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Canoe Ridge Vineyard

Canoe Ridge Vineyard

Canoe Ridge Vineyard is best known for the wines made by John Abbot for the Canoe Ridge winery. His Abeja Winery is famous for Walla Walla reds and has a long history of highly rated wines.

at right, John Abbot

In 1982, Phil Woodward sought out the producer of a delectable wine that had piqued his interest. Coincidentally, the name of the winery was Woodward Canyon and the winemaker was Rick Small. The resulting friendship led to the formation in 1989, with local Walla Walla investors, of Canoe Ridge Vineyard on the northern bank of the Columbia River. In 1990, Chalone Wine Group joined the partnership and now owns the winery. Currently (April 2006), possible ownership changes are in the works.

Five miles west of Paterson and seventy-five miles west of the winery, built in the historic Walla Walla Engine House, Canoe Ridge Vineyard's estate is planted primarily to Merlot. Planting started in 1989, and now, in 2006, 153 acres are in full production.

Canoe Ridge is named for a five-mile long, east-west running summit, about nine hundred feet in elevation. The marine influences of the Columbia River protect the estate vineyards from extreme weather in the winter and provide cool breezes in the summer. These conditions, combined with sandy-loam soils, low rainfall of six inches annually and nearly eighteen hours of daylight at harvest, provide a long growing season and extended hang time. The result is the intense Merlot fruit that Canoe Ridge Vineyard is known for.

"Merlot, in a Bordeaux style, is what drivesCanoe Ridge," says former winemaker John Abbott. "We use small lot fermentation, gentle handling and primarily French oak barrels. A variety of yeast strains, barrel coopers and fermentation practices are used as well, each tailored to complement the many different dimensions of the fruit."

Canoe Ridge makes excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay in Washington State's Columbia Valley. The quality of the wines makes their relatively low price an outstanding value. The winery is owned by the large and prestigious Chalone Group, based in California. While maintaining a low profile, this winery has quietly developed a lineup of rich, full bodied, consistently delicious wines.

Canoe Ridge

Canoe Ridge's grapes come from 94 acres of vineyards near Paterson, Washington, about a mile from the Columbia River. The vineyard was planted in 1989 by the Chalone Wine Group of San Francisco (they own Canoe Ridge) and by Rick Small of wonderful Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, whose wines also use grapes from that vineyard.

The Canoe ridge peak region, which looked like an upside down canoe to Lewis and Clark, (who named it), was selected as a vineyard site because of its potential for growing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The site has the west facing slopes that provide the heat that Cabernet and Chardonnay grapes need to achieve their potential. Confirming the wise selection of the site, Chateau Ste. Michelle also planted a large vineyard on Canoe Ridge in 1991.

With the vineyard coming into full production in 1994, the winery owners started searching for a location to build our winery. The vineyard is near the town of Paterson, population 25, in a very isolated part of the state and they wanted to have a tasting room open to the public. They focused their search on the town of Walla Walla, seventy miles to the east of the vineyard, which has a larger population, attracts visitors and is the center of a growing wine community. When they discovered the historic Walla Walla Engine House, they knew they had found the perfect home.

History of the Engine House 

Built in 1905, the building originally was the garage and maintenance facility for a streetcar and interurban train system that traveled a 26-mile line between Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater. Between July 1908 and June 1909 it carried nearly 926,000 passengers, according to the February 1908 issue of "Up-to-the-Times" magazine. Passenger service continued until 1931, while freight became increasingly important. In the early 1950s it was converted to diesel and used solely for the transport of agricultural products. The line was retired in 1985.

By that time, the Engine House was in desperate need of repair and it became even more dilapidated before it was purchased by two kind-hearted men willing to undertake a complete restoration. They carefully brought back the building to its original state with a very fine level of detail. For example, they rebuilt all of the 32 double hung windows, returning them to their original state and replaced all 214 decorative rafter tails around the eve of the building. In December 1989 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of 23 such places in Walla Walla.


The brick walls and 32-foot ceilings of this stately old building provided the winery with the ideal environment to produce and age wines for their first seven years of production. As the vineyard matured and production grew, so did the size of their staff and their need for additional space. During the winter of 2001, they began an expansion that was long overdue and completed just in time for the harvest of 2001, which began at Canoe Ridge Vineyard® on September 7. This is the only vintage that has come close to starting as early as the 1994 harvest.

Their new state-of-the-art facility is a freestanding companion to the Engine House, allowing them to maintain the historic integrity of the original building. The charred beams of the old building now span a cellar of barrels filled with small lots of special wines, reserve bottlings and barrel fermented whites. The tasting room, bottling line and case goods remained in their original places. Plans include updating the bottling line and expanding our tasting room.

The new building is constructed with 10-inch thick concrete walls with a 4-inch thick layer of insulation in the middle, which efficiently maintains temperature. This construction helps to conserve energy. The new space provides unlimited options for handling each lot of wine in a way that brings out its own unique expression of the vineyard. They have completely re-designed the crush area with an above ground belt-driven system and a large sorting area. This handles the fruit more gently than the original auger system and gives the capability to remove any unwanted material. They now have small tanks that allow them to pick in small lots, isolating unique areas of the vineyard that reflect their terroir. This also helps to track experiments that they conduct in the vineyard.

All of these features allow Canoe Ridge to fine tune their production techniques and vastly improve the flexibility of their workspace.

Questions about Canoe Ridge Answered

Who owns Canoe Ridge Vineyard®? The Chalone Wine Group owns Canoe Ridge Vineyard®. CRV began as a partnership between the Chalone Wine Group and a group of Washington State investors. In February 2001, CWG boosted its investment in Washington State by increasing the size of Canoe Ridge Vineyard® winery and buying out its Washington minority partners. Our management has remained the same from the beginning.

What is the difference between Canoe Ridge Vineyard® and Canoe Ridge Estate? To understand this distinction, it is important to realize that Canoe Ridge is a place. It is the location of our estate vineyard "Canoe Ridge Vineyard®." It is also the home of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s red wine production facility and their "Canoe Ridge Estate" vineyard. Our 163-acre vineyard is located on the northeast slope of the ridge, while Canoe Ridge Estate is located on the southwest side of the ridge.

The town of Paterson, where both vineyards are located, is a very small community and we have been happy neighbors from the start. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the two properties were being developed, an agreement was reached between, then CEO of the Chalone Wine Group, Phil Woodward and, then CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Allen Shoup; Chalone Wine Group would use the name Canoe Ridge Vineyard® and Chateau Ste. Michelle would use Canoe Ridge Estate. The deal was sealed with a handshake.

Who is in the canoe? The inspiration for the two paddlers is the explorers Lewis and Clark. Local folklore says they named Canoe Ridge when they journeyed through eastern Washington on the Columbia River. From the river, the two adventurers thought the ridge looked like an overturned canoe.

Why isn’t the winery located at the vineyard? As our estate vineyard was coming into production in 1994, we started looking for a winery site. Our vineyard, near the small town of Paterson, is very secluded, and we wanted a tasting room. Looking for a location where visitors could easily find us, we chose the town of Walla Walla, 70 miles east of our vineyard. The town’s history and charm attracts visitors and it is the center for a developing wine community. When we came across the Engine House, we immediately fell in love with it and it is a wonderful home for a winery and tasting room.

Where did the name Canoe Ridge come from? As the folklore has it, Lewis and Clark named it on their travels through the region. They thought it looked like an overturned canoe.

When was Canoe Ridge Vineyard® established? The first planting at our estate vineyard was 1989. The winery was established in July 1994.

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