Bionic Wines

A Passion for Stones - Cayuse & Horsepower Wines

Growing up in Champagne as the eldest son of an established producer, Christophe Baron’s future seemed pre-destined. But before he took his place in the family business, Baron chose instead to travel and further his education. Following vintages in Australia and New Zealand, he moved onto the Pacific Northwest, where he was drawn to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, like a growing number of French winemakers. With a love of Pinot Noir and impressed by the region’s temperate climate, not to mention the freedom that the state’s wineries enjoyed, Baron prepared to put down roots. And then fate stepped in.

While visiting a friend in the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State, Baron was flicking through a copy of Hugh Johnson’s Wine Atlas. As he turned the page to the Rhône, Baron’s friend marvelled at an image of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s emblematic galets roulés, explaining that there were soils just like that in the much smaller Oregon enclave of the Walla Walla. So they drove there, and seeing the expanse of softball size stones, he didn’t hesitate.

Baron purchased the Cailloux vineyard in 1997. The deal was easy to make. No one wanted to buy it as it as the ‘soils’ were too difficult to farm. Baron describes 12 to 20 inches of pebbles and cobblestones on the surface and hundreds of feet of more densely packed cobblestones below that, all sitting on a layer of pure basalt. Yet Baron (whose nickname is Bionic Frog) had done his homework, deducing the difficult terrain would stress the grapevines, encouraging them produce ripe and intensely flavoured fruit. Not only would he prove the doubters wrong, but his Cayuse Vineyards and its resolutely terroir-driven wines would become one of the Pacific Northwest’s most celebrated estates.

Cayuse’s vineyards are located on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA. The Cascade Mountains lie to the west, the Blue Mountains to the east, and the vineyards, planted on an ancient basaltic riverbed formed 13,000 years ago, are nestled in between. A year after planting his flagship Cailloux site, Baron planted the Coccinelle and En Cerise vineyards, followed by En Chamberlin and Armada vineyard in 2000 and 2001. More recently, he has gone even further, planting four single-stake vineyards with 12,100 vines per hectare using Champagne’s pre-phylloxera spacing. Grouped under the Horsepower label, the soils are worked by a team of five draught horses and, like all Cayuse’s vineyards, farmed according to an astrological sowing and planting calendar, and entirely without the use of herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, chemical insecticides or fungicides.

Mirroring the great growers of France, the practice here is meticulous and uncompromising. Baron works with a team of 45, meaning no stone is left unturned; excuse the pun. Biodynamic since 2002, yields across the Cayuse and Horsepower vineyards are tiny and rarely exceed 30hl/ha. Not surprisingly, the Rhône varieties like Grenache and Syrah thrive in these familiar soils and the Mediterranean-esque climate. As Baron’s practice is deeply inspired by old-school European tradition, then so is winemaker Elizabeth Bourcier’s approach in the cellar, where natural, whole-bunch fermentation in concrete and long aging in mostly worn foudres form the barebones of her hands-off approach.

Mainly selling out on release to those lucky enough to be on the mailing list (with a small portion held back for sale to restaurants and wine merchants), Cayuse’s wines are unlike any other we ship. Despite their celebrity, don’t come here looking for instant gratification, ‘gobs of fruit’ or an easy ride. They are deep, savoury and thought-provoking, not to mention intensely complex, wines from a very unique terroir and an uncompromising grower. Like the great grower wines of Europe, they require patience, and they require food.

Currently Available

Cayuse Impulsivo Tempranillo 2021

Cayuse Impulsivo Tempranillo 2021

“As I have said for several years now, my nominee for best domestic Tempranillo is Baron's Impulsivo," wrote Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate. While Miller's compliment  is nice and all, surely the biggest tip of the cap for the Impulsivo Tempranillo is that this wine is exported to Spain. Cayuse vineyards sell the lion’s share of their wines directly to their cohort of private customers (for which there is a lengthy waiting list), leaving a small portion available for restaurants and selected export markets. That the Impulsivo holds a fan base in the variety's spiritual home is both testament and triumph. We’re very pleased to receive an allocation for Australia. Climatically, the Walla Walla Valley has quite a lot in common with continental Spain: warm summers and very cold winters. So, in typical Cayuse fashion, Christophe Baron asked himself, why not give it a shot? The Tempranillo vines were planted in 2000 in the En Chamberlin vineyard. It’s a four-hectare site to the north of the winery, covered in the same large stones as the Armada and Horsepower vineyards. Just 12-18 inches of silty loam and basalt cobblestones lie above a layer of compacted cobblestones, which can plunge as deep as 100 metres in some pockets. Yields are small, rarely exceeding 30 hl/ha, and the site is farmed to organic and biodynamic principles.The handpicked fruit arrives at the winery, is destemmed, and ferments naturally in concrete as whole berries. The wine then matures for 18 months in 50% new oak foudres.

“Bresaola, cured meat sweetness and umami notes, plush sweet-edge palate but again, with a savoury meaty finish, cold smoke and dark chocolate velvety feel all the way through. It has a long line of flavour, a finish filled with plush bitterness and spice. It’s all dark in profile but not heavy at all. Impressive Tempranillo at an impressive price. Wonder who drinks it in Spain?”
94 points, Kasia Sobiesiak, The Wine Front
Cayuse Impulsivo Tempranillo 2021
Cayuse God Only Knows Grenache 2020

Cayuse God Only Knows Grenache 2020

Cayuse farms 31 hectares of vines across 14 sites on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Fruit for God Only Knows Grenache hails from the Armada vineyard, located in the ancient riverbed of the Walla Walla River and also home to the Cayuse wine studio. Like the 14 other Cayuse vineyards, Armada is covered in large stones reminiscent of the great vineyards of the southern Rhône. Just 12-18 inches of silty loam and basalt cobblestones lie above a layer of compacted cobblestones, which can plunge as deep as 100 metres in some pockets. Yields are small, rarely exceeding 30 hl/ha, and the site is farmed to organic and biodynamic principles. Planted in 2001 to 4,485 vines per hectare, this 2.5-hectare site was the most densely planted vineyard in the valley until 2008. Having the vineyards and the winery in such proximity has its advantages, especially for a team that makes picking decisions based on taste rather than tests. The handpicked fruit arrives at the winery, is crushed and ferments naturally with 75% whole clusters in concrete. The wine then matures for 21 months in large, old French foudres.

“Its concentration without weight, as well as its striking aromatic amplitude, mark it out as one of the finest expressions of Grenache to be found in the United States.”
William Kelley, The Wine Advocate
“A perfumed blend of vivid black raspberry, lavender, sage and crushed rocks makes the 2020 God Only Knows impossible to ignore. This is pure elegance, supremely silky and refined, with subtle red and blue fruits that ride a core of tantalizing acidity as violet inner florals evolve toward the close. This finishes lifted and floral, with a subtle coating of sweet tannins that gently tug at the cheeks as confectionery spices slowly fade. While I would prefer a bit more length, that's splitting hairs, as the 2020 God Only Knows is simply spellbinding.”
96 points, Eric Guido, Vinous
“Seductive and mysterious nose of potpourri, nori, wild strawberries, boysenberries, miso and white pepper. It’s medium- to full-bodied with such delicious wild fruit and umami spice, tied back with tight-knit tannins. Beckoning and restrained all at once. Mostly grenache. From biodynamically grown grapes. Drink from 2024.”
96 points, James Suckling,
Cayuse God Only Knows Grenache 2020

“If you want to experience a dramatic example of terroir in the new world, get your hands on a Cayuse syrah.” Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator

“The 2020s from Cayuse are impossible to ignore… Readers lucky to have a spot on this highly allocated list should not hesitate to place these in the cellar. Vigneron Elizabeth Bourcier did a fantastic job with this vintage.” Eric Guido, Vinous

“The success of Christophe Baron across a range of styles and idioms is genuinely astonishing. One can only wonder, at this pace of innovation, what the future will bring.” Decanter Magazine.

“While the ship has long since sailed with regards to getting on the mailing list, these are singular wines well worth the effort to track down...” Jeb Dunnuck, The Wine Advocate

“Beg, borrow, or steal to get these wines. Well, don’t steal. That would be wrong. But walk the earth to taste them if you have to.” Sean Sullivan, Washington Wine Report



Primary Region

Walla Walla Valley AVA, Oregon


Owner & vigneron: Christophe Baron

Winemaker: Elizabeth Bourcier

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