Two weeks ago I finally got the chance to visit some of Washington's greatest vineyards. This is something I have always wanted to do in order to make a greater connection with the wines I admire so much. This trip took me to such legendary names as Red Willow, Alder Ridge, Ciel du Cheval, and Boushey to name a few. Using the short time I had at each vineyard I noted just about everything aspect possible including training method, cordon height, TPA (tons per acre), clusters per shoot, size of fruit zone, cluster size, berry size, maturity, and taste of the fruit.
As I looked for similarities from one vineyard to the next, I could only find one common thread between all the locations I visited, no two growers were alike. Of course some of this must have to do with the requirements of each site. For instance cooler sites might leave less canopy cover than hotter sites that need more shade from the sun. A couple growers we talked with left more crop than they needed because they expect bird and animal loss every year.
As we arrived at each vineyard site, I got excited thinking that some day the rest of the world was going to find out about the quality of Washington wines. Standing in the lower block of Boushey vineyard, I can't help but to compare the fruit quality to the best of California, Australia, and even the legendary hills of Hermitage. Climbing a steep vineyard slope at Red Willow, known as the '86 Syrah block, I think to myself that this fruit is as good as any Syrah in the world.
Standing at the entrance to Ciel du Cheval at 9am waiting to comb through this hallowed ground, I thought of my Jancis Robinson book sitting on my coffee table at home. It's called Vines, Grapes, and Wines and features a hand drawn map of the most famed piece of soil in the Napa Valley, the Rutherford Bench. This detailed map shows each vineyard site from Robert Mondavi to the UC Davis research vineyards along it's three mile stretch. I have no doubt that this map is hanging on many a wall in every country in the world.
During our two hours at Ciel du Cheval, I gazed up the hill at Col Solare, peered at the back breaking Grand Reve vineyards, and got a close look at old fan trained vines of Mourvedre. Over the course of the day I made my way from Ciel du Cheval, into the tall vines of Kiona, and worked my way through the old block of Cabernet Sauvignon at Klipsun vineyard. This block of Cabernet at Klipsun was chosen by Andre Tchelistcheff as an ideal site for growing top quality Cabernet Sauvignon.
I can't help from wondering when a map of these grand Washington vineyards will grace the walls of wineshops in Paris, London, Napa, or Amsterdam? What will this bench of vineyards on the top of Red Mountain be known as?