Wine in his Blood
The story began near the village of Charly-sur-Marne in the Champagne region of France, where a very young Christophe Baron walked the family vineyard with his father and grandfather. He was the youngest of the centuries-old Champagne house, Baron Albert, and his ancestors had worked the land since 1677.
Like generations of fathers and sons before, it was in his blood to be a wine grower and creator—a true vigneron. “It’s a title you’re born with, not something you become or learn in school,” Christophe says. “So I followed my dad, and wherever he went, I went. That’s the way it started.”
Young and Restless
After studying viticulture in Champagne and Burgundy, Christophe realized he wasn’t yet ready to enter the family business and gave in to the urge to travel. “In Burgundy, I had fallen in love with Pinot Noir, and had met some Americans with land in Oregon,” he says. “My English was terrible, but I wanted to go there.”
An unexpected winery internship brought Christophe to the Walla Walla Valley for the first time in 1993. At its completion, he traveled the world gaining more experience in Australia, New Zealand, Romania and Oregon. He intended to buy some land and start a Willamette Valley vineyard from scratch, but all those plans came to an abrupt halt on an April morning in 1996.
Acres of Stones
Christophe had returned to Walla Walla for a strictly social visit, and was wandering the countryside with a friend. As they drove on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, he spied an open field littered with acres of softball-sized stones. Plans to move to the Willamette Valley were quickly discarded, and Christophe resolved to buy the property and plant a vineyard.
While others thought those ten acres of Walla Walla Valley farmland were only good for orchards, he saw something different with enormous potential. The terroir reminded him of the cobblestones of the southern Rhone valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in his native France. “I almost fell on my derrière when I saw those stones,” he says. “And I’ve been living the dream ever since.”
That Crazy Frenchman
Christophe purchased the property and planted his first vineyard in the Stones of the Walla Walla Valley on March 21, 1997. “People said I was crazy, that I’d break my equipment and waste my time and money,” he recalls. “But I knew that vines need to struggle in difficult ground in order to provide their best.”
He called the venture Cayuse Vineyards, after a Native American tribe whose name was derived from the French word “cailloux”—which means “stones.” In the following years, it has grown to five vineyards, encompassing a little more than 47 acres.
What was considered by many a foolish gamble on that field of stones has been rewarded year after year with some of the most acclaimed wines in the region—and in the nation.