When trying to decide which Walla Walla Valley winery to present as our inaugural featured winery it made sense to feature a winery that truly doesn’t need any help in becoming a huge success. One could certainly argue that Cayuse Vineyards has become the “most successful” winery in the valley. As a local tasting room manager from another winery mused – Cayuse boasts the most exclusive waiting list in the world. While not sure if that is completely accurate, I do know my brother has been on the waiting list for eight years now.
At the head of Cayuse is Christophe Baron who was born in the Champagne region of France. As the youngest of the Baron Albert Champagne house, he began learning the ways of creating wine from his father and grandfather, on the family vineyard his ancestors have worked since 1677. Wine is in his blood. It was his destiny to become a true vigneron, to grow and create wines. “It’s a title you’re born with, not something you become or learn in school,” Christophe says. “So I followed my dad, and wherever he went, I went. That’s the way it started.”
He studied viticulture in Champagne and Burgundy, but wanted to travel before entering the family business. “In Burgundy, I had fallen in love with Pinot Noir, and had met some Americans with land in Oregon,” he says. “My English was terrible, but I wanted to go there.” He landed a year-long internship at Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla in 1993, then spent the next couple of years traveling an learning.
In April 1996 Christophe was traveling through Walla Walla on his way to purchase vineyard land in the Willamette Valley. He spotted an open field near the Oregon/Washington border that was chock full of softball-sized stones. That rocky soil reminded him of the cobblestones of the southern Rhône valley and Châteuneuf-du-Pape back in France. “I almost fell on my derrière when I saw those stones,” he says. “And I’ve been living the dream ever since.”
He decided to call the new venture Cayuse Vineyards, named after a local Native American tribe whose name was derived from the French word “cailloux”—which means “stones.” Cayuse currently farms over 60 acres spread across five rocky vineyards: Cailloux Vineyard, Coccinelle Vineyard, En Cerise Vineyard, En Chamberlin Vineyard and Armada Vineyard. “The point is to create an honest wine that has an identity,” he says. “You want to taste the place.” Cayuse consistently creates some of the most highly sought after Rhône-style wines produced in the U.S.
Cayuse Vineyards was the first winery in the Walla Walla Valley to fully implement biodynamic farming methods in its vineyards. Biodynamism is chemical-free farming that produces both healthier soil and food. It is the only kind of agriculture to take both the soil and the cosmos into account in helping the vines grow in perfect harmony with the forces of the universe.
“If you understand that the moon moves oceans, you can also understand that the moon exerts an influence on vines,” said Christophe Baron, vigneron and owner of Cayuse Vineyards. “We want to produce the best wines possible,” said Baron. “Healthy vines make healthy wines. Our vines have always been grown organically, so biodynamism was the next logical step to take.”
Of course Cayuse Vineyards would not be what it is today with Christophe alone. Cécile Randon is the Œnologue/Enologist, Elizabeth Bourcier is the Assistant Vigneronne, Trevor Dorlans is the General Manager along with a cast of supporting characters. Cayuse has also expanded with a couple of new wine ventures - Horsepower and No Girls. The wait lists are long for those as well.