West Coast Wednesdays: Canoe Ridge Vineyard

Welcome to week four of our West Coast Wednesdays Series featuring Canoe Ridge Vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington!  Discover the history of the winery, the unique terroir of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA and the varietals produced!

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The Story.

This vineyard’s story began with the hopes that Horse Heaven Hills would be a promising grape-growing region.  This hope became a reality in 1989 when a group of Washington state’s best known winemakers joined forced with local farmers to create Canoe Ridge Vineyard.  44 acres of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in Paterson, WA. Shortly after, a new partnership with the renowned Chalone Wine Group of Napa, CA was forged, expanding the vineyard and helping to establish the soon-to-open winery.  In 1994, being recognized as an emerging wine destination, Canoe Ridge Vineyards opened its winery at the historic trolley house in Walla Walla, WA, appointing John Abbott of Chalone, as winemaker.

Fun Fact: Canoe Ridge is said to have inherited its name from explorers Lewis and Clark.  During their 1805 exploration, someone remarked that the nearby ridge resembled an overturned canoe.

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The Vineyard.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard is situated in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area).  Established as an AVA in 2005, grapes grown in this region are influenced by limited annual rainfall and its southern exposure. Limiting irrigation and preventing canopy growth allow the grapes to be the focus; providing the fruit with adequate stress and sun exposure during the long growing season.  This combination of well drained soils with limited irrigation, natural breezy conditions and optimal sun exposure results in yields with well-balanced, rich characteristics. Common varietals grown in Horse Heaven Hills include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard consists of 181-acres located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA on a slope above the Columbia River.  In addition to sharing the region’s characteristics previously listed, this vineyard has the advantage of mature vines (some as old as 25-years) which are said to produce some of the best Merlot in a top producing region.  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc are also grown on the property.

Viticulture.

The vineyard is set up to maximize sunlight, which during it’s peak summer season can be up to 17 hours per day. In fact, with so little rainfall in the growing season, they have to make use of some under vine irrigation.  While Canoe Ridge has a target harvest tonnage of two to four tons per acre, it often chooses quality over quantity, “dropping fruit” during the growing season.  This strategy allows for the remaining fruit to reach it’s maximal potential, resulting in a bigger, riper and more flavorful berry.  When the grapes are ready for harvest, both machine and hand techniques are used during the darkest hours of the day to keep skins cool and fruit protected before crushing.

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Winemaker.

Bill Murray (no, not the actor) has been making some of the top Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay for more than two decades.  Originally inspired by the wines of Rioja, Spain and a native of Napa, CA, Murray appreciates the deep fruit characteristics and smooth tannins that are found in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA of Washington.  Murray came to Canoe Ridge in 2011, taking over the winemaking for longtime friend, John Abbott.  His winemaking style prefers to use French oak in the aging process, complementing the complex flavors of grapes grown in this region by adding soft toasty notes.

Tasting Room.

Located in Walla Walla and cited on the National Register of Historic Places, the Canoe Ridge tasting room building originally served as the town’s streetcar and train facility in the early 1900’s (the Walla Walla Traction Co.).  Renovated in 2012 after a two-year closure, the tasting  room is open daily from 11am-5pm, and featuring seasonal patio and tasting counter.  Private tastings are also available.

The Wines.

Canoe Ridge offers a variety of wines for all palates.  From their featured and award-winning varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, they also offer smaller production and limited edition wines in their tasting room.  We were fortunate enough to be able to sample the 2014 Expedition Merlot.

  • 2014 Expedition Merlot
    • Comprised of 100% Merlot grown on Canoe Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills
    • Aged in 70% American Oak, 30% French Oak for 10-months
    • Harvested in October 2014
    • 14,000 cases produced
    • Vintage Background: 2014 was an exception harvest resulting in a record crop level and excellent quality.  All factors needed for success came together in the growing season– cool nights, lots of warm days, and limited rain.  Harvest started in late-August and wrapped up by mid-November.  The weather allowed the Canoe Ridge vineyard team to pick at will, allowing for perfect flavor, acidity and sugar levels.
    • Winemaker notes:  Gorgeous dark berry aromas mix with flavors of currant cherry, and a hint of candied violet on the long, silky finish.
    • Winos notes:
      • Dark fruit flavors come forward both on the nose and on the palate.  The complexity and deep flavor of the grapes is quite profound and continues to grow with each sip.  Although complex and slightly earthy, there is a smooth, round and soft finish.
      • Where would we want to drink it?  Enjoy this wine after spending a Fall day exploring a historic town, cozied up at a B&B in front of a fireplace or stargazing.  Another perfect fit?  After you’ve hit the slopes and are looking for something to warm you from the inside and relax your fatigued muscles, pour yourself a glass of this– it’s basically a massage in a bottle.
      • Recommended food pairing?   This wine stands alone, but would be paired perfectly with a rack of lamb and a raspberry compote.
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Grab a bottle of Canoe Ridge Vineyard’s 2014 Expedition Merlot to enjoy after your next outdoor adventure!

Although we haven’t yet visited Canoe Ridge, we believe that their wines are a great representation of Washington Wine Country.  We highly recommend getting your hands on a bottle of the Expedition Merlot, and are willing to bet that you’ll love some of their other varietals and blends.  You better order some today because we might take it all for ourselves!

Cheers!

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