I recently had the opportunity to interview Mimi Nye, who has been the vineyard manager at the esteemed Canoe Ridge Vineyard for more than 20 years. The Canoe Ridge Vineyard is known for producing world class Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. As one of the older vineyards in Eastern Washington, the quality of the wine fruit is there, even in more challenging vintages. Here is my interview with Mimi Nye, followed by recent releases from Chateau St. Michelle 'Canoe Ridge Vineyard':
WWB: Can you talk about how you first got into vineyard management at the Canoe Ridge Vineyard?
Nye: I worked as an agronomist for Ste Michelle Wine Estates on their diversified farm in Paterson from 1981 to 1991 (the part of the farm not yet planted to grapes). When the company started development on the Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard, one of the management team asked me to manage the vineyard. Although I did not have experience growing grapes, management felt there was ample support within Ste Michelle and I would “grow with the vineyard.” I’m so glad I took the position because it has been a joy to watch the vineyard grow and achieve the goals we set for it. It has also been great to work with the talented and dedicated vineyard and winemaking team. We have learned so much together about how to get the most out of this vineyard.
WWB: I have been impressed with the consistency of the Chardonnay fruit each year. Can you talk about how Chardonnay typically grows in the vineyard and what vintages in particular were the most challenging and also the best vintages that you have seen?
Nye: I’m glad you like the Chardonnay. Maybe I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I do love the Chardonnay because the wine tastes like the fruit does at harvest, with the lovely citrus and apple flavors. The winemakers do a great job letting the vineyard speak. As a vineyard person, I love to taste my vineyard in the wine. I believe the winemaking team, led by Bob Bertheau, does a good job matching the winemaking techniques with the style of the grapes that come from the vineyard. They have discovered which oak and yeast bring out the best in the Canoe Chardonnay. We grow the Chardonnay in a sprawling canopy with hand leafing to let in some light. Too much light can make the grapes too much phenolic, and too little light makes them green. I don’t know which vintages to mention. Chardonnay is an early ripening variety so there is never a fear of it not ripening. We irrigate to reduce stress so in a hot year we put on more water so it tends to even out the effect of different vintages.
WWB: Can you please talk about some of the best vintages that you can remember for red wines? And maybe also the most challenging vintages for Reds?
Nye: It seems the most challenging vintages can be the best ones. I remember 2005 because we came out of a very dry winter into a hot summer. The vines lacked their normal vigor and the berries were the smallest we ever had. Harvest started very early. The wines were very concentrated and 2005 is known as a great vintage in Washington. In contrast, 2011 was a cool, wet (for us) season. The grapes took a long time to ripen. The wine turned out very different than our typical wine, but it was very good, more subtle and interesting. In a cool year, the hot AVAs like Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills can still ripen our reds and results can be quite remarkable.
WWB: I was very impressed by your 2012 releases and the vintage in particular. Many people have said that 2012 was one of the best vintages in history. Can you talk about what you think about the 2012 vintage for red and white varietals and also how you think the 2013 vintage for red and white varietals fared?
Nye: 2012 was a classic vintage for Washington. I record dates of bud break, bloom and veraison each year. 2012 was exactly normal for each date. It was the Goldilocks year, not too hot, not too cold, just right! 2013 was a challenge because of all the hot weather we got in the summer. In July, half of the days went above 95 degrees, with many days above 100. We can temper the heat by giving more irrigation, but the grapes still suffer. Harvest can start very early and our early varieties are ripening in the heat of August. I have to give lots of credit to the winemaking team. They pay a lot of attention to picking date to let the grapes hang as long as they need to for flavor development. They adjust their techniques to correspond to the characteristics of each vintage. One thing that is great about Canoe Ridge Estate is that the red wine facility is right here on the property. The grapes here get lots of attention from the winemakers and it really shows in the wine. The winemakers experience of working with the same grapes every year is a great advantage because each vineyard has its own personality and the winemakers get to know how to make the most of the grapes.
Here are some of the recent great releases from Chateau St. Michelle that feature the Canoe Ridge Vineyard:
2013 Chateau St. Michelle 'Canoe Ridge Vineyard' Chardonnay- Nose has pear, red delicious and butter. Palate is smooth and has butter, pear, red delicious and starfruit. Drink now. -91
2012 Chateau St. Michelle ‘Canoe Ridge Vineyard’ Cabernet- Plush wine with blackberry, anise and red cherry flavors. Drink now. -92
2012 Chateau St. Michelle ‘Canoe Ridge Vineyard’ Merlot- Perfumed nose with red fruits. Red cherry, prune and open. Plush. Drink now. -92