Vine Cuttings

News and Notes from the World of Wine



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CAYUSE LEAVES NO STONE UNTURNED

His business card reads "Christophe Baron, Vigneron," and the thick French accent confirms the title. Vigneron in French means winegrower, and the word perfectly expresses Baron's belief that the most important part of winemaking takes place in the vineyards.

At just 29 years of age, Baron, born into a family of Champenois whose winemaking history can be traced as far back as the 16th century, thinks he's found one of the best places in the world to grow his grapes: Walla Walla, Washington. And the wines he's focusing on at Cayuse Vineyards are lusty Rhône-style wines, predominantly Syrah.

When the young Frenchman pronounces Walla Walla, it sounds like "Voilà Voilà," an apropos but unintentional double entendre for Baron's personal discovery of the region. Far out in southeastern Washington, just across the border from Oregon (the Walla Walla appellation spreads into both states), Baron says the soil in his Cobblestone Vineyard "definitely looks like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It's a mix of silty loam with a little sand and cobblestone for the first 18 to 20 inches; from there it's pure stone for 200 feet straight down. In the Northwest, I think, Syrah has great potential."

Cayuse (rhymes with bayous) was founded in 1996, just after Baron had interned at nearby Waterbrook Winery and then completed a flying winemaker stint that took him to Australia, New Zealand and Romania. "I wanted to create something completely from scratch," he explains. "I came back because of the people, the friends I have here, and because of the terroir. I'm in love with the earth, with the ground, and I'm trying to express that in my wine. I am French, after all."

With no other investors or partners besides Baron, Cayuse is very much a solo operation. Baron himself oversees all vineyard management and winemaking, though he recently hired two full-time vineyard workers as well as a business manager to handle marketing and PR chores. But that's it. For the time being, Baron is looking for winemaking space after making his inaugural wines at Waterbrook's production facility in nearby Lowden. And he sells his wines out of a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla.

If you're curious, Baron chose the name Cayuse after reading about the French trappers and settlers who came to the region during the first half of the 19th century. Some historians believe that the Cayuse Indians native to the area got their name from these French explorers, who called them "Les Cailloux"—literally, "people of the stone."

It is on this stony soil that Baron planted his first 10 acres, in 1997. In 1998 his second-year vines produced a half-ton per acre, enough for 300 cases of a Cobblestone Vineyard Syrah (released in May). That same year he planted an additional 14 acres in two similarly constituted locations: The Cerise (cherry) Vineyard is ten rocky acres planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc as well; the Coccinelle (ladybug) Vineyard features another four acres of Syrah.

 


JFK WINES RAISE THOUSANDS FOR CHARITY

Four classic Bordeaux wines originally from the personal collection of John F. Kennedy, including three first growths dating back as far as 1874, recently sold for a total of $6,600 at a Christie's auction held in April in New York.
The headlining wines—an 1874 Lafite-Rothschild (sold for $3,525), a 1928 Cos d'Estournel ($1,058), a 1949 Lafite-Rothschild ($1,116) and a 1959 Latour ($940)—were donated by Dr. Joseph B. Santo, founder of The Sign of the Dove in Manhattan and its current incarnation, Little Dove. Santo had purchased the wines in 1971 at an auction in San Francisco. The bottles were once key components of a 55-case collection Kennedy stored at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. At the time, Kennedy's wine collection, known as the "President's Collection," constituted one of the largest private cellars in the country.

The proceeds of the sale to an unnamed bidder benefit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. "The Kennedys were very important in the life of The Sign of the Dove. Jacqueline Kennedy made her first public appearance there following her husband's death. I hope the historical significance of these wines will help raise both money and awareness about an organization that is doing work that is so desperately needed in our modern culture," said Santo.

In a documented twist of mammoth ironic proportions, Allan Luks, executive director of BBBS of NYC, notes that in 1953 a mother brought her troubled son to the agency's offices in hopes of placing him under the tutelage of a Big Brother. For whatever reasons, that boy was not assigned a mentor. What happened to him immediately thereafter is unknown, but the records show that the young man was Lee Harvey Oswald.

—M.S.

 

The first releases of Syrah indicate a promising future for Cayuse. A 1997 Columbia Valley bottling (from purchased grapes; $25) displays nice balance, distinct varietal flavors, and a little gaminess. The 1998 Cobblestone Syrah ($30, 291 cases) showcases juicy black-cherry fruit, with some spice and mineral notes adding interest. There is also a 1998 Walla Walla Valley bottling ($26, 407 cases) made from purchased grapes. Later this summer, Baron will release the first Cayuse Viognier, a barrel-fermented version ($24, 1999 vintage) of which only 150 cases were made.

Baron also makes a Bordeaux blend, dubbed Camaspelo ($22). Asked what that name signifies, he plants his tongue firmly in cheek and declares it to be "very expensive red wine" in Cayuse. In all seriousness, Baron says Camaspelo was a chief of the Cayuse tribe when the Whitman Massacre occurred in 1847. "He was a very diplomatic chief, working toward the mix of cultures and people, so I thought it was an appropriate name for a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot."

Total production is currently about 1,200 cases annually, though eventually Cayuse may ramp up to 4,000 cases a year. For now, however, Baron's plan is to take it one step at a time, and maybe even get himself a life outside of wine. "The business has already cost me a few relationships," he says, philosophically. "But I just can't give it up. I'm addicted to it. I'm sure one of these days I will meet a charming person who understands all the hard work. But I'm not in a big hurry."

—Paul Gregutt

BERINGER'S GIFT TO SCHRAMSBERG
It has been said that it's better to give than to receive. So score one for the folks at Beringer, who in a moment of magnanimity recently gave back to Schramsberg Vineyards a pair of 19th-century carved oak wine casks that have been on display for decades outside Beringer's historic aging vault.

If you have ever toured either the Beringer or Schramsberg facilities in Napa Valley, you have likely heard the story from tour guides of how two late-1800s German wine pioneers both named Jacob—one Beringer and the other Schram—once engaged in a friendly poker game in which Beringer emerged victorious. The payoff? Two ornate barrels decorated with grape clusters and bearing the initials "JS," for Jacob Schram.
Call it repatriation, or if you prefer just a very nice deed, but earlier this year Beringer CEO and chairman Walt Klenz decided to offer the barrels to Jamie Davies, the owner of Schramsberg. "We are all so focused on the 21st century that it's nice to take this occasion to reflect on our shared history here in Napa Valley," said Klenz. In honor of the original card players, and with the two barrels as the pot, Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia and Davies played a little game of staged poker, with Davies not-so-mysteriously drawing four aces.

With the barrels back at the winery that's named after Herr Schram, Davies can now display them alongside an identical barrel that has been on view in the Schramsberg tasting room for many years.

—M.S.

UPDATED GUIDE TO AUSTRALIAN WINE

They don't call it Down Under for nothing. Australia is a long way away from … well, almost everywhere. So if you are going, you might as well be equipped with some serious insider information on local customs wine and food.

Now available from the Australian Wine Bureau in New York is the updated Australian Wine Holiday Guide. Published annually, this free booklet contains information on more than 130 wineries in 40 regions, all displayed on a fold-out map.
On the winery front, festivals from February through November are highlighted, and the various wine regions are introduced with pertinent facts such as how far an individual region is from a major city, who founded it and when. From Canberra on the eastern coast to the Margaret River region nearly 3,000 miles west, scores of wineries are listed with addresses, phone and fax numbers, websites, and whether or not they have tasting rooms (commonly called cellar doors), restaurants, or are open only by appointment. And for when you get back home and want to purchase some of your new discoveries, all winery listings also identify the U.S. importer, with contact information provided.

For a free copy of this useful guide, call the Australian Wine Bureau at 212/351-6585 or e-mail awb.usa@austrade.gov.au.

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