LOWDEN, Wash. – Since its first vintage in 1981, Woodward Canyon Winery‘s most recognizable wine has been a Cabernet Sauvignon known as the “Dedication Series.”
Each vintage, the Dedication Series has featured the photo of a Walla Walla Valley pioneer, and that person’s story is told on the back label.
Owner Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott, since his arrival in 2003, have made that wine every year for 29 years. In 2010 – what would have been the 30th anniversary of the Dedication Series – Small and Mott made the difficult decision to not bottle a wine under the label because the quality just wasn’t there.
For Small, the decision actually was straightforward.
2010 didn’t measure up
“The wine didn’t measure up to my standards,” Small told Great Northwest Wine. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Many wineries up and down the West Coast manage to make a reserve-level wine vintage after vintage, regardless of quality. Small doesn’t work that way, even if it means breaking a string.
“This is a long-term business,” he said. “My daughter and son will be in this business. You have to do the right thing.”
The 2009 version was superb, earning a top “Outstanding” rating in Wine Press Northwest’s judging of more than 130 Northwest Cabernet Sauvignons and being described as “the standard bearer of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine by which others are measured.”
For Small, 2010 simply didn’t make the grade.
Losing some money but not sleep
In past years, Small has made between 400 and 800 cases of the Old Vines Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon, which he sells for $89 per bottle. In 2010, he and Mott could have made perhaps 100 cases. But they didn’t feel right about it, so the wine went into the Artist Series Cab, which sells for $54.
“2010 was an interesting year,” Small said. “We couldn’t see enough of a difference between our Old Vine blocks and Artist Series blocks. It wasn’t what we wanted to do. Old Vines has to have a ‘Wow’ factor.”
So the grapes he got from his Old Vines blocks went into the Artist Series instead.
“If it isn’t there, we’re going to make a really good Artist Series,” he said. “That’s a little bit of the European philosophy. If the wine isn’t good enough, they take it down a tier.”
Small, a third-generation farmer, said this is what agriculture is all about.
“It’s a gift. If you have great fruit and great wine, you get the gift.”
Even though the string of Dedication Series Cabs is broken, Small is at peace.
“We don’t have the inclination to make one just to make the money,” he said. “It cost us some money, but I sleep well at night. We did the right thing.”