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Cayuse Winery

Cayuse Wines

Growing up in the Champagne House, Baron Albert, naturally predisposed Christophe Baron to the art of winemaking. The sheer love and fascination for wine may indeed have been passed down from generations of family vignerons, but not one to always follow French rules and traditions, Christophe journeyed to the new world in search of opportunity.

A native of the Marne Valley in France, Christophe studied viticulture and enology in Champagne and Burgundy. In 1993, he continued his training in the United States with Adelsheim Vineyards of the Willamette Valley, interned at Waterbrook Winery in Lowden, Washington, and pursued his dreams as a flying winemaker in Australia, New Zealand and Romania for a small British firm.

In 1996, Christophe returned to Walla Walla to visit a friend. While rambling around the valley floor in an old pick-up, searching for frost-free vineyard pockets, he spotted an old orchard fifteen miles south of Walla Walla. It was completely covered with cobblestones the size of large fists—similar to the terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and areas of Bordeaux. Upon closer inspection, he knew he’d found the perfect opportunity to make wine free from restrictions, and a new home.

The Vineyards

Some of the first settlers to the Walla Walla Valley were French-Canadian fur traders who named the local Native Americans the ‘Cailloux’ (pronounced ‘ki-yoo’, plural for ‘stone’ in French), of whom we now know as the Cayuse Tribe. The natives lived along the ancient, cobblestone riverbed of the Walla Walla River, and the fur traders referred to them as the ‘People of the Stone’. Christophe planted his vineyards in the same riverbed—thus the name Cayuse Vineyards.

Cayuse Vineyards presently owns and manages five vineyards. Ten acres of Cailloux Vineyard were planted in 1996, and ten acres of En Cerise (French for cherry), and ten acres of Coccinelle (French for ladybug) followed in 1997. Ten acres of En Chamberlin were planted in spring of 2000. The majority of the vineyards are planted with Syrah alongside a few acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Roussanne, Tempranillo and Viognier. Yields average between 2 to 2.5 tons per acre, resulting in rich, highly-concentrated fruit.

Their fifth vineyard, Armada, planted in 2001, contains 3 acres of Grenache, 3 acres of Syrah and 1 acre of Mourvedre. With four feet between vines and five feet between rows, 2178 vines were planted per acre—nearly double the standard vine quantity—and easily marks it as the highest density vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Armada is expected to yield 2 tons to the acre (30 hectoliters per hectare), and fruit will be harvested in 2003.

All five vineyards were planted with a crowbar in the ancient, stony riverbed within the Walla Walla Valley appellation and are biodynamically farmed.

The Winery

Cayuse Vineyards production commenced at Pepper Bridge Winery in Walla Walla with the 2000 crush. In 2002, Cayuse Vineyards purchased two, historical hotel buildings in downtown Walla Walla. Formerly used as brothels until the 1960s, plans for renovation of these buildings into a working winery complete with a tasting room, offices and a full kitchen, will move forward in the next several years.

The Wines

Cayuse's first efforts produced the 1997 Columbia Valley Syrah and the 1997 Columbia Valley Camaspelo (a Bordeaux blend) from non-estate fruit. Beginning with the 1998 vintage, the winery is committed to using grapes grown only in the Walla Walla Valley, as they believe the best vineyard sites in the valley have yet to be fully developed. Continuing from the 1999 vintage, they exclusively use estate fruit for all wines.

Dedicated to producing wine of only the highest caliber true to each vineyard’s unique terroir, Cayuse Vineyards will remain a small winery. Maximum production is expected in a few years at approximately 2500 cases. Quality control is never a hidden issue for Cayuse Vineyards, and this means even the most labor intensive tasks are done manually, and all aspects of the production are inspected with the utmost scrutiny by their vigneron.

Cayuse Vineyards is best known for Syrah, with the Cailloux Vineyard Syrah as their flagship wine. In addition to three vineyard-designated Syrahs, ‘Bionic Frog’ Syrah, Cailloux Vineyard Viognier, and ‘Camaspelo’, future plans include releases of En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah, ‘Bullfight’ Tempranillo in 2004, and a Southern-Rhone inspired blend (consisting of mostly Grenache with a bit of Mourvedre and Syrah) in 2005.

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