation of the best qualities reflected in Washington’s greatest vineyard terroir.

Cadence Reserve Cuvee Philosophy

We initiated our Reserve Cuvee program with the 1999 vintage. This program has but one goal: to produce the finest wine possible from the palette available to us. This is the benchmark by which to judge our capabilities against the greatest Washington, national and international Bordeaux-styled wines.

The Vintages


In a word, hot. Our inaugural vintage began, continued and ended with warm to scorching hot weather from the west end of the Yakima Valley all the way to Walla Walla. Harvest began on the 12th of September with Tapteil Merlot, always the first wine of the season. The Spring Valley Vineyard Petit Verdot harvest brought the season to an end on November 1st, a long harvest indeed. The warm season favored the Cabernet family on Red Mountain, as well as allowing the very late ripening Petit Verdot to be picked at optimal, wonderful ripeness.

The main characteristics of the 1998 Vintage were deep, saturated jammy berry flavors, very ripe tannins, and a full, rounded mouthfeel.


The importance of vintage, even in a warm state such as Washington became evident in 1999. The season began cool and rainy with moderate temperatures from flowering on deep into the summer. Heat unit accumulation lagged 1998 by as much as 500 degrees through the beginning of September. Growers and vintners alike were contemplating dropping fruit to mitigate the effects of the very unseasonably cool weather which lasted until the second week of September, when the weather turned warm and sunny for a heartening Indian Summer. The good weather continued through late October, allowing near perfect maturation of fruit flavors while retaining sound acidity. The weather did not last quite long enough for the Petit Verdot, which we unfortunately had to leave on the vine unpicked.

Vintage 1999 is still in barrel elevage, but displays stronger primary fruit flavors and acidity than 1998. These wines, though similar in composition to the 1998s show greater depth and concentration. In short, a remarkable vintage.


Vintage Y2K can best be described as a vintage of moderation. There were no cold spells, overly rainy periods, scorching heat, or other unfavorable conditions. The weather allowed even, slow ripening to optimum physiological maturity in all three of our vineyards. With the wines only in the barrel for less than a year, we have yet to make a final determination on their ultimate character, but all the indications are for another stellar vintage perhaps more similar to 1999 than 1998.


Jancis Robinson, The Financial Times:
"Cadence is a winery to watch"

Richard Neill, Decanter Magazine:
"I may have witnessed the birth of Washington’s newest cult winery"

Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator
"Cadence is one of those small wineries …making handcrafted wines that are turning heads"

Paul Gregutt, The Seattle Times:
"(A) nomination for upcoming "cult" winery"

Tapteil: "Bright medium-ruby color. Perfumed aromas of dark berries, cherry , baking chocolate, violet, lead pencil and gingerbread. More concentrated than the Spring Valley blend with insinuating sweetness and a very suave texture. A shapely, structured wine with impressive flavor intensity. Finishes very long, with supple, thoroughly ripe tannins. Perhaps the most exciting new Washington State wine I tasted this year. 91(+?)"

Spring Valley: "Full deep red. Aromatic nose combines blue fruits, tree bark, espresso, bitter chocolate and menthol; reminded me a bit of Cheval Blanc. Smooth and ripe but tightly wrapped and restrained, with bright, nicely integrated acidity contributing to the impression of backbone. Not yet pliant but not hard. Youthfully unevolved and structured to age. 88(+?)"

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