PROSSER, Wash. — For those curious to taste a 100-point wine, storied grower Paul Champoux will have six of them lined up for a unique fundraising experience featuring Cabernet Sauvignon by famed Quilceda Creek Vintners.
The affable Champoux playfully yet appropriately refers to it as a “600-point tasting.”
Champoux has donated single bottles of the 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014 and 2018 vintages to the Washington Wine Industry Foundation. A seat at the special event is expected to be priced at $500 each. The tasting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12 at the Port of Benton’s Walter Clore Center in Prosser.
“The fruit mix was close to 90% Champoux Vineyards and 10% Red Mountain,” Champoux points out.
Many — if not all — of the seats for this tasting will be spoken for during the night of Tuesday, Feb. 6 when the Washington Wine Industry Foundation holds its Party and Auction in Kennewick as part of the annual WineVit Conference organized by the Washington Winegrowers Association. The three-day gathering at the Three Rivers Convention Center featuring a trade show and seminars begins Monday.
“I can hardly wait to taste these 100-point wines that have been calling me every time I enter my 65-degree cellar,” Champoux told Great Northwest Wine. “The tasting is not competitive — just enjoyable, but educational. How did Mother Nature play a role in that year’s wine? What were the heat units? When was harvest?”
Wines made with Champoux Vineyards fruit helped to elevate the profile of the Horse Heaven Hills and Washington state wine on the global map in the mind of critics. It was renowned reviewer Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate newsletter that awarded 100 points to the Quilceda Creek 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, a first for the state.
Champoux’s wine career began in ’78 with Ste. Michelle
Champoux capped his storied 35-year career in farming with the 2014 harvest — a vintage that resulted in the fifth of the six 100-point wines that will be represented in the upcoming tasting. He got his start in the wine industry in 1978 as a vineyard manager in the Horse Heaven Hills for Ste. Michelle’s plantings near Columbia Crest. On that job is where he met his future wife, Judy, who was hired by Ste. Michelle as a payroll manager.
In 1989, the Mercer family hired the Champouxs to manage what was then known as Mercer Ranch Vineyards, established in 1972. It was in 1996 when the Champouxs entered a partnership that included a number of winemakers to purchase the 130-acre planting from an insurance company.
Champoux-fruited wines made by partners included the impeccably ageworthy Woodward Canyon Old Vine Dedication Series, vineyard-designates by Andrew Will and those by Quilceda Creek, which now controls the vineyard. Until recently, the only perfect 100-point scores ever earned by a Washington wine from a major wine publication went to Quilceda Creek.
The Champouxs still own tiny Lady Hawk Vineyard, a 5-acre site of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Horse Heaven Hills that second-generation winemaker Andrew Januik features in bottles that routinely earn 93 to 95 points from critics.
This winter, the story of Paul and Judy was chronicled as part of the ongoing HistoryLink.org project.
Champoux longtime leader of WA Wine Industry Foundation
Even though he’s been retired for a decade and continues to battle the effects left by a near-fatal case of West Nile virus in 2009, Champoux remains involved in the industry. He recently was re-elected to a three-year term to the Washington Wine Industry Foundation board of directors.
Appropriately, Tuesday night’s unveiling of the Washington Wine Industry Foundation’s Collaboration Series #6 wine is a Champoux Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon by Andrew Will Winery. Presale of that wine will also be a part of the Party + Auction festivities at the Three Rivers Convention Center.
If it works out as Champoux hopes, the plan is for each $500 donor to receive a one-ounce pour from each bottle at the “600-point tasting.” The goal is for there to be as many as 20 tasters.
“All donated funds have definitely made an impact in our wine industry, and as you know more is always needed!” Champoux says.
Champoux, 74, has experience organizing special tastings. Among those was the platform he created in 2016 for Marquette, a winter-hardy red grape variety engineered at the University of Minnesota. His curiosity with the grape stemmed from the Yakima school he attended that was named after Pere Marquette, a 17th century Jesuit missionary and explorer. However, the historically cold vintages of 2010 and 2011 did prompt Champoux to plant and study Marquette vines. A longtime friend — acclaimed winemaker Charlie Hoppes — produced some delicious bottles of Champoux Vineyard Marquette.
That 2016 tasting gathered a dozen producers of Marquette from across the country. They brought their wines and poured them at the Clore Center.
And Champoux’s support and promotion of WWIF efforts is year-round. With the help of Champoux and many others, more than $480,000 in scholarship funds have been awarded to more than 250 students in Washington state since 2002. Two of the six given annually are through the Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers Scholarship.
“You’ll have to get a team together for the WWIF golf tourney in July,” he said, referring to the Wine Cup. “Get your name on the trophy!”
Last year, the Wine Cup at Wine Valley in Walla Walla raised more than $60,000.