Walking The Rows: Champoux Vineyard In Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Food & Drink

Paul Golitzin is president and director of winemaking for Washington State’s Quilceda Creek, producer of some of the world’s most treasured Cabernet Sauvignon. Last fall Golitzin announced that his winery acquired an additional 22 acres of Champoux (pronounced “shampoo”) Vineyard in the Horse Haven Hills AVA of Columbia Valley. This 187-acre vineyard is considered to be one of the west coast’s “grand cru” sites and Quilceda Creek has been one of Washington’s heritage wineries since 1978. The wines from this vineyard and this producer represent excellence in North American winemaking.

A Washington Heritage Vineyard

Champoux Vineyard was originally planted by Don and Linda Mercer in the early 1970s, pioneer grape growers in Horse Haven Hills. Established in 2005, this is one of Washington State’s warmer appellations, home to around a quarter of the state’s plantings. In 1997, Paul and Judy Champoux and a small group of wineries took ownership of the vineyard. Paul Champoux managed the vineyard from 1989 until 2014.It is now owned exclusively by winery members, Quilceda Creek, Woodward Canyon, Andrew Will, and Powers.

“Champoux Vineyard is truly one of the most special vineyard sites in not only Washington, but in the world,” says Golitzin. He believes that Champoux is “on par” with To-Kalon Vineyard, one of Napa Valley’s treasures. “I absolutely believe that this vineyard is an American Grand Cru site as it has a long history of consistently producing unique and memorable wines.”

The pedigree is delivered in terms that wine enthusiasts understand—high scores. 2002 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was the first US wine outside of California to snag 100 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The powerful refrain continues as wines sourced from Champoux Vineyard have earned an additional six 100-point scores from prestigious publications such as Wine Advocate and Decanter. “There is a spark to this vineyard that is not only recognized by us within the winery but is also recognized by top wine connoisseurs across the globe as shown by our scores and our extremely loyal mailing list,” says Golitzin.

300 days of sun per year, where temperatures can swing from 100 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit during intense-heat days of the growing season, produce “thick skinned, low pulp Cabernet Sauvignon grapes” according to Golitzin. “With this temperature shift, the malic acids in the grapes are preserved and add freshness and balance to the wines during fermentation.”

Meticulous Intention and Precision

Golitzin credits “meticulous intention and precision” in the vineyard, particularly surrounding a recent a 22-acre by-hand replant that balances Champoux with specific clones of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that he calls a “perfect match” for the dry and windy conditions of Horse Haven Hills, delivering non-stop breezes from the Columbia River Gorge.

Sandy-loam soil in that semi-desert climate, says Golitzin, allows the Quilceda Creek team to make moves in the vineyard that “reap precious rewards”—a drip irrigation system is used to provide stringent amounts of water as well as nutrients. “Each drop of water that we irrigate with contains 60 to 200 billion strains of bacteria that our vineyard manager Dan Nickolaus has selected to help strengthen the vines,” says Golitzin. The team also uses a compost mixture rich in microbes that acts as a “probiotic and prebiotic” for the vines. Plus, the sandy soils are one of the few types in the world that protect against phylloxera. “This is hands-down one of the best sites in Washington,” says Golitzin.

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