The beat-up red SUV bounces and sways as winegrower Christophe Baron pilots it over a creaky bridge and into the mud left by recent rains. I take inventory of the dashboard: an old pair of sunglasses, a ballpoint pen, a round can of Altoids, a strip of flannel cloth.
Baron's Walla Walla, Wash., winery, Cayuse Vineyards, dribbles out a few hundred cases of extraordinary Syrah from his existing vineyards, which he started planting in 1996, plus a few iconoclastic bottlings using Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. His wines may be impeccable, but his truck is not.
We are about eight miles from town, where a rickety bridge spans the North Fork of the Walla Walla River, a stone's throw from the confluence of the South Fork. "A stone's throw" is appropriate for Baron, who loves vineyards filled with rocks. He owns five vineyards on the stony ground of an ancient riverbed a few miles to the west, in meager soils that remind him and others of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He plans to put a vineyard here, on the steep hills facing the river. You can see him practically salivate over the prospect.
This one is different. If Baron's existing vineyards suggest Châteauneuf, this one reminds him of Côte-Rôtie. The brown soils on the hills are filled with broken chunks of sharp-edged basalt, very different from the smooth river stones under his other Walla Walla vineyards, and that's just fine with Baron.
"Everybody wants to plant on the stones now," he says. "The land is too expensive for me. It was $3,000 an acre. People are buying land there now for $15,000." So he looked elsewhere, secreting radio-controlled thermometers called hobos here and there, waiting for the data to confirm whether a site was worth pursuing.
"The hobos tell me it's too cool up here to ripen Cabernet or Merlot," he says. "It has to be Syrah." He grins.
|Christophe Baron surveys the steep, rocky site where he is planning a new vineyard.|
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