by Fred McMillin
for June 4, 1999


Winery of the Week

A Canoe Conundrum


Canoe Ridge #1—The prestigious Chalone California winery corporation announces in 1990 the purchase of 200 acres in Washington State's Columbia River Valley. The 25,000-case winery will overlook the Columbia River from the site that will provide the winery name, Canoe Ridge. It is commissioned in 1993.

Canoe Ridge #2—One of Washington's oldest and most prestigious wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle, in 1993 announces the opening of a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art winery in the Columbia River Valley, named Canoe Ridge. How to distinguish the two, new Canoes? Well, Chalone's is named Canoe Ridge Vineyard. Ste. Michelle's is Canoe Ridge Estate Winery.

The Rest of the Story

Is the press able to keep this staight? Here are quotes from major wine journals:

    "a bright bottling from Canoe Ridge."
    "a firm, chewy Cabernet Sauvignon by Canoe Ridge."
So, the bad news is that you may have difficulty getting the Canoe you want. The good news is that they both are making good wines.

Today's Canoe

Our Winery of the Week is Chalone's Canoe Ridge Vineyard. Chalone first became interested in Washington wines when they handled the marketing of the state's Woodward Canyon Winery. Then, there was a matter of costs if one wished to expand in in 1990...and of attitudes. Napa Valley land was approaching $30,000 an acre, and newcomers were not welcome. However, Washington embraced such an investment, and Columbia Valley slopes were a mere $1,000 an acre.

Winemaker John Abbott And talk about timing. Two-thirds of the initial planting was Merlot, and subsequently Washington State Merlot becomes one of the hottest wines in the U.S.A. with fine critical response to their Chardonnay and Cabernet, as well as the Merlot, they have recently planted another 20 acres. Winemaker John Abbott (pictured) has found the Canoe Ridge tempertures are less extreme than in the central Yakima Valley. The warmer winters and cooler summers = grapes spend more time on the vine = enhanced flavors and stronger red pigments. While his vines are young, he and his customers are very happy with the results. But remember, the name is Canoe Ridge Vineyard.


The Chalone Group has five, fine California vineyards (Acacia, Edna Valley Vineyard, etc.), all of which enjoy a warmer climate than that of their new Washington cousin. So last spring, which of the six was first to have the buds burst forth in the warm spring sunshine? Canoe Ridge Vineyard!

Credits: Northwest Wines, Ed. 1 & 2, Prather, et. al.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

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Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.


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