For nearly 35 years, Woodward Canyon Winery has been one of the top wineries in Washington, and the Walla Walla Valley producer shows no signs of slowing down.
Rick Small grew up in this small town, working on the family farm. After graduating from Washington State University in the 1970s, he talked his father into letting him plant a few wine grapes in the hills above Lowden. By 1981, he launched Woodward Canyon Winery, making it the second-oldest winery in the valley (after Leonetti Cellar).
It didn’t take long for Woodward Canyon to become recognized as a top producer in the growing Washington wine industry. Small was bringing in grapes from across the Columbia Valley in addition to his young estate vines.
These days, Kevin Mott is the head winemaker for Woodward Canyon, giving Small the time to focus on the viticultural side.
Small’s wife, Darcey, is the general manager, while their daughter, Jordan, handles sales, and their son, Sager, heads up the culinary program at Reserve House, their on-site restaurant.
Here are several Woodward Canyon wines we’ve tasted. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the winery directly.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2012 Old Vines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $99: The aromas are redolent of black plum, black cherry, black licorice, sarsaparilla and enchanting baking spices. Those notes come through on the gorgeously intense palate, which finds perfect balance with smooth tannins and skilled presentation of acidity. Lingering touches of crushed black walnut, Earl Grey tea and bittersweet chocolate make for a marvelously complex finish.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2012 Artist Series No. 21 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $59: This showy Cab blends grapes from no fewer than nine vineyards across the Columbia Valley. Aromas of Tahitian vanilla, dark chocolate, violet and mild oak lead to smooth flavors of black cherry, blueberry, spice and dark chocolate.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $49: Aromas of huckleberry, blueberry and black cherry are joined by hints of bittersweet chocolate, cardamom and minerality. The palate is loaded with more cherries and dark chocolate, backed by blueberry skin tannins and pomegranate juice that combine for a long finish.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2011 Estate Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, $79: Owner Rick Small thinks this is one of the best wines to come out of Woodward Canyon, and we could hardly disagree. This is primarily Cabernet Franc with a hint of Petit Verdot. Aromas of black tea, black olive and dark cherry give way to flavors of raspberry, blackberry and dried herbs. Firm tannins give this length on the palate, which sits just behind the elegant fruit.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Estate Dolcetto, Walla Walla Valley, $26: This red Italian variety comes from northwestern Italy, and it’s still rare to find in the Pacific Northwest. Woodward Canyon has been making a superb example for a few years, and this release is delicious. Aromas of blackberry cobbler, vanilla and espresso lead to rich, bold, and spicy flavors of black pepper, cedar and cherry with hints of minerality. It’s a long, lingering, delicious wine.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Chardonnay, Washington, $66: Through the years, Woodward Canyon’s Chardonnay program has evolved from rich, buttery and oaky to lean, bright and focused. This example is gorgeous with aromas of minerality, mango and banana, followed by flavors of Granny Smith apple and pineapple, all backed with crisp acidity.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2014 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Walla Walla Valley, $29: This is a luscious, Northwest-style Sauvignon Blanc that unveils aromas of ripe Granny Smith apple, gravel dust and fresh herbs, followed by a ripe entry that leads to flavors of grapefruit and ripe pear, all backed by ample acidity that gives way to a lingering farewell.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.