Monday, September 24, 2012

Washington Wine Icon: Dick Boushey

There's only one Dick Boushey.

If there is a man whose name is on more bottles of Washington wine, and whose fruit is in even more of them... well, let's face it, there's not.  Dick Boushey is a lot of things to the Washington wine industry: he's a pioneer, an innovator and a benchmark for what quality wine growing in this state can be, he's a regional treasure.  But to boil it all down, Dick is first and foremost a farmer.

In 1975, Dick and his wife Luanne moved to a site a few miles north of the town of Grandview, Washington, where their home is to this day.  Reflecting back on it, Dick's not sure why they came there exactly, as at the time, it was only sagebrush and cheat grass. What has happened in those 36 years has been a revolution in Washington state agriculture and for wine drinkers.

Starting with cheat grass and sage and wending its way through apples and concord grapes before arriving at world class Syrah, the story behind Boushey Vineyards (there are five different vineyard sites) is a story of patience and collaboration. Dick's foray into wine growing is a block of Cabernet that is planted a stone's through from his home.  At an elevation of 1200 feet and nearly a constant slight breeze, Dick planted what is now "old vine" Cabernet in 1980.  A cooler site for Cabernet, particularly by Washington standards, "No one would plant Cab in a site this cool today" but Dick has no trouble what-so-ever selling the fruit from these vines.   The fruit from this site is higher in acidity and does not carry the big tannic structure or the ripe fruit character of say a Red Mountain Cabernet. Always picked later than the vineyards he's managing on Red Mountain this Cabernet block was harvested in mid November last year. At this site Dick poured for us two very different iterations of Boushey Cabernet; the Fall Line Red Blend Boushey Vineyard and the 2009 Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard Red. The two wines were in stark contrast and a perfect illustration of the stylistic range of wines that can be achieved with fruit from this block.

In 1993 Dick planted what has become his signature varietal, Syrah, with the help of Doug McCrea.  It has become an incredibly important grape in terms of what Washington wine can produce and while it's not necessarily synonymous with Dick's name, it's not far off.  The old, four acre block is a warm site, and is trellised in a bi-lateral cordon called a Scott Henry named for a wine grower from Oregon's Umpqua Valley.  This site and another further towards the Boushey home produce some of the most sought after Syrah in the state. Winemakers like Bob Betz, Ron Bunnel and Efeste's Brennon Leighton have long looked to Boushey Syrah to make some of their most acclaimed wines, and new Washington winery Avennia made it a priority to make a single vineyard designate from Boushey Vineyards.

As a new generation of Washington winemakers assumes the mantle, the growers remain old school veterans. "The wineries, winemakers are starting to become a little more competitive, a little less cooperative, but the growers still work together."  Dick said.  "We all share what we learn and we all know each other's business."  This includes which winemakers are getting what fruit, what they're paying for it, and how the weather, pests or cropping is impacting the vineyards.

As younger winemakers and growers inherit Washington's wine legacy, they'll rely on the Dick Bousheys and the founders of the industry and their decisions and directions to move the industry to its next level. For Dick he had to learn a lot of those lessons on his own.  "I read everything I could get my hands on, and hung out with Stan Clarke and Wade Wolfe."  In Dick's words, he and they learned everything the hard way.  "I made a lot of mistakes, and I've been learning and over the years I've been correcting those mistakes."

By anyone's standards Dick has gotten more of it right than he has wrong.  As an industry stalwart he will continue to push the boundaries in terms of growing, whether it's varietal selection, site selection or vineyard aspect. While he has plenty to teach in terms of know how, Dick's humility and approachability should be a lesson to those looking to make it in Washington wine. Success is one thing, success the right way is another and it's the way Dick Boushey has done and continues to do things.

*I was invited to attend a tour of Boushey Vineyards by the Wine Yakima Valley. The tour was a part of four different vineyard tours that occured each Saturday in July.  The Association promotes lots of events including the up-coming Catch the Crush event this Autumn.  


Great article, Clive! As you know, I'm a huge fan of Dick Boushey, not just his fruit - he's also a really nice guy. Thanks for writing this!

Post a Comment