Canoe Ridge Vineayrd

Terroir - How Eastern Washington's Climate
shapes Canoe Ridge's Wines


Terroir. Tair-WAHR. Whether or not they can pronounce it correctly, terroir is on the lips of many a Washington winemaker these days. The idea that the interaction of geology, soil, and climate can affect the taste, complexity, and character of a fine wine is hardly new, even within the relatively youthful Washington wine industry.

The Canoe Ridge Vineyard is located in eastern Washington State. The Cascade Mountains create a rain shadow, blocking the moist ocean air moving west, while the Rocky Mountains protect the area from the coldest of the arctic storms that sweep down from through Canada. West of the Cascades, the annual rainfall averages 48 inches, while east of the Cascades, where the vineyard is located, the area receives a measly 5-6 inches.

Canoe Ridge’s 910-foot peak slopes gently five miles toward the east and west. This site was selected for because of its distinctive microclimate for growing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The unique climate is due to the vineyard’s location at a wide expanse of the Columbia River, which moderates the vineyard temperature both summer and winter. During the growing season, the warm days and cool nights provide the perfect conditions for grape maturity and balance.

Once bud break occurs, long daylight hours combined with warm daytime temperatures provide for an extended growing season. At the peak of the season, ripening can take place from 5 AM to 9 PM. Cool nights and the wind that blows up the gorge balance these warm temperatures and help to maintain natural acidity levels. These cool nights also allow the fruit maximum hangtime, which is essential for complete ripeness. Complete ripeness is achieved when sugar levels, flavor maturity and pH levels are in balance.

Winter injury is always a concern for grape growers in Washington State. Extreme low temperatures tend to occur every five to seven years. Based on 100-year averages, the Canoe Ridge is 10 degrees warmer in the winter than other grapegrowing areas of the state because of the moderating influence of the Columbia River. As a result, winter injury has been minimal to date. Although the risk of extreme cold temperatures can be trying on our nerves, four well-defined seasons are key to the quality and style of fruit we grow. To survive, the vines must go into complete dormancy, giving them a thorough rest before they regenerate for the next season.

The soil on the Canoe Ridge is sandy loam and ranges in depth from eighteen inches to five feet. The annual precipitation is roughly six inches per year. The soil drainage, combined with minimal rainfall and a drying wind, provides the perfect environment for controlling the timing and quantity of water given to the vines during their growing season. Through deficit irrigation we control vine vigor, which increases the concentration of the characteristic flavors in our wines.

A second view of Canoe Ridge Vineyard, showing the vast sandy plains and rolling hills of the region

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