Bottle Notes, Buying Wine

Cayuse 2014 Release Party

Cayuse was founded in 1997 by Christophe Baron, a native of France who grew up in family of winemakers in Champagne. Baron studied viticulture in Burgundy and Champagne, and had ambitions to make Pinot Noir in Oregon. However, on a visit to Walla Walla, he found property that he believed would be perfect for growing grapes and decided to purchase the land.

Cayuse Release Weekend is traditionally the first Friday and Saturday of April. I find it worth the 4 hour trek from Seattle because it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to taste through almost all of the wines that will be released the following year. The doors open on each day at 10am and the line starts forming even earlier. Christophe greeted us at 10am with glass in hand!

Usually when I write up release party notes I try to give impressions and scores on each wine. However, Cayuse was packed, the wines came fast and furious and I was busy catching up with fellow Cayuse devotees. If you really need scores, I’d say all the wines would have scored at least 93 to 94 points. The following wines were being sampled this year:

2011 God Only Know Grenache
2012 Camaspelo (84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot)
2012 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah
2012 En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah
2012 En Cerise Vineyard Syrah
2012 Bionic Frog Syrah
2011 Armada Vineyard Syrah
2012 Impulsivo Tempranillo

The standout in the Cayuse lineup was the 2012 En Chamberlin. The wine had great floral qualities, amazing purity of fruit and was at the same time supple and savory. I’d ballpark this at 96 points but definitely need to do further research. For that matter the entire Syrah lineup including the Armada, Cailloux, En Cerise and Bionic Frog was exceptional. Note to self: wish list even more wines next year.

The 2012 Syrahs continued the trend of moving away from that Cayuse funk of years past. These are rich, acid driven wines with great purity of fruit and minerality. They will all benefit from many years in the cellar.

It is also worth noting that the 2012 Camaspelo was exceptional. Clearly the best Camaspelo to date and no longer the weak link in the Cayuse lineup.

Although they were not part of the tasting I also had the opportunity to taste the debut Grenache and Syrah from Horsepower Vineyards. This is a new project from Christophe Baron and the mailing list will be opened to existing Cayuse members sometime in the month of May. The Grenache had mind blowing floral characteristics. Both wines had structure and a tannin profile that sets them apart from Cayuse and No Girls. I sincerely hope I am in front of my computer when the release email arrives in my inbox.

If you are on the Cayuse mailing list, I urge you to consider making the pilgrimage to Walla Walla for the 2015 event. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the mailing list, the wait is very long, and you need to be well-connected to get a bottle via retail.

This tasting only confirmed my opinion that Cayuse is one of the best wineries on the planet and current vintages are worth the hunt!

I’ve blogged about Cayuse previously in Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5.

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9 thoughts on “Cayuse 2014 Release Party

  1. I find the winery overrated myself. While good, they are overpriced and over rich. Also the Syrahs show little distinguishing terroir from each other. If you’ve tasted one you’ve tasted them all. I find Baron arrogant as well and he was a bit of a dink at the Hospice du Rhone a few years ago. The fact he had never heard of wind gap at the time was shocking and his reaction to Pax informing him of Wind Gap’s $35 price point for Syrah was telling. Compared to the best of the Northern Rhone and California cayuse is not worth the price to play. These wines are worth $50-$60 at most.

    1. Shea, you are drinking too much Burgundy. In all seriousness though, I agree with Darren that at least in my experiences Christophe has been the consumate host and generous to a fault. Regarding the wines tasting the same…I think there is clearly a house style that carries across all the wines. I always pick out the Cayuse wine in a blind flight. That being said each wine is unique, driven by the vineyard. En Cerise has always been the essence of pure chrerries. En Chamberlin has always had a gamy, funky characteristic. An apt comparison in my opinion would we the old Pax lineup (a clear house style but each wine differed due to vineyard characteristics). Thanks as always for weighing in. Cheers.

  2. To each their own in terms of what things are worth but to say that “you’ve tasted one you’ve tasted them all” is so patently disingenuous it’s laughable. Any pick-up weekend @ Cayuse would prove how silly that affirmation is to all but the most obtuse taster.

    Love me some Wind Gap Syrah too, as well as Pax’s GSM and Chards under that label. Stylistically very different from Cayuse and there is a time and place for both at our table.

    Haters do make the intrawebs go round though!

  3. Shea,
    Not going to argue price points or vineyard terroir differences with you, not my thing. To each his own and I figure that’s why there’s millions of different wines out there. But, it’s unfortunate to hear of your experience with Christophe. Over the years I can’t think of a person more generous with his time and wine than he! Here’s hoping you get another chance to hop with the frog someday.

  4. Thanks for another quality write-up Tom! Reviews like this keep me coming back to your site. As an avid reader of your content, Shea’s comment made me recall your post titled “Kosta Browne does not taste like Burgundy. Get over it.” In this instance, why do people continue to pit Washington wines against those from California, France or anywhere else? I’m all for comparing Cayuse to other greats coming from the The Rocks District of Milton–Freewater (e.g. Reynvaan, Proper, etc.), but to trash it because of price point or because it’s unlike some other beloved wine is, like Glenn said, laughable.

    Cayuse (and Baron) has proven that a quality and unique product is possible vintage after vintage and I’m a huge fan! The fact that you are not the first person to use “mind blowing” when describing one of his wines speaks for itself. Cayuse release weekend gives the lucky list members an opportunity to truly see that they are far from a one-trick pony operation. In my opinion, those who claim otherwise, are either frustrated that they have yet to crack the list or haven’t drank enough of Christophe’s delicious creations. Simply the fact that some of their wines are taking a less “funky” path as you indicate, goes to show that their wines will continue to be exciting for years to come. Even though Christophe has been at it since 1997 (in The Rocks), there are still great wines and side projects to come!

    Regardless, I’m sure someone will still have the audacity to compare Horsepower to a completely different region, state and terroir too, and will likely be the outlying “85” in a sea of mid-90’s on Cellar Tracker. As for Christophe as a person, I too have only good things to say. At Cayuse weekend last year he was very hospitable and made time to chat with the other passionate Cayuse followers I was with. I’m happy he (and the reset of the Cayuse team) have been successful in the Rocks region while simultaneously capturing the attention and palates of wine lovers across the globe.

  5. My comment probably came off more grumpy than intended. Nonetheless I can say I’ve had dozens of the wines, including verticals of bionic frog etc. I still have quite a few in my cellar as well. They are very good wines, no doubt. In fact, they are excellent Syrahs. That said, while I do not expect these wines to taste like France or California, I expect greater site differentiation to justify so many vineyards. I have had this conversation with quite a few tasters who also feel there are too many vineyard designates at Cayuse. That’s not to say the wines aren’t that different, but they are not different enough to justify the various vineyards. Take, for example, the distinction between Clape Cornas and Courbis Cornas. Clape puts many wines each of which could be a vineyard designate into a single blend. Why? Because they feel the essence of Cornas is bessed expressed as a blend rather than multiple vineyards. Courbis obviously disagrees and the wines are distinctive, though I think Clape’s philosophy is truer to the heart of Cornas.

    I fully agree that it’s silly to say Washington Syrah should taste like the northern Rhone, etc. However, if you compare value across these famous Syrah sites, you can get some of the greatest Syrah in the world (from, e.g. Clape) for basically less than Cayuse. It is simply arrogant to think that Cayuse has come anywhere close in interest to the best purveyors of Syrah in France that have been making wine for over 100 years. Even if you are on the mailing list, the wines are still $80 or so, which is a crazy price in my opinion, compared to wines at half that from, for example, Vincent Paris, Wind Gap or Arnot Roberts, that offer better site differentiation and typicite.

    The point about Pax I’d disagree with. There was not a house style there. Rather, the wines that made Pax famous were the wines from warmer sites that people then thought represented the house style. Following vineyards like Majik and Neilsson you can see that Pax was always also making cooler climate syrahs that were not at all like the wines from, for example, knight’s valley or griffin’s lair.

    As for the arrogance, perhaps he was in a strange mood at the Hospice, but he came across as insincere and insecure amongst some of the world’s greatest Rhone wine makers. He refused many tasters any attention and declined to take any time to properly explain why his Syrahs tasted the way they did. I imagine at events where the Cayuse buy-in is palpable, this would not be a problem.

  6. I am not going to argue about Cayuse specific, but the price point is interesting. Arnot Roberts was brought up, which Iam very fond of. Their wine prices are creeping up in price. They haven’t been around that long, so price could keep rising. $40 chard. $90 cab. Some of my favorite producers in Paso that I bought when the wineries started have crept up steadily as word got out. I have to decide what’s worth it. $70-$80 for syrah is my breaking point. Booker used to be $50 across the board, now around $70. Epoch was around $50, now $65-70. Torrin, same way. This is getting steep. However, there is interest at that price point, so I have moved on from some. That’s why for me in Washington I get great quality for the price from some great Rhone producers, and so far the price seems to be holding steady:Gramercy, Force Majeure, Maison Bleue, Rotie. I really like Rasa, but some of their prices are a little steep, but they offer a discount for preorder. I would be curious as to price of Cayuse several years ago.

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