This is the convergence of two stories. We begin 30 years ago with Vince Bryan, a successful neurosurgeon, and his wife, Carol, who had lived in Europe before establishing his practice.
Recognizing the primacy of place for wine grapes, they went on a quest to find the right land for a vineyard. For a year the Bryans pored over reports of soil samples taken around the state during the Depression by the U.S. Geological Survey, They weren't looking for the unique Jory loam of Oregon's Red Hills of Dundee, nor the Willakenzie soil of the Willamette Valley, not even the irrigable desert of the Yakima Valley. Instead, they wanted the almost infertile wasteland of Bordeaux, combined with the mild, frost-free climate of Burgundy.
They found their ideal site on a 900-foot basalt cliff overlooking the Columbia River five miles west of the town of George. In 1980, they bought 700 acres covered with the desert's pale green shrubbery and named it Sagecliffe. The first winery on the site was called Champs de Brionne, but the Bryans' first success was to develop the site's natural amphitheater as a 20,000-seat concert venue. (It's now known as The Gorge and owned by LiveNation.) To take further advantage of Sagecliffe's natural setting, the Bryans called on architect Tom Kundig to develop a luxury resort on the property, which was christened Cave B Inn. At that point, with plenty of grapes from the hilltop vineyards, it made sense to relaunch the wine as a boutique, estate winery also called Cave B.
At about the same time, Freddy Arredondo entered the picture. A chef from Southern California, he had won a scholarship to a culinary academy in Italy, where he crossed paths with a pastry student named Carrie Bryan, daughter of Vince and Carol. Long story short: Freddy and Carrie fell in love and married. Freddy got a degree from the highly respected viticulture and enology program at Walla Walla Community College and joined the family business. After a year as the assistant winemaker under the tutelage of Rusty Figgins, Freddy moved up and took over responsibility for all of Cave B wines. No small ambition, since the business plan is to grow from 4,500 to 15,000 cases.
Vince Bryan is hardly out of the picture; in fact, he's more involved than ever, shepherding the paperwork for the new Ancient Lakes AVA (more on that in an upcoming post). Although he no longer practices clinically, he's busy inventing a plethora of medical devices...and adapting them for uses that include apple picking and salmon restoration.
For his part, Freddy has some of Washington's best fruit to work with. He won double gold medals at the Seattle Wine Awards in 2012 for five of his wines. Not a single one is pinot noir, by the way, though that is what Vince and Carol Bryan thought they were going to grow. When André Tchelistcheff came to visit, in the early days, he recommended white grapes like chardonnay and gewürztraminer; he ended up recognizing the site's great potential for Bordeaux-style reds. Today, in the wind-swept vineyards that slope ever-so-gently toward the river, there are cabernet sauvignon and merlot vines that are almost 30 years old. The roots drive down through the site's entablature of glacial rubble and draw their nourishment from the mineral deposits of the tumultuous Missoula floods. The wine in the glass, you realize, is not unlike what's produced by the merlot vines on the cliffs of Saint Emilion or the cabernet from the flood plains of the Médoc. Vastly different origins, of course, but reflecting its birthplace, wine of its soil.