Over the past 20 years, Christophe has made it his mission to craft food-friendly wines of incredible depth, individuality and character—all from fruit grown entirely using biodynamic farming methods.
Located in the Walla Walla Valley.
- “Cayuse is no longer a secret and it may be America’s toughest mailing list to crack....but do whatever it takes to get your hands on a few of these gems.”
- —Jay Miller, The Wine Advocate
- “If you want to experience a dramatic example of terroir in the new world, get your hands on a Cayuse syrah.”
- —Harvey Steiman,
- Wine Spectator
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Like generations of fathers and sons before, it was in his blood to be a wine grower and creator—a true vigneron. “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.”
Young and Restless
After studying viticulture in Champagne and Burgundy, Christophe realized he wasn’t yet ready to enter the family business and gave in to the urge to travel. “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.”
An unexpected internship at a winery brought Christophe to the Walla Walla Valley for the first time in 1993. After one year, he traveled the world gaining experience in Australia, New Zealand and Romania before continuing his training in Oregon. He intended to buy some land and start a vineyard from scratch, but all those plans came to an abrupt halt on an April morning in 1996.
Acres of Stones
Christophe had returned to Walla Walla for a strictly social visit, and was wandering the countryside with a friend. As they drove near the Oregon/Washington border, he spied an open field littered with acres of softball-sized stones. Plans to move to the Willamette Valley were quickly discarded, and Christophe resolved to buy the property and plant a vineyard.
While others saw ten acres of the Walla Walla Valley’s worst farmland, he saw only enormous potential. The terroir reminded him of the cobblestones of the southern Rhone valley and Châteuneuf-du-Pape in his native France. “I almost fell on my derrière when I saw those stones,” he says. “And I’ve been living the dream ever since.”
That Crazy Frenchman
Christophe purchased the property and planted his first vineyard in 1997. “People said I was crazy, that I’d break my equipment and waste my time and money,” he recalls. “But I knew that vines need to struggle in difficult ground in order to provide their best.”
He called the venture Cayuse Vineyards, after a Native American tribe
whose name was derived from the French word “cailloux”—which means “stones.” In the decade since, it has grown to seven vineyards, soon to be eight, encompassing more than 55 acres.
What was considered by many a foolish gamble on that field of stones has been rewarded year after year with some of the most acclaimed wines in the region—and in the nation. “Those stones are the reason I’m here in Walla Walla,” Christophe says. “It’s certainly not for the night life.”
Practices & Techniques
In 2002 Cayuse became the first domaine in the Walla Walla Valley to fully implement biodynamic farming—a chemical-free approach designed to produce healthier soil and food. Based on the research of Dr. Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, the philosophy focuses on the interrelationship of earth, plants and animals as a closed, self-nourishing ecosystem. Followers use an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.
"I noticed many of the best French producers had been switching from conventional farming to biodynamics over the last decade, and I became convinced it was a necessary step for us to take,” Christophe says. Cayuse crushed its first biodynamic-certified fruit in the 2005 vintage.
Closing the Circle
Visitors to the Cayuse farm see far more than just vineyards. They find chickens, pigs, sheep and cows, apple and cherry trees, tomato and cucumber vines and rows of corn. Two draft horses—named Zeppo and Red—patrol a lush, several-acre pasture. “It closes the biodynamic circle by integrating animals into the farm, and shows respect for the old ways,” Christophe says.
He hails from a family of French vignerons that plowed their vineyards with horses as recently as 1957, and Cayuse was the first in the Walla Walla Valley to use them for cultivation. Zeppo and Red have been specially trained to perform plowing and other farming tasks, and they work Horsepower and The Tribe Vineyards. “It’s a great privilege to walk behind a horse and feel the earth under my feet as my grandfathers did,” he says.
Horsepower Vineyard includes one acre of Syrah and one of Grenache. Planted in 2008 with tight three-by-three-foot spacing and 4840 vines per acre, it recreates the way vines were planted in some of the most prestigious French vineyards prior to the phyloxera infestation in the 1880’s.
Estate Vineyards / AVA
All Cayuse wines are from estate fruit, and Christophe believes their true fingerprints are in the minerality. “The point is to create an honest wine that has an identity,” he says. “You want to taste the place.” As a result, each of his creations is true to the unique terroir of his vineyards:
Cailloux Vineyard—Christophe’s first Walla Walla Valley vineyard, this 10-acre plot was planted in 1997, and produces the flagship Cailloux Syrah.
Coccinelle Vineyard—It’s the French word for “ladybug,” and this 4.5-acre was first planted in 1998. Bionic Frog Syrah is produced from this vineyard.
En Cerise Vineyard—Literally translated, it means “cherry”—appropriate since this 10-acre vineyard planted in 1998 was a cherry orchard in its former life. En Cerise Vineyard Syrah and grapes for the Flying Pig and Camaspelo Bordeaux blends are grown here.
En Chamberlin Vineyard—2000 saw the planting of 10 more rocky acres. This vineyard produces The Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, Impulsivo Tempranillo and En Chamberlin Syrah.
Armada Vineyard—At 1815 vines per acre, this 16-acre vineyard, created in 2001, was the highest density planting in the Walla Walla Valley until 2008. Notable wines include Armada Vineyard Syrah, God Only Knows Grenache and Edith Grenache Rosé.
Sur Echalas Vineyard—Replacing Armada as the highest density planting in the Walla Walla Valley and one of the highest in North America, the vines of this 2-acre vineyard snuggle together in 3' x 3' spacing equaling 4840 vines per acre.
The Tribe Vineyard—Ajacent to En Chamberlin, this 3-acre vineyard is planted sur echalas or "on the stakes" in French, as there is one vine per stake. The vines enjoy close proximity to each other with 3.5' x 3.5' spacing, totaling 3555 vines per acre.
High Contrast Vineyard—As the western most vineyard in the stones, this 3-acre vineyard planted in 2013, follows the conture of the ancient Walla Walla riverbed. There are 3555 vines per acre planted in a similar style to The Tribe, with one vine per stake or sur echalas.