Editor’s note: This is the 16th in an occasional series on destination wineries of the Pacific Northwest.
GEORGE, Wash. – For the past couple of decades, music lovers have flocked to Central Washington’s fabulous Gorge Amphitheater. It all came about because of a winery that is all but forgotten by the modern Washington wine industry.
And from the ashes of that winery – Champs de Brionne – has risen one of the most amazing destination wineries in Washington: Cave B Estate.
The story begins with Vince and Carol Bryan. He was a Seattle neurosurgeon when he came across some land near the Columbia Basin community of George in 1978. By 1980, the Bryans had purchased the land and begun planting wine grapes 900 feet above the Columbia River. That was a bold move then, as there was nothing certain about the Washington wine industry back then, with fewer than 25 producers.
The first wines were made in 1982, and in 1983 the Bryans planned to have a grand opening of Champs de Brionne. As only 200 people lived in George, they sent out 200 invitations. When they got 1,200 RSVPs in response, they realized they might be on to something.
Next to the winery was a natural amphitheater atop cliffs overlooking the Columbia River. The Bryans planted Kentucky bluegrass so visitors would have a comfortable setting. But three days before the grand opening, they discovered that none of the grass had germinated. As it turns out, the region was too arid to accommodate Kentucky bluegrass.
Showing the pluck that has served them well throughout the years, the Bryans came up with a new plan: They rented a backhoe and for the next 72 hours, they carved out seating for their visitors and hired a band from Wenatchee.
“The amphitheater was built because we couldn’t grow grass,” Vince Bryan told Great Northwest Wine. “The people came, the band played, the wine wasn’t very good, but everyone still had a good time.”
Rise of the Gorge Amphitheater
The popularity of the amphitheater came as a surprise to the Bryans.
“We didn’t realize what we had created,” he said.
In 1983, the Bryans brought in three musical acts for concerts. The next year, they hired an agent who was connected to the music industry, who brought in more and better talent. Each year for the next decade, they doubled the size of the amphitheater.
All the while, they were able to sell their wine to those who would travel to remote Grant County – 150 miles from Seattle – to attend the concerts.
In 1993, the Bryans went to breakfast with a group that wanted to purchase the amphitheater.
“It was time to sell,” Bryan said. “It was going to take a bigger company to take it to what it could possibly be.”
Today, the Gorge Amphitheater can hold nearly 28,000 concertgoers – up from the 3,000 it originally held. It is managed by Live Nation and plays host to such concerts as the Sasquatch Music Festival.
With the sale of the amphitheater, Champs de Brionne went away, primarily because it was in the middle of the amphitheater property. The Bryans reluctantly closed its doors a little more than a decade after it had opened.
But the sale of the concert site did not include the vineyards on either side of the amphitheater, and the Bryans retained ownership and began selling their fruit to other wineries.
The Bryans went back to Seattle, where Vince Bryan invented the artificial disc for the human spine. He created Spinal Dynamics, which he sold to Medtronic in 2002.
Cave B a second act for Bryans
Though the Bryans were enormously successful as a result of the amphitheater and the artificial disc, they still had an itch to get back into the wine industry. They did just that in 2000.
That year, they approached Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars and former longtime winemaker of Apex Cellars and Washington Hills, about making a bit of wine. That year – seven years after Champs de Brionne was shuttered, the first vintage of Cave B was made.
In 2002, they began construction on the winery. The strategy was to make 5,000 cases of wine, make it special and sell most of it directly to consumers. For the most part, that is how it has worked out.
By 2005, they had built the Cave B Inn & Spa, which includes Tendrils Restaurant. They made space for corporate retreats and weddings and even sketched out a potential golf course – something that still could come to fruition if that industry manages to bounce back.
As Vince Bryan likes to say, he turned the middle of nowhere into the middle of everywhere.
Today, the wines of Cave B are made by Freddy Arredondo, the Bryans’ son-in-law and an accomplished winemaker who learned his trade at Walla Walla Community College’s vaunted Center for Enology & Viticulture. He later worked as the cellar master at Cougar Crest Estate Winery in Walla Walla.
All of this came about as a second career: His original trade was as a professional chef. In fact, he met Carrie Bryan in Italy while studying at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners.
Arredondo’s wines for Cave B are highly acclaimed, regularly earning top medals at regional and national wine competitions and praise from consumers and critics alike.
Amenities at Cave B Estate Winery
- Gift shop
- Picnic area
- Conference facilities
- Food for sale, such as cheeses
- RV parking/camping
Nearby restaurants recommended by Cave B Estate Winery
Non-wine activities recommended by Cave B Estate Winery
- Horseback riding
- Mountain biking
- Trail running
Cave B Estate Winery contact info and hours
Cave B Estate Winery
348 Silica Road N.W.
Quincy, WA 98848
Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday.