Our Wines

Learn About Our Washington Wines

Washington Wines: Style and Vineyard Profiles

Camaraderie Cellars has seven vineyard partners located in five of Washington State’s viticulture areas (AVA’s). In many cases the relationships go back over a decade. For example, Camaraderie has been purchasing grapes from Paul Champoux, one of the legends in the industry, since the very beginning of the winery in 1992. Fred Artz’s vineyard on Red Mountain, too, has been a mainstay for fifteen years.

Over the years, other vineyards have been added for a particular variety.

Why so many vineyards? It comes down to winemaking style. While Don Corson, winemaker/owner, always leaves open the opportunity for a vineyard selection for a variety, he is committed to crafting the best bottle of wine possible and that often comes from blending wines from different vineyards.

The Style of Our Washington Wines

Wines made from Washington State grape varieties tend to be very “fruit driven” rather than highlighting herb notes as in some other regions of the world. In food and wine pairing it has been said “if it grows together it goes together”. Washington State produces many varieties of apples, cherries, berries, and a wide variety of “pit fruit” crops. These fresh fruit characteristics show up in Washington State wines at their best and particularly in Camaraderie Cellars’ wines.

Camaraderie wines are intentionally made to be “food wines”. The goal is to craft wines with a balance of true-to-the-vineyard flavors, acid, and tannins. All of these elements are crucial to a wine’s ability to hold up to full flavored meals. As an equally important benefit, good food wines also have aging potential that will help soften tannins all the more.

Making Our Washington Wines

Besides using exceptional fruit from multiple vineyards, Don Corson employs a rather minimalist approach to winemaking. Oak is considered the “frame around the picture” rather than an opportunity for an oak carving stained with wine. Barrels are matched with the vineyard and variety. Nor does one size fit all.

For instance, for hardier Red Mountain fruit, newer American oak works well. Tempranillo from Two Coyote Vineyard also is complemented by American oak. Cabernet Franc takes well to Hungarian oak and Don likes using puncheons (500 liter) of nearly neutral oak for Syrah to help assure that fruit is prominent. All in all, the oak regime involves about 30% new oak each year.

It all starts in the vineyard, though, and Don works closely with each vineyard manager and owner for optimal picking strategies and timing. It wasn’t that long ago when picking was by the numbers as reflections of ripeness and optimal picking times. Now, it’s virtually all in the flavors and optimal ripening, not optimal timing or convenience. Dark brown nutty seeds with no green edging and ripe skin flavors are guides now, not just numbers. Since Washington State has some of the fairest of harvest weather in the world, “hang time” is worth the wait in for quality results in our Washingon wines.

Don uses a wide variety of yeast selections and favors longer cooler fermentations to maintain fresh flavors. At one time there can be six to eight separate fermentations going on all at once and in different stages. It always seems “like a good idea at the time”, but it takes a toll on sleep and mood.

Washington Wines: Varieties and Sources

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Champoux Vineyards
  • Fred Artz’ , Red Mountain
  • Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley
  • Clifton Hill, Wahluke Slope

Merlot

  • Fred Artz, Red Mountain
  • Chandler Reach, Yakima Valley
  • Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley
  • Clifton Hill, Wahluke Slope

Cabernet Franc

  • Fred Artz, Red Mountain
  • Chandler Reach, Yakima Valley
  • Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley
  • Clifton Hill, Wahluke Slope (added 2008 Vintage)

Malbec

  • Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley
  • Crawford Family Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Petit Verdot

  • Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley

Syrah

  • Clifton Hill, Wahluke Slope

Tempranillo

  • Two Coyote, Rattlesnake Mountain
  • Crawford Family Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Viognier

  • Crawford Family Vineyard

Vineyards for Our Washington Wines

Champoux Vineyard

If you were plunked in the middle of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA you would never think you were in Washington State or an amazing grape growing area. Eastern Colorado – like flats etched with canyons here and there are what you see until out of the blue are vineyards – 100’s of acres of them.

A warm but not super hot site, Cabernet Sauvignon comes in Mid October, about one month later than Red Mountain Cab. Camaraderie has enjoyed the benefits of Paul Champoux’s pioneering grape growing efforts in the Horse Heavens since 1992.

Flavors and characteristics? For Cabernet Sauvignon, more plum than cherry; middle palate richness, depth. Takes well to French oak

Fred Artz Red Mountain

Located right next to Klipsun Vineyard to the north, Fred’s vineyard looks to the Yakima River and the Valley below for inspiration. It’s a place to take a deep breath – even when it is HOT during harvest.

Fred’s vineyard is the hottest one we work with and the fruit is firm flavored and tannic. Don uses the reds we get there for the backbone of our Bordeaux varieties. All the other vineyards are muscle, flesh and spirit. Fred’s grapes stain on contact. Colors are as rich as the wines. Think the deepest cherry flavors you have ever had. Whether Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Cab Franc, they all showcase why Red Mountain AVA is place to itself and while the smallest of the Washington State AVA’s, it’s probably the mightiest, at least in terms of concentrated flavor and tannins.

Chandler Reach, Yakima Valley

Chandler Reach, just up the Valley by two miles from Red Mountain has the best view in the Valley of the Red Mountain AVA but it is a world apart in flavors.

No teeth staining tannins here. Richness yes, but more pure perfume. Don uses Chandler Reach fruit to bring out varietal aromatics in our Cab Franc and Merlot.

Meek Family Estate, Yakima Valley

Take a look almost due north of Chandler Reach to the upper slopes of irrigated farm land, right on the edge of the Rattle Snake Mountains, and you will see the Meek Family Estate. Michael Meek’s vineyard is one of the coolest we work with even though it is just a 15 minute drive from Fred Artz’s on Red Mountain. We will pick in late October where we pick Fred’s fruit in mid September!

If Fred’s fruit provides tannic structure for our wines, Michael’s is spirit and cerebral. Cool climate wines are to us very European. No need for slugs of new oak. Finesse and elegance is what these wines are about to Don. We get all five Bordeaux varieties here which is very unusual for just one vineyard, but they are all well-suited here. We make our Elegance wine here, a perennial favorite and highly awarded wine.

Crawford Family Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Just up valley, north of Prosser is this well-known vineyard. It’s another cooler site and we get our spiciest fruit from Connie and Charlie. High acid Viognier, almost-citrus Malbec, perfumed Tempranillo, and sprightly Lemburger and even Dolcetto make it into our VERY limited-production wines mostly sold at the winery or through our wine club.

Clifton Hill, Wahluke Slope

Overlooking the Columbia River and right up the river’s Sentinel Gap through the Saddle Mountains, Clifton Hill Vineyard in one of the Milbrandt family’s vineyards. The Wahluke is one of Don’s favorite grape growing areas even though it is on the way to nowhere! Once you get there, there IS a great taco wagon in Mattawa, the little town down the road.

Think of eating a cherry or plum without the pit or the skin and you get the essence of what fruit is like from Clifton Hill. Fleshy, chin-drippy fruit that is all body is what Don loves about the fruit here. It lends the essential “middle” to our varietal wines. Nothing is “austere” or “mineral” here. Another hot site, fruit is harvested in mid season for us.

Two Coyote, Rattlesnake Hills

Take Exit 50 on Interstate 80 and go through Buena and up the slopes to find this one. This is where we get the bulk of our Tempranillo. A newer vineyard and showing great promise, we are making wines from the grapes here that will make Rioja (the place Tempranillo came from) heads turn. The wines are ripe and jammy and take oak like a sponge without tasting over-wooded. So far, we have dibs on two acres worth and we are glad for every bunch.

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