"Perhaps you've heard the almost mythical story, how the brash, young French vigneron visited the little-known, redundantly named Washington town and fell in preposterous love with a few acres of useless, stone-covered farmland. While the nay-sayers nayed, Christophe Baron deftly turned that field of stones into the acclaimed Cayuse Vineyards. And the rest, as they say, is history-and a whole lot of spectacular wine.
Cayuse is a domaine located in the Walla Walla Valley. Over the past 20 years, Christophe has made it his mission to craft food-friendly wines of incredible depth, individuality and character-all from fruit grown entirely using biodynamic farming methods." - Christophe Baron.
"Cayuse is no longer a secret and it may be America's toughest mailing list to crack....but do whatever it takes to get your hands on a few of these gems." - Jay Miller, The Wine Advocate.
Currently, Cayuse farms eight vineyards spread over 60 acres in the Walla Walla Valley. All are planted in the rocky soil that first caught Christophe’s attention in 1996, resulting in highly stressed vineyards that average a yield of only two tons per acre. Syrah is the dominant fruit, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo and Viognier making up the balance.
From the very beginning, Cayuse Vineyards has been farmed organically—without synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, insecticides or fungicides. “Mistreating the earth kills the terroir, and you end up with soils that are sick or dead,” Christophe believes. “It’s a foundation you have to protect.”
In 2002 Cayuse became the first domaine in the Walla Walla Valley to fully implement biodynamic farming—a chemical-free approach designed to produce healthier soil and food. Based on the research of Dr. Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, the philosophy focuses on the interrelationship of earth, plants and animals as a closed, self-nourishing ecosystem. Followers use an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.
Christophe’s excitement over the field of rocks he discovered on that cold April morning in 1996 was for good reason. He had seen similar terroir in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, and in the “galets roules” [rolled stone] vineyards in southern France. The area has even been dubbed “Oregon’s Châteuneuf-du-Pape,” home to some of the finest grapes grown in the northwestern United States. Christophe believes great wines must deliver a mineral quality—something his rocky ground offers in abundance.
Experts on the terroir of Cayuse vineyards describe vine roots snaking through an accumulation of cobblestones of varying sizes, a layer hundreds of feet thick in places. This soil, called “Freewater very cobbly loam,” sits atop 10,000 feet or more of pure basalt—a 15-million-year-old bedrock stratum that’s a part of one of the largest areas of basalt lava on the surface of the earth, outside the ocean basins.
“Wherever you go, there is something great terroir has in common—poor soils,” Christophe explains. Because the rocky soil offers excellent drainage and limited nutrients, the vines have to struggle to survive, thus reducing production and concentrating the fruit’s flavor. High density planting forces their root systems to compete and dig deeper for moisture and sustenance, and the heat transmitted by the stones helps the grapes to ripen.
It all makes sense when Christophe explains it, and as he says, “The proof is in the wine.”