When it comes to Syrah, there are few winemakers in the world who can claim to make wines that can stack up to the best examples from the Northern Rhone, but the Champagne-born vigneron Christophe Baron has broken this mould to become one of the most revered Syrah producers outside its native home.
The youngest of the centuries-old Champagne house Baron Albert in the village of Charly-sur-Marne, Christophe already knew from a young age that it was in his blood to become a winemaker, shadowing his father from a young age to gain first-hand experience of what it took to be a true vigneron. He studied viticulture in Champagne and Burgundy, but realised he wasn’t ready to enter the family business but the urge to travel brought him to the Walla Walla Valley where he discovered a piece of land scatteredwith soft-ball sized cobblestones, reminding him of the famous Galets that are found throughout Chateauneuf du Pape. Without a second thought, he quickly purchased the property and land and planted his first vineyard in 1997, naming his new venture Cayuse Vineyards – a nod to the Native American tribe whose name derived from the French word “Cailloux” meaning stones.
Inspired by the great Northern Rhone winemakers, his vineyards are planted predominantly with Syrah, alongside smaller plantings of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Tempranillo and Viognier. Biodynamically farmed and averaging yields of less than 30 hl/ha, these are energetic terroir-driven wines that show incredible depth and balance. His gradual reduction in the use of new oak and his gravitation towards using larger barrels has been a big influence on his gently extracted style of winemaking, and in addition has he has also been buying large 600L puncheons from René Rostaing for many years now. More recently he has been experimenting with 1200L foudres from Auguste Clape.
Horsepower Vineyards, is the latest project that Christophe has been working on in the Walla Walla Valley, with its name inspired by the draft of horses that work the vines. Though this concept is hardly new, Horsepower is the first winery to farm its vineyards with horses exclusively. Since its inaugural vintage in 2011, their wines have sold out year on year with a long waiting list for those unable to receive allocations.