Wine investors help Canoe Ridge Vineyard return

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 16, 2013 

Canoe Ridge Vineyard is back, thanks to a Seattle company that rescued the longtime Walla Walla winery.

Back in the late 1980s, a group of Washington and California wine investors came together to form Canoe Ridge, led by Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery and Phil Woodward of Chalone Wine Group. Together, they planted a vineyard on Canoe Ridge, a remote area of Washington wine country in the Horse Heaven Hills that, legend indicates, was named by Lewis and Clark as they floated downstream on the Columbia River toward the Pacific Ocean and destiny.

(About the same time of the planting, Chateau Ste. Michelle began to establish a vineyard nearby called Canoe Ridge Estate, and it later built its red-winemaking facility halfway up the ridge.)

In 1993, Chalone launched a winery in Walla Walla and hired John Abbott as its winemaker. He left in 2002 to start his own winery, Abeja, also in Walla Walla.

In the meantime, Chalone decided to further invest in Washington and bought Staton Hills Winery in Yakima Valley, which it renamed Sagelands Vineyard.

In 2005, London-based beverage giant Diageo purchased Chalone and bought out the local investors. It soon became apparent the two Washington wineries were not high on the company's list. By 2010, Diageo closed the tasting rooms for Sagelands and Canoe Ridge, and the future looked grim for both brands.

In February 2011, however, Precept Wine in Seattle purchased both properties, essentially rescuing them and putting them back into local hands. It also acquired the 100-acre vineyard. Combined with nearby Alder Ridge Vineyard, this makes Precept among the largest vineyard owners in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Precept reopened Canoe Ridge's tasting room in 2012. However, the former Staton Hills tasting room now belongs to Treveri Cellars.

We've recently tasted the latest Canoe Ridge releases, made by winemaker Bill Murray. Precept does a great job with distribution, so it shouldn't be difficult to find any of these wines.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2010 Reserve Cherry Street Red, Columbia Valley, $24: This is a blend of Syrah, Malbec and Grenache. It is a stylish red with aromas of boysenberry, blueberry, chocolate orange and freshly ground nutmeg, followed by juicy flavors of plum and blackberry. It has great acidity and nice length.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2010 Reserve Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: This upper-tier Merlot offers aromas of fresh cedar, red currant and mocha, followed by smooth flavors of black cherry, raspberry and oak, all backed with modest tannin.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: This opens with aromas of mint, lilac, flint, cocoa powder and boysenberry syrup, followed by flavors of blackberry, black cherry and chocolate. It's all backed up with moderate tannins, firm acidity and a rounded midpalate.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 The Expedition Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Here is a delicious and affordable red with aromas of blueberry, cherry, vanilla and cocoa. On the palate, its smooth tannins are backed with yummy flavors of black cherry, blackberry, chocolate and boysenberry. This is perfect for summer barbecues and priced for everyday drinking.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 The Expedition Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: This affordable white wine opens with aromas of lemon, baked pear and hints of butter. On the palate, it shows off flavors of pineapple, banana and fresh pear. It's a tasty wine to enjoy any night of the week with shellfish, pasta, chicken or salmon.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 The Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Here is a delicious and affordable Cab with aromas of lavender, vanilla, dark chocolate, blackberry and spice. On the palate, it offers flavors of dark ripe berries backed with assertive tannins, which give this wine a nice bit of length.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

Reach JULIE SHIRLEY at julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2261.

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