Cayuse: Unique Terroir or Flawed Wine? Lab Analysis Tells All



By Kori ~ November 8th, 2010.

Before we delve into the lab analysis, let me give you some background information in case you are not familiar with Cayuse and the great debate that rages between Cayuse lovers and Cayuse skeptics. Cayuse Vineyards, founded in 1997 by French-born Christophe Baron, is often thought of as a Washington winery. While Cayuse does have a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla (though it is rarely, if ever, open), the Cayuse winery and vineyards are located near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, in an area known as The Rocks. Viticulturally-trained in Champagne and Burgundy, Baron first visited the Walla Walla area in 1993. A few years later he had plans to buy land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and plant a vineyard when he stumbled upon a field full of softball-sized stones near Walla Walla that reminded him of the cobblestone vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France. He changed course, bought the stone-filled farmland, and planted his first vineyard. While he makes a few other wines, Baron’s focus is on Syrah. Cayuse produces about 3,000 cases per year of their vineyard-designated, biodynamically-farmed wines. The wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list, which has a very long waiting list. Cayuse regularly receives high scores and accolades from wine critics. At the same time, though, Cayuse also has many detractors who do not care for their wines.

Cayuse wines have very good fruit, but it’s hard to get through to the fruit when you taste the wines because of all of the “funk”, and that’s where the differences of opinion come into play. Cayuse lovers will say it’s unique terroir, an Oregon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and if you don’t like the wines, you don’t have a sophisticated palate. On the other hand, Cayuse skeptics say the wines have serious faults and what you are smelling and tasting is the result of those faults. It’s been an ongoing debate for years, but the lovers have tended to prevail because most of the well-known wine critics have been in their corner.

For several years, both John (Dad) and I have been in the Cayuse skeptics’ camp and have been criticized for it. However, I did considerable research on wine faults when I was studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam and have tasted wines from all over the world. John has tasted wine for over 40 years. We both have a pretty good idea of what we like in a wine and what we don’t like as well as what’s good and what is not good. We’re not easily fooled by a wine whose proponents call it a product of unique terroir when, in our educated opinion, it is basically a flawed wine. As Lloyd Bentsen famously said to Dan Quayle, who had defended his inexperience as similar to that of John F. Kennedy, in their Vice Presidential debate, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” Well, we know Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, believe me, Cayuse is no Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Nor is it a Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, or Hermitage either.

In recent years, we at Wine Peeps have reviewed as many Washington State wines as anyone; and I have contended all along that the Cayuse wines I’ve tasted all have had faults (which is why we have written about very few), some bottles showing more pronounced sensory defects than others. While other Cayuse critics have suspected brettanomyces might be the culprit, I thought one of the first bottles we tasted showed signs of volatile acidity, and another bottle showed signs of one of the volatile sulfur compounds like mercaptans. John had taken Amy Mumma’s Wine Faults short course in the CWU World Wine Program and thought I was correct, but how would we ever know for sure?

We love Washington wines and believe they are some of the best in the world. The Walla Walla Valley AVA and especially The Rocks area south of the Washington/Oregon state line have prospered in no small part due to the efforts of Christophe Baron at Cayuse. However, it has always been curious to me that other wines produced from grapes in The Rocks, some literally within a stone’s throw, do not taste at all like Cayuse. Those wines made me suspect that the differences are not terroir but rather winemaking. Talking to a number of respected winemakers and vineyard managers who are in a position to know confirmed our suspicions that there might be problems with Cayuse wines.

Recently, Paul Gregutt, author of Washington Wines and Wineries and a contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine reviewing Pacific Northwest wines, posted on his blog about his review of the 2007 Cayuse wines, and waxed eloquently as usual about Christophe, his unique terroir, and his wines, painting them as an “outrider”, with the implication once again that it takes a special palate to appreciate this special wine.

“When a Cayuse wine is placed in the midst of a blind tasting it will often show poorly. I have seen this happen in a group of extremely knowledgeable wine professionals. Plop any of the Cayuse syrahs into a syrah tasting and see what happens. Odds are, unless someone in the group spots them (either by bottle size or scent) as what they are, they will not be applauded.” –Paul Gregutt on PaulGregutt.com

John commented, interpreting that as meaning:

“If you don’t know it’s Cayuse, you probably won’t like it. But if you do know it’s Cayuse, you know you are supposed to like it.”

Naturally, Paul disagreed.

In another comment to Paul’s post, a reader said:

“…there were too many flaws for me to recognize any terroir.”

Paul responded:

“I see terroir rather than flaws. I suppose a lab analysis would be the most scientific way to resolve that debate.”

Voila! What a great idea, Paul. So we set up an account at the renowned ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, California, one of the most advanced wine analysis labs in the world and ordered samples kits and labels in case we needed them. Then we looked in our cellars and found a 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and a 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape to put in our private tastings lineup.

As regular Wine Peeps readers know, usually several times a week, the Wine Peeps team gets together for dinner and we have a private tasting with two wines blind. The setup for these dinners is slightly different from our monthly tasting dinners. Periodically, we sack up pairs of wines we have acquired that we would like to blind taste against each other. We label the pairs with a letter (A, B, C, etc.) to keep them together and also indicate on the sacks if they are red or white wines. After sacking up anywhere from six to ten pairs, we put them away. By the time we pull them out of the cabinet for one of our family dinners, we have usually forgotten what the wines are. Depending on the meal that is being prepared, we grab either a red or white pair. These tastings are considered double-blind.

On Monday evening, October 25th, the two wines that we tasted with dinner turned out to be the 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah and 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It did not take long for all four of us to suspect that Wine #2 was a Cayuse wine. Paul Gregutt is correct, it is an “outrider” but not in a good way for us. The wine had aromas of pickle brine, almost to the point of being vinegary, as well as olives, cooked cabbage, and burnt matches. On the palate, it was hard to get to the fruit because of the flavors of canned corn, rotten vegetables, and decomposed greens. With our steak dinner, the wine seemed very bitter and even had a formaldehyde taste. We all agreed that we thought it was flawed and that we should submit the wine to ETS for analysis. By the way, we greatly preferred Wine #1 (which turned out to be the Beaucastel) to Wine #2 (which was the Cayuse as we suspected). The Beaucastel was an excellent wine.

After dinner, we poured the remaining wine into the lab bottles and labeled the samples for submission to ETS. We requested three tests on the Cayuse, a standard chemistry panel, a sulfides panel, and an ethylphenols panel. [Note: The samples sent to ETS are identified with a sample number so ETS did not, and still does not (unless they read this post) know the identity of the wine they tested.]

Within two days, we had the results, posted online and emailed to us. Then we had a follow-up call with a representative at ETS to discuss the results. The evidence was clear. The Cayuse was a flawed wine. It had volatile acidity slightly above the normal sensory threshold but at a level a massive Syrah can support, but the worst result from the chemistry panel was that it had a high pH level, which made it more susceptible to bacterial attack. The most damning result, however, came from the sulfides panel. Published literature and ETS studies say that low levels of dimethyl sulfide can contribute roundness, fruitiness, or complexity; however, at levels greater than 50 ug/L, it may contribute vegetative, cooked cabbage, or sulfide smells to wines. According to the ETS representative, this wine had the highest dimethyl sulfide level he had ever seen (312 ug/L), more than 10 times the normal sensory threshold (17-25 ug/L), which accounts for the canned corn, rotten vegetables, and decomposed greens flavors. And, those dimethyl sulfide levels and resulting unpleasant sensory characteristics will only increase with wine age, according to ETS. A layman’s analogy for the effects of dimethyl sulfide in wine would be like salt in food. If you add a little salt to your food while you are cooking, it enhances the flavor, but if you dump in the whole salt shaker, all you will taste is salt.

In case you are wondering what might cause an extremely high dimethyl sulfide level, ETS lists “Possible Causes of Sulfide Problems in Wine” in their Volatile Sulfide Analysis Technical Bulletin:

  • residues from vineyard spray programs
  • high turbidity
  • yeast strains
  • must nitrogen deficiencies
  • other nutritional deficiencies
  • high fermentation temperatures
  • fermentor size and shape
  • inadequate aeration during fermentation
  • gross lees contact and extended lees contact

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I must mention that we have only lab tested this one bottle of Cayuse; however, it had the same unmistakable aromas and flavors as every other bottle of Cayuse wine that we’ve tasted through the years. Lab tests like we had performed at ETS Labs are very expensive, costing over four times what we actually paid for the bottle in the first place, but we believe it was worth it in order to either validate our professional opinion that the wine was flawed [which it did] or to admit that they are technically good, but we just don’t like the flavor profile of Cayuse wines.

The popularity of Christophe Baron and his Cayuse wines has been an invaluable asset to the Washington wine industry and especially to the Walla Walla Valley AVA, even though Cayuse is actually an Oregon winery. Walla Walla Fall Release weekend was built on the back of Cayuse’s Fall Release, though Christophe has now moved his release date to April. I’m sure that the successful promotion of his wines has made many landowners in The Rocks very wealthy. Nothing we’ve learned should diminish the potential of vineyards in the area, as long as good vineyard and winemaking practices are followed.

You may be thinking that panning Cayuse is political suicide in Washington wine circles, and maybe it is. But we believe that the truth is more important than politics, and that’s what we endeavor to provide at Wine Peeps. As many can attest, if you make good, fault-free wine, which many, many wineries do here in Washington, we’ll tout you from the rooftops. But if you don’t, we won’t make excuses for you just to stay in line with the popular opinion. Our readers, wine consumers, deserve nothing less.


Filed under: American Wine, Oregon Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Washington State Wine, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Kevin,
    As I see it, here is where we are: you like the wine, I do not, and the independent lab results showed outrageously high levels of DMS. I am curious, though, are you or have you ever been a consultant for Cayuse?

  2. Brian White | November 8th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Wow James!

    I have no relation to the Wine Peeps aside from a consumer who respects many different views! True, I have my own desires and a palate that I can describe as…..my own!

    Your post is in my opinion WAY confrontational. Again people are entitled to their opinions and Kori’s opinion of a “non-flawed” wine would more than likely be drastically different than yours. So that being said empirical data accepted by wine industry folks would generally be the only “standard” top look at.

    Will we all agree? Of course not, but we are all entitled to our opinion! Biased this article is not! It would only be biased if say for instance the Wine Peeps represented a commercial interest in DIRECT competition of Cayuse wines.

  3. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Cabfrancophile,
    Thanks for commenting. I believe that there are actually two take home messages here: 1) Taste is highly individual (as you said), and 2) This wine was flawed. However, that does not mean that someone (or many people) may not like it.

    Ben,
    Unfortunately, I have not had the privilege of tasting the 1947 Cheval Blanc, so I cannot comment on that wine.

  4. Chris | November 8th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Kori, John, and the Other Peeps,

    I commented earlier on a side topic, but want to restate my belief that you have written a very nice article. And as a regular reader of your blog, the accusation of bias are astonishingly odd and obviously confused.

    As a non-lab rat and non-Cayuse drinker, I don’t have enough knowledge or basis to argue the main points of the article, but I certainly support your right to write it how you did and recognize the cost and effort that went into it.

    Well done.

  5. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    James,
    Sorry you feel that way. But please don’t put words in my mouth as to our motivation for doing this other than to find out the truth about this wine.

    Brian,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate it. Cheers!

  6. Cabfrancophile | November 8th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    From a commercial standpoint, which is what ETS is looking at, high DMS is a flaw. But they’re looking at it from the standpoint of a “typical” consumer. If you want to capture a large cross section, you aim for the middle of the road.

    I’d be interested to see how lab tests would turn out for one of your favorites like Quilceda Creek. I don’t know the numbers on Quilceda, but most of the tech sheets I read on high end WA wines indicate high pH (3.8 or higher) and high alcohol (15% or more). “Correct” levels of alcohol are around 12% to 14% for a table wine. Is a 15% ABV Quilceda Creek flawed because the ABV exceeds a given threshold? These are legitimate questions in my opinion.

    I think the Cayuse DMS result is telling, especially since this is attributed to terroir without critical thought. Surely the level is high enough to offend many people. But many wines that are interesting toe the line of balance and flaws.

  7. Darren | November 8th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Ben…I was going to bring up the 47 CB, but figured it would get the “huh” it got.

    James…not finding a flaw in your hypothesis.

    I’m guessing QC’s VA “flaw” would turn Wine Peeps world upside down. :)

    And finally…I heart DMS!!!

  8. Kevin Pogue | November 8th, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Kori-

    In answer to your question, I’ve done some academic research in the Cayuse Vineyards and I once evaluated a property for Christophe (turned out to be not so good). However, I loved the wines and was on the list before I ever met Christophe. I know the physical terroir of his vineyards as well as anyone and have lectured on the subject at professional meetings. I’ve been trying to figure out (scientifically) how the physical terroir contributes to the unique (and to my palate, yummy) flavor profile of Cayuse wines (trust me, it’s not just sulfur). I’m on the Cayuse list and pay handsomely for my allotment every year. I have no vested interest in defending Cayuse Wines. I am, however, a big fan of character, uniqueness, diversity, terroir or whatever you want to call it – something sadly lacking (IMHO) in most New World wines. Even if I didn’t like the Cayuse wines, I would defend their uniqueness.

  9. Kori | November 8th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Chris,
    Thanks for your kind words.

    Cabfrancophile,
    Regarding your question about Quilceda Creek, I’ve never sensed an issue with any of their wines I’ve tasted. Also, QC wines have not been as polarizing as Cayuse nor had as many questions raised about them. However, if you would like to send in a bottle of QC for analysis, go right ahead.

    Darren,
    Not sure where your accusation of VA in QC is coming from. Have you had their wine tested?

    Kevin,
    Thanks for your honest answer to my question.

  10. James | November 8th, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I guess my question back to you Kori is what is the “Truth” you are are looking for? Because again, it seems that the “truth” you are looking for is a comformation that you are right. That Cayuse doesn’t taste good to you because it’s a “flawed” wine. (I am putting flaw in “” every time because I’m using it in your context. And my understanding is that the term “flaw”, to you means, bad, faulty, incorrect, etc. Correct me if I am wrong with that assertion.)

    Also I found it very interesting that you tasted Chateau Beaucastle and found it to be excellent. Beaucastle is widely know for it’s brett. Which would be a flaw but you didn’t mention it being a flawed wine. Why was that?

    Are there wines that you like that are “flawed”? Is a scientific flaw the only flaw? Or does the “flaws” to you, flow into too much oak, too extracted, too acidic (not VA), is an unbalanced wine a flaw? Does each flaw lower the score or evaluation of the wine or if there is one flaw in the wine, the wine is flawed all together?

    Can a flawed wine be a good or excellent wine in your opinion? Because the most flawed wine of all time is also considered the best wine of all time…..the 1947 Cheval Blanc (Ben mentioned this earlier) it was in “stuck fermentation” and they had to drop massive ammounts of dried ice in it to try to get it to fermenting again. And when it did there were HUGE amounts of VA and a MASSIVE alcohal.

    I guess i’m just not understanding your term flawed.

  11. Catie | November 8th, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    If I didn’t know any better, I would think the wine peeps are seriously pissed because they have been waiting too long to get on the “Cayuse List.” heh. But overall, I think you have posted some thought-provoking info and very much a bold move on your part. Political suicide? Probably not and hope not, as long as you don’t just stop at Cayuse.

  12. SG | November 8th, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Betcha Cayuse wines age better than QC and many of the other “unflawed” wines in the state.

    Truthfully- a sample size of one is pretty limited to scream to the rooftops.
    BTW- you should test an 89 or 90 Beaucastel…

  13. Catie | November 8th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    After I posted, I didn’t realize there were a total of 60-some other comments to read. Flawed or not flawed, but the comment that really brought it home to me was Kevin’s: What is wine “supposed” to taste like?

  14. Darren | November 8th, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Kori,
    First…thanks for the article, us wine geeks don’t usually get to have much wine fun on a Monday! :)

    No accusations here! Someone else mentioned QC earlier. I believe wine tasting is subjective, so subjectively I can say I have gotten some VA characteristics from QC wines. Those lovely blueberries have sometimes tasted like they were rolled in a little generic pill dust and splashed with a little vinegar.

    I’m a QC fan and don’t consider this a “flaw”. If I wanted a sterile “flawless” wine I sure in the heck wouldn’t spend a $100+! I’d just go to the supermarket and throw $7 at a bottom shelf pretty bottle.

  15. Kerloo Cellars 2008 tempranillo | WAwineman's Muses on Wine | November 8th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    [...] since I can’t afford any money to do a lab test on wine (of all things).) It appears Kori over at WinePeeps has a spine after all. Don’t think I’m being sarcastic as most of the wine blogs out there are [...]

  16. Cabfrancophile | November 8th, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Kori, the only reason I mentioned QC is because I have occasionally read tasting notes saying the wines were hot. Just wondering if these were lab tested where the ABV would come up, and what levels of VA and fusel alcohols would show up. Even then, it wouldn’t be a question of flawed or not. The issue would be to resolve why some tasters who are more sensitive to these compounds are finding heat.

    I think this is what the test of the Cayuse confirms. The Wine Peeps were put off by volatile sulfides. There are a lot of them in this bottle. There’s not much else to read into this in my opinion. One man’s flawed trash is another person’s “terroir” treasure.

  17. Terroirist » Blog Archive » News Roundup: Crazies and Cayuse | November 9th, 2010 at 2:58 am

    [...] gets some much-deserved attention for its lab analysis of Cayuse. Is high levels of dimethyl sulfide a flaw? (I vote yes.) (0) [...]

  18. Rick | November 9th, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Awesome article! Thanks for stepping out and making a statement.
    Keep rocking the boat.

  19. Kevin Pogue | November 9th, 2010 at 6:37 am

    One last little anecdote… Last year I brought Alice Feiring to Walla2 to give a couple of lectures – one public, one just to my terroir class at Whitman. She brought several bottles of what she considers to be “natural” wines made in a very individualistic style by small European producers. My 12 or so students (all age 21) were wine neophytes and had no preconceived notions of how wine is “supposed” to taste. Frankly MY first reaction to some of the wines was somewhat negative, and thoughts like “weird” and “never tasted a wine like this” ran through my head. But then I watched (and listened to) the students. They evaluated each wine on its own merits and reveled in the distinctiveness of each one – it never occurred to them that the differences might be due to “flaws”. I’m quite sure that none of these wines would sell very well in a Walla2 tasting room, and I’ll bet that some of them, if analyzed, would have values outside of the parameters that some folks consider “normal”. These “natural” or terroir-driven, or non-standardized wines are unfortunately getting harder and harder to find. So analyze away and say what you want about Christophe’s stinky wines – I’m just glad some folks are marching to the beat of different drummers….

  20. David | November 9th, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I stumbled across this article via Facebook, and agree or disagree I have now bookmarked your blog as a result of your willingness to have your own independant opinion regarding a wine that I have long suspected as being more flash than substance. I have been on the Cayuse waiting list for 2 years now, which I find utterly ridiculous and insulting. I blame myself for falling prey to such an obvious marketing ploy, and completely concur with a previous poster that referred to this cyber-dressdown as “the emperor has no clothes”. I am very impressed at the caliber of posters that have weighed in both pro and con, and will make this blog required reading for myself in the future.

    Honestly, I was debating whether to jump on the Cayuse bandwagon once I was approved to buy-not because of this article, but because in the 2 years I have been waiting I have discovered many wonderful wines this state has to offer that agree with my palate, at substantially less of a cost. This may be a case where being restrictive worked against them, rather than for them.

    Kudos for taking a stand, and kudos to those who disagree with the stand at making salient, well-reasoned rebuttals. It has made for very enjoyable and informative reading.

  21. Chris Wallace | November 9th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I think that people are getting stuck on what a “flaw” is. Flaws, in this case, are measured levels of various substances which exceeded standards that some body had developed. That entitles them to use the word “flaw”. You don’t have to agree with the standard and you don’t have to think that it lessens the wines. But the author is quite correct in her article to state that the EMS lab analysis showed certain flaws in that bottle of wine. It is just like if you are driving at 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. You are exceeding the speed limit. You may not be driving dangerously, you may not be a bad driver, you may think that the limit is set too low and you are entitled to those opinions. But you cannot say that you did not exceed the prescribed speed limit. And it is fair game for anyone to say that you were speeding at that time. Similarly, it is fair for the author to say the wine was flawed. Please note in her various replies to comments that she encourages everyone to drink what they like and cheerfully accepts those favourable opinions about the wine.

    Regardless of whether you are a fan of Cayuse wines, or wines of character, or wines with funk, the fact is that this article represents good journalism. It presented the facts, it provided an opinion, and most of all, it was INTERESTING. (Look at all the comments!)

  22. Mike | November 9th, 2010 at 8:16 am

    David – Is your post about wine or whine? I can’t tell.

  23. Kevin Pogue | November 9th, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Hmmmm. Chris, I take issue with this statement “the fact is that this article represents good journalism. It presented the facts”

    Let’s look at the title of the post…

    “Cayuse: Unique Terroir or Flawed Wine? Lab Analysis Tells All”

    This is PURE SPECULATION with nothing whatsoever in the post to back it up – hardly good journalism. Just because according to ETS the wine is “flawed” doesn’t preclude that the vast percentage of the unique flavor and aroma compounds are derived from a unique terroir. All I got from the article is that the sulfur levels are abnormaly high and some folks don’t like that. The sulfur levels are a product of the winemaking and say nothing about the physical terroir of the vineyard site. If you really wanted to evaluate terroir, you’d compare the Cayuse with another wine made in a different winery from the same vineyards and the same vintage. If it still tastes like a Cayuse, then there’s something more to it than elevated sulfur – right? Guess what? Such a wine exists. In 2004 Christophe sold grapes to Copain in California. I bought 3 bottles. I’ve opened two, one in a blind tasting. Everyone that tried them commented that they smelled and tasted like a Cayuse – but maybe Copain is also making “flawed” wine. Here’s a REAL fact: The lab analysis does not tell ALL.

  24. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Wow. Interesting story line. It reads like most, if not all, of the Cayuse buying market would/should be returning their cases and canceling their subscription. I appreciate the honest editorial review, but now I have to find out what the kerfuffle is all about! There will always be a market for those seeking something different, and it sounds like Cayuse has found it, right or wrong. I’m trending toward many Cayuse buyers being ignorant, and proud of it. An ignorant militant in this sense.

  25. Seth | November 9th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    http://www.wawinereport.com/2010/11/cayuse-vineyards-flawed-wine-or-writers.html

  26. Catie | November 9th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Kevin, I’m glad you brought Alice up as I was also thinking about her last night and her visit with you. I had to wonder, “What would Alice have to say about Cayuse wines compared to an over-manipulated wine that ‘passed’ ETS?” I think we have the answer.

    Once again, I have to say this has been a very thought-provoking article and a good one. But I still want to know – what is wine “supposed” to taste like? Is it to taste natural and where the soil and grapes lends it to be or regimented to the standards of a lab? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  27. Mike | November 9th, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Seth – Great read. Thank you for posting a link here.

  28. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 10:18 am

    A previous reader posted the link to my blog post today but to save folks the trouble of crossing over, here is the post in its entirety. Please direct future comments regarding this post here to keep the thread from Wine Peeps original post intact.

    Cayuse Vineyards – A flawed wine or a writer’s flawed argument?

    Yesterday fellow wine blogger Kori Voorhees at Wine Peeps wrote about a laboratory analysis of a bottle of Cayuse Vineyards 2004 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah. In the post and subsequent comments, she states emphatically and without equivocation that the wines of Cayuse Vineyards are technically flawed based on a laboratory analysis performed by ETS Laboratories in St. Helena.

    This is, of course, a serious allegation – one with the potential to damage the reputation of the winery, the writer, or both. More broadly, it impugns indirectly if not directly the numerous professional and non-professional writers who have written favorably about the Cayuse wines – including every major wine publication. For these reasons, it is critical, in my opinion, that the argument and evidence is well presented and well supported. Unfortunately, in Voorhees’ article, neither is the case.

    The article by Voorhees contains large gaps in both the information presented and in the logical flow. I will list below what I see as the most significant gaps. I will quote below directly from the post to support my assertions.

    Voorhees starts her case against Cayuse by noting that theses wines do not taste like other wines coming from vineyards in The Rocks area of the Walla Walla AVA, stating:

    “…it has always been curious to me that other wines produced from grapes in The Rocks, some literally within a stone’s throw, do not taste at all like Cayuse.”

    Voorhees gives no information on what specific wines she is referencing, so it is impossible to say what her points of reference are. However, as noted by a commenter on the Wine Peeps blog, there are, in fact, wines with stylistic similarities to the wines of Cayuse. These come from other wineries who have vineyards in The Rocks region of the Walla Walla Valley AVA (Buty’s Rediviva of the Stones, several K Vintners wines, and Saviah Cellars’ Funk Vineyard Syrah come immediately to mind).

    Additionally, making these types of direct comparisons between vineyards to assert that there is something wrong with the winemaking – as Voorhees does – is highly questionable, even for vineyards within close proximity. It’s not even comparing apples to oranges.

    There are innumerable aspects that cumulatively make up the differences seen between wines. These may be differences in vineyard location, soil type, clone selection, trellising, vineyard management, and many, many more variables. This is long before winemaking even enters the equation. Making a direct comparison between vineyards without any supporting information, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, is nothing more than that.

    While the article mentions other vineyards “literally within a stone’s throw,” it curiously makes no reference to wines from other wineries – most notably K Vintners – made from the exact same fruit from the exact same vineyards. This is an odd omission.

    Voorhees goes on to write about the ETS analysis. She begins (emphasis hers):

    “The evidence was clear. The Cayuse was a flawed wine.”

    There actually is no evidence provided in the article to support Voorhees’s claim. At no point does Voorhees define what constitutes a flawed wine either in her opinion or in the opinion of ETS, the service that she had analyze the wine. In the absence of such a definition and supporting information, Voorhees’s argument quickly becomes specious.

    Moreover, there is little discussion in the article (there is in the comments) of the fact that some wine flaws, such as TCA, are universally agreed upon as flaws. Other flaws, such as brettanomyces, are considered to be in the eye of the beholder. Rather Voorhees’ article seems to imply that all wine flaws are universally agreed upon as binary in nature – flawed or not flawed. This is erroneous.

    The article goes on to imply, but not state, that the volatile acidity (VA) level found in the wine – which is not provided – constitutes a flaw.

    “It had volatile acidity slightly above the normal sensory threshold but at a level a massive Syrah can support”

    It is highly suspect to call a volatile acidity level slightly above the normal sensory threshold a flaw. Again, no supporting documentation is given regarding what ETS or others would consider a ‘flawed’ level of volatile acidity or what the VA level was in the wine. This would be forgivable if the article did not insinuate that the VA level found constitutes a flaw. It does, however, make this exact insinuation.

    Worse, Voorhees makes the same argument regarding the pH level of the wine. Again, the exact pH level from the ETS test is not provided. Voorhees writes:

    “the worst result from the chemistry panel was that it had a high pH level, which made it more susceptible to bacterial attack.”

    As noted by a commenter, it is widely known that the Cayuse wines are high pH wines. However, high pH levels do not constitute a flaw. While the article suggests that this pH level makes the wine “more susceptible to bacterial attack”, no evidence is given of any bacterial contamination on this particular wine.

    It is implied that the high pH level constitutes the second flaw found in the laboratory analysis of the wine. Voorhees calls a subsequent analysis, that of dimethyl sulfide, “The most damning result…” This implies that the previous information presented is in some way damning. It is far from it.

    The article continues that there were high levels of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) found in the wine. The article states that the normal sensory threshold of DMS is 17-25 ug/L. It is insinuated, but not stated, that levels above 50 ug/L constitute a ‘flaw’ in the view of ETS. Voorhees writes (emphasis mine):

    “ETS studies say that low levels of dimethyl sulfide can contribute roundness, fruitiness, or complexity; however, at levels greater than 50 ug/L, it may contribute vegetative, cooked cabbage, or sulfide smells to wines.”

    Again, no evidence is provided that, in the eyes of ETS, this is a binary analysis – below 50 ug/L your wine is not considered flawed; above 50 ug/L your wine is definitively flawed. This may be the case for ETS but is not clear from the article. Additionally, to the extent this is true, no references are given from other laboratories regarding the level at which they consider a wine to be flawed with high levels of DMS to put the ETS analysis in context.

    Voorhees also writes that levels greater than 50 ug/L may contribute to certain untoward varietal aromas which she describes. No evidence is given that the levels given in this wine do lead these aromas or did lead to these aromas in this particular wine. This is, again, a logical leap.

    Voorhees goes on to state that the DMS levels on the Cayuse wine were extremely high. She writes (emphasis mine):

    “According to the ETS representative, this wine had the highest dimethyl sulfide level he had ever seen (312 ug/L), more than 10 times the normal sensory threshold (17-25 ug/L).”

    While this may be the case, no information is given about the experience level of this ETS representative or how many wines “he had ever seen.” This person may have worked there for ten years (more interesting) or ten days (less interesting). Some context is required if this individual’s words are to be taken as supporting information. Additionally, no information is provided about how these DMS levels compared to ETS’ findings in general or those from other laboratories. There is also no information provided that is specific to Cayuse regarding why these wines might have higher DMS levels.

    No information is given about what the precision and accuracy of the measuring devices are, what the test/retest reliability is, and what the standard deviation is for the measurement. These are all critical pieces of information to support Voorhees’s claim, especially as she writes:

    “I must mention that we have only lab tested this one bottle of Cayuse; however, it had the same unmistakable aromas and flavors as every other bottle of Cayuse wine that we’ve tasted through the years.”

    For an accusation of this nature, to draw such wide sweeping conclusions from a single analysis of a single bottle with minimal supporting evidence for the claim is callous at best.

    Perhaps most importantly, the laboratory analysis certainly does not demonstrate, as the article implies, that all Cayuse wines are flawed. The laboratory analysis is a single data point. To extrapolate such a broad conclusion – and especially a potentially libelous one – from a single bottle is simply unforgiveable. No scientific conclusion is based on the results of a single sample without any supporting evidence from relevant controls and without additional tests being conducted. None.

    Relating “the same unmistakable aromas and flavors as every other bottle of Cayuse wine that we’ve tasted” directly to the DMS levels of one single bottle is speculative at best (emphasis mine).

    In the article, Voorhees provides a sensory comparison to a wine from Chateau de Beaucastel. It seems odd Voorhees chose not to have ETS conduct analyses from the Beaucastel wine or from additional bottles of Cayuse. While the cost would be high, this cost seems miniscule in relation to the potential cost to the winery’s reputation or to Voorhees’.

    Perhaps most regrettably, the article seems to cast aspersions at other wine critics and wine lovers. Voorhees writes:

    “We’re not easily fooled by a wine whose proponents call it a product of unique terroir when, in our educated opinion, it is basically a flawed wine.”

    The implication is that other critics and wine lovers who have enjoyed the Cayuse wines or rated them highly are simply “easily fooled.” For such a wide sweeping implications as Voorhees makes in this article, might at least analyses of a second bottle of wine have been money well spent?

    There may be an argument to be made regarding technical flaws in Cayuse wines. This argument is nowhere to be found in this article. Rather, the article says that there were high levels of DMS in a single bottle of Cayuse Vineyards wine. Period. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn. Interesting? Yes. More than that? Nope.

    To be clear, I am not writing this post because I personally feel impugned (I don’t). I have, of course, written favorably about the Cayuse wines but understand that these wines are controversial. Additionally, I know Voorhees and consider her a colleague who has worked hard to write about wine in general and, on innumerable occasions, Washington wine in particular.

    I write this post because I agree, as Voorhees writes that, “the truth is more important than politics.” It is therefore important to try and find it. The article by Voorhees fails in this regard on numerous levels.

    Cayuse Vineyards has been as heralded as any winery in Washington. This is not a reason not avoid criticizing the winery. It is, however, a reason why it is important that these criticisms, when they are coming from a respected source, are well supported. In the Wine Peeps article, they are not.

    In my opinion, given the lack of supporting information and numerous logical leaps in the article, the article should be retracted and revised either to either support its broad claims or to make its claims more limited in scope and based on data. For a claim of this magnitude, wine consumers and readers deserve more.

  29. Chris Wallace | November 9th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Sean, may I differ with you on a few points you have made in your article? First, I don’t think that she should be criticized for sending just the one bottle off for testing. The world of wine criticism is based upon the review of the contents of a single bottle; read Parker, Wine Spetator et al tasting methods. I suspect that your tasting notes also are largely based upon a single bottle. Further, it would be prohibitively expensive for any blogger to go out and purchase a couple of cases and have the lab test 24 bottles, or any other statistically more valid sample size.

    Also, I note that your rating system has a rating of “-” which you deem to be “A flawed/Not recommended wine – refuse this wine if served”. Perhaps you really mean a flawed bottle, or the particular example of that wine that you tasted was flawed.

    “I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it” applies here. You should be able to post on your blog those examples of wines that you consider to be flawed. I WANT you to do that for me. I appreciate the value you give to me by providing your honest and experienced assessment. Say it is flawed if that is what you think. Or say it is beautiful if that is what you think. And do not feel compelled to send off each bottle that your palate tells you is flawed to a lab for corroboration. You don’t need to do that. And to be fair, you don’t need to go out and buy dozens of wines to have tested to give you statistical validity. And neither does Wine Peeps. If you did, that would be the end of wine blogging, unless it really is more remunerative than I suspect.

    Had she just left it giving the 2004 Cayuse Cailloux a “-” rating, or a 50 points, or some other indicator of her appraisal of that wine, you probably would not have put this article on your blog. But she, at her own considerable expense, went that one extra step beyond what most other wine critics have done, and had a lab test to see if that analysis would confirm or deny what her palate told her.

    I don’t mean to come down here on you personally. I like your blog – it is really good. You give me great information and you don’t even charge me. There are good bloogers and not so good. You are one of the good ones. And while I have only read that one article on Wine Peeps, I think they are good too, based on that article. I think that she gave her opinion on the wine and added to that opinion one lab report. One more expensive analysis than I have seen any other wine writer do. So may I respectfully disagree with you when you ask that she retract her article? It is serving a purpose and it is an extension of her right to free speech.

  30. Kori | November 9th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    James,
    As I stated in the post, what I was trying to do was: “to either validate our professional opinion that the wine was flawed [which it did] or to admit that they are technically good, but we just don’t like the flavor profile of Cayuse wines.”

    I believe that my salt analogy is a good one to explain my position on flaws like brett, DMS, and the like. A little can be fine and add complexity, etc (as I said about DMS levels up to 50 ug/L); however, an outrageously high level like this Cayuse wine had, I definitely believe makes it a flawed wine.

    Regarding the Beaucastel, while it may have had a little brett, it was not, in my opinion, to a level that made it flawed.

  31. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    The question of comparing other vintners near Cayuse from Sean S. is good. I need to find out what Charles Smith is thinking on Cayuse. His fame was achieved partly from not following standard techniques. Example being a 17% ABV Syrah, among other things. I suspect the Cayuse marketing plan is to look to do the same, to find a niche. Worthy or not, Cayuse has found a niche through what appears to be an alt approach. Is that a flaw? Tough to say.

  32. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 10:41 am

    All, in the interests of keeping continuity of this subject within this thread, I am posting below several comments that were posted to my blog prior to shutting down comments and directing readers here. They are as follows:

    Tyler Says: November 9, 2010 9:31 AM

    If she had done more research on say DMS she would know that high levels, well beyond “threshold” (which is often established in weak wine or water), is VERY common for Syrah. There was a paper published in a peer reviewed journal a few years back detailing additions of various sulfur compounds including DMS to Syrah and in most cases it was thought to increase varietal character even at high levels.

    Your points are well stated.

    PaulG Says: November 9, 2010 9:48 AM

    Bravo, Sean. This post, the numerous responses on Wine Peeps by Kevin Pogue, whose credentials certainly match if not outshine any anonymous ETS lab rat, and the more thoughtful comments by other posters (I especially applauded the person who noted that Beaucastel is notoriously loaded with brett and yet seemed to glide through the tasting with a positive note from Kori) – all together more than rebuke the hasty and sweeping conclusion that because one wine showed a high level of one component that may possibly lead to bad aromas – therefore the collective praise of wine critics, terroir experts, legions of fans and certainly a great number of winemakers and growers who have chosen to spend big bucks to buy land as close to Cayuse as possible – apparently we are all fools, and have fallen prey to a massive scam. Sacré bleu! Thanks for putting a more reasoned view up.

    Kori Says: November 9, 2010 10:10 AM

    Sean,
    Obviously, I disagree with your points and analysis. But nice gamesmanship to try to get comments on your blog at my expense.

    Tyler,
    I have researched DMS. If you read my entire post and the comments associated with it, you would know my position.

    PaulG,
    A predictable “atta boy”. But an interesting swipe at ETS when you were the one who suggested lab analysis to resolve the debate.

    All,
    I will not be commenting further here. If you have something to say to me about my article, the lab analysis, or my conclusions, please have the courtesy to comment directly on my post: http://winepeeps.com/2010/11/08/cayuse-unique-terroir-or-flawed-wine-lab-analysis-tells-all/. Thanks!

    Sean P. Sullivan Says: November 9, 2010 10:14 AM

    Kori, as indicated to you in a private communication prior to this post being live, I posted here due to the length of what I wrote – not to do so ‘at your expense’ as you state.

    Sean P. Sullivan Says: November 9, 2010 10:22 AM

    All, in the interests of keeping comments and content regarding this post and Kori’s post in a single location, I will be shutting down comments on this particular post on my blog. Please direct any comments regarding this post directly to the Wine Peeps blog. Thanks!

    I will add, Kori, that for you to suggest that my posting on my blog regarding this subject is something to do with “gamesmanship” and is about driving traffic to my blog would seem to show a lack of awareness for the seriousness of what you allege in your original post. I care not for “gamesmanship” – only for accuracy and due diligence on a matter so serious.

  33. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Hi Chris,

    Regarding my rating system, you say, “Perhaps you really mean a flawed bottle, or the particular example of that wine that you tasted was flawed.” I mean exactly that. Wine ratings are pointillistic. We extrapolate that these unique ratings have meaning for other bottles but this may or may not be the case depending on numerous variables. In the circumstances where I have posted “A flawed/Not recommended wine – refuse this wine if served” rating, I have purchased second bottles of the wine to confirm the impression given given the suggestion of the negative rating.

    While I agree that Wine Spectator and other publications often use single bottles of wine to evaluate a wine, they also do have secondary bottles on hand in case a wine is determined to be flawed in some fashion. Additionally, Kori’s article suggests based on a single analysis that all Cayuse wines are flawed. Wine Spectator and other publications do not suggest that all wines are great based on rating a single bottle!

    You are correct that if the allegation were that a single bottle was flawed, I would have taken no issue with it. However, the allegation is that all Cayuse wines are flawed. It is made using a single piece of scientific data rather than a subjective sensory evaluation on the quality of the bottle. It is this that I take issue with.

  34. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 10:54 am

    It’s getting hot in here, now! Hey – there is an argument for ignorant militants having their day in any number of things, the wine market being one. I welcome creativity in winemaking. You can’t stand out by making another boring syrah, and I think it’s clear Cayuse is not about making boring wine. Are they flawed? How black and white do we make it? Are their consumers ignorant militants, or trend driven curious newcomers? Time for break now with some Paso Robles Rhones!

  35. Catie | November 9th, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Sean, I was in the middle of a post to you and it never went through as our timing for you to close comments were the same.
    It’s unfortunate you chose to go this route and shut your comment section down and I disagree with it. Frankly, I don’t think it is fair for the Wine Peeps to endure comments regarding your blog – - that is why you have your own platform.

    However, I do not think it is fair for Kori to project that your rebuttal of her information was done to gather comments on your blog at her expense. When we stick our necks out for something we believe in, we have to be prepared for the residual of different opinions. Kori, you said it yourself that panning Cayuse could be political suicide in Washington wine circles. Surely you didn’t expect for everyone to take your opinion as the gospel and let you and John have the last word?

  36. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Catie, sorry to cut you off in mid-comment! I appreciate your disagreeing with my decision to direct comments here. I did this based on Kori stating I was “trying to get comments on (my) at (her) expense.” As indicated above, I had no such intention. Additionally, I felt that it was easier for readers to look at one single comment thread rather than two disparate ones.

  37. Cabfrancophile | November 9th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    To quote Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” Been enjoying the discussion, but things seem to be getting a bit personal at this point.

    Kori, it seems like you’re dodging some legitimate critiques of your conclusions and methodologies. Again, no one can argue against this wine showing high DMS, nor can they disagree you didn’t like this wine as a result. But you are extrapolating quite a bit from this single data point. Speaking as a scientist by training, this is not a sound practice. It looks to me at this point you are using this one result to legitimize your view of this producer. It’s a useful result for debunking some mythology on terroir, but it doesn’t make your taste more correct than someone who likes the sulfide-heavy style.

    For example, I just read your recent post on Mourvedre. You clearly favored the cleaner WA Mourvedre over the examples from Bandol. Perhaps you simply prefer a less funky style of wine. That’s not a question of right, wrong, simple or complex. It’s just taste. Given my preference for ‘dirtier’ wines, my preferences might be reversed. So what, different strokes for different folks. The worst thing in the wine world is taste makers–be they Gregutts or Peeps–declaring absolutes in greatness or inferiority. There are guidelines, but not absolutes.

    It’s not a stretch at all to suggest that what makes Cayuse a unique producer is also what you find unpleasant in the wine.

  38. Kori | November 9th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Catie,
    Thanks for your comments. Since you asked, we are not on the Cayuse mailing list nor waiting list and never have been. In answer to your question, “What is wine supposed to taste like?”, in my opinion, you’ve got to be able to taste the fruit. Just as in my salt analogy, a little DMS, brett, or whatever can add complexity, etc., but if any of those characteristics are outrageously high and mask the other characteristics of the wine, then I think that is a problem. And, no, I do not expect everyone to take my opinion as the last word. However, if someone would like to refute it, I encourage them to refute the findings and do their own analysis and investigative journalism, not simply attack me and my writing personally.

    Kevin,
    Interesting story about Alice. I have met her and read her book so her opinions are not surprising.

    David,
    Glad you enjoyed the post and found it to be valuable reading.

    Chris,
    Thanks for your “speeding” analogy to explain flaws. Also, I really appreciate your supportive comments. Cheers!

  39. Catie | November 9th, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Sean, I know certainly well why you chose to direct your comments here. Part of my comment to you was:

    Last week I sat in on a tasting of French wines, and with some high profile labels, and indeed I picked up some distinct aromas and flavors of olives and especially match-head in those wines. Me? I enjoyed their uniqueness, as they were nothing like I would find in the State of Washington.

    So is Cayuse really flawed or is the wine drinker who accuses it so have a limited palate? C’est la Vie!

  40. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    It’s decided. To be unique in our state may mean you stink as a winemaker or you don’t want to make another boring wine. Reasonable to define uniqueness through technical analysis? i dunno. Lovers of Cayuse may be ignorant militants, but that is what more often leads to the next big thing. Ask Charles Smith. Seems to now be about justifying why the reviewer knows they do not like Cayuse. Not why others don’t like fruit bombs as they seek out something different even if it has unusual sensory traits.

  41. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Kori, my intent was not to attack you and your writing ‘personally.’ My intent – as stated above – was to take issue with the information and data presented (and not) in your post. I believe this is what I have done. I apologize if you have taken it personally.

  42. James | November 9th, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Kori – I’m sorry but your salt analogy falls flat much like your article because you do not quantify at what point too much salt would become a flaw. Basically you are defining a “taste preference”. One person may enjoy a dash of salt as others may enjoy a pinch, while others may enjoy the whole container (trust me I have seen people order a $100 steak then slather it in ketsup!) I may not agree with their tastes but by no means is it a flaw (don’t tell the chef though, haha)

    Also in your “salt” analogy you can not take one taste of something with, in your opinion too much salt, and say everything from that establishment has too much salt in it. It is too much of a broad stroke and again is an OPINION not backed by mutiple statisctical date!

    Again no one is debating that the one bottle out of aproximately 250,000 bottles of cayuse has the levels you descibe. The debate starts with the quantifications of your levels of normalcy and what constitutes a flaw. And the only thing I can see is your personal opinion in this.

  43. Jamie | November 9th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    It seems so much of the intensity of this debate is based on the desire for a basis, or possibly the authority, to declare Cayuse as empirically flawed wine.

    Kori did post scientifically sound measurements of the remnants of single bottle of Cayuse. But, the true conclusion possible from that test is that the gas chromatograph in an ETS lab recorded a certain level of DMS. Clearly, one test from a partial bottle remnant cannot produce a broadly applicable, damning result. And, one test is not sufficient scientific evidence for Kori to accurately imply that DMS is the reason she does not like Cayuse. It MAY be, but it is not certain.

    Kori, I think you overstepped in claiming to have damning evidence.

    For me, the real essence of Kori’s post and many comments is that the terroir of Cayuse is offensive to some people. Why that is the case would be a great thesis topic for a graduate student to research. There are so many possible reasons and a single test cannot provide the answer.

    Consider the well known hatred by some of cilantro. Some people simply hate cilantro. But “cilantro haters” can’t universally or scientifically claim recipes with cilantro are flawed – they are just offensive to them.

    I love the funk of Cayuse wine and I love cilantro. But when my friend who hates cilantro visits, I don’t cook with it. And when someone visits who hates Cayuse, I keep it in the cellar for another night.

    Cayuse Haters: If someone serves you Cayuse, why not just politely let them know that you prefer a different terroir? There is a world of wine out there and no one has tried it all yet.

    Drink what you love passionately, but please keep criticism realistic.

  44. Kori | November 9th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Sean,
    First of all, I think that you have taken a lot of things way out of context in your “analysis” of my post. It all boils down to the fact that I don’t care for Cayuse wines and you do. But we are both entitled to our own opinion. If you read my post carefully, you will see that everything I say is my opinion except for the factual results of the lab analysis that Paul Gregutt suggested as a way to resolve this debate.

    For the record, this was not the first bottle of 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Syrah that I’ve tasted. We have had that same wine twice, both in blind tastings, and both times suspected that is was flawed. I went to great lengths to state in my post that we only had one bottle tested.

    If you would like to have other Cayuse wines lab tested in an effort to refute our findings, be my guest.

    As I have stated numerous times in this thread, I am not trying to discourage anyone who loves Cayuse wines from drinking them. If you like it, go ahead and drink it.

  45. Pedro Dias | November 9th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I might have been willing to let it be la vie, if this dialogue were taking place in a vacuum. But it’s not, it’s taking place within a much broader discussion about “cleanliness” and “soundness” in winemaking. And in that discussion, many of those folks who claim certain contaminants are flaws are, in my experience, pretty unwilling to listen to contrary opinion. And many of them are in influential positions, and can affect the real world.

    Ferinstance: Jean Luc Colombo is widely credited with having led a rebirth of Cornas as an appellation. Okay. Except that the vast majority of the wines emerging from that “rebirth” have very little of what once upon a time distinguished Cornas from other Syrahs, in the Rhone and elsewhere, namely pretty consistently high levels of brettanomyces. Which we called “barnyard”, and liked pretty well indeed. I remember tasting Colombo’s line in one of his early vintages, and noting that only the CdR “Abeilles” (if memory serves) was to any degree “sauvage”, while the two AOC Cornas were smooth as babies’ bottoms. That worried me then, and justifiably so, subsequent events tell me.

    Now, there is nothing unsound about these new wines, these new-model Cornas. I imagine they would pass the fruit-appearance test you outlined above. But in my opinion we’ve lost something in the exchange. Because the fact is that we can get “sound” Syrah from any number of sources, and Cornas only from Cornas. Except not so much, anymore.

    Other thing that bothers me is how widely this particular brush might reach, but doesn’t: many of the same wine folks who disapprove of certain “flaws”, in certain wines, also enjoy the quirkiness of so-called orange wines, or the amphora winemaking of Friuli, or Lopez de Heredia’s oddball-traditional white Riojas, or Joly’s Coulee de Serrant. But I thought oxidation was a flaw, folks? No? What argument is there to be made here that does not apply elsewhere?

    There is more to wine than is dreamt of in our philosophies. We should stop trying to shoehorn it into some sort of petty consistency. We all lose when that fight is won.

    Mind you, I’m not crazy about Cayuse myself, what (very) little I’ve tasted. Which is okay, since I can’t afford it anyway.

  46. Jared | November 9th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I won’t get into my feelings regarding this article as most everyone knows my feelings about Christophe and Cayuse wines. The one point I’ll make is to the “speeding” analogy brought up by one poster. Yes, if the speed limit is 55 and you are driving 65 you are speeding by law but what if you are driving on the Autobahn? 65 isn’t speeding there. Who’s to say you wouldn’t get a ticket for driving too slow. We are not in a vacuum, things are not black and white.

  47. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I love how Charles Smith credits much of his success to Christophe. As Charles is fond of saying, he would not have come to Walla Walla if it was not for Christophe. These 2 are innovators that often look at how to do things differently, not how closely they can stay within defined limits. Or am I missing something? They deserve credit for that, which is part of their terroir. A no-limits terroir that goes beyond traditional technique to find and establish a creativity that has no bounds. Wine is art this way. OK not to like it, but to try and define creativity with traditional limits is missing the point. Is it objective to say Christophe is flawed, or to say there is someone in wine going beyond traditional limits. These winemakers stand out in a good way because they do not define their creativity with limits.

  48. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    It’s like taking an accountant to the Louvre. Analysis and data driven conclusions, versus creativity without limits. Flaws, versus a new form. I’ve got it, I’ll start a blog of freaky, scary limitless wines that defy technical analysis. Not even Christophe will make the cut!

  49. Terry | November 9th, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Kori — give it up with Sean. Who cares. He has his Blog. We here you.

  50. Sean P. Sullivan | November 9th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Kori, you write “It all boils down to the fact that I don’t care for Cayuse wines and you do. But we are both entitled to our own opinion.”

    My response to your post has *nothing* – absolutely nothing – to do with how I regard the Cayuse wines. It has nothing to do with “opinion.” It has to do, as stated above, with the *argument*, the *data* that you presented, and your *conclusions* based on this data.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we are both entitled to our “opinion.” Personally, I could care less whether you like the Cayuse wines or not. Why would I? However, you have attempted to present an *opinion* and subsequently state it as *fact* that the Cayuse wines are all flawed based on the lab analysis and the information you present. I take very serious issue with this. I think it is a disservice to your readers; I think it is a disservice to the winery; and I think it is a disservice to the Washington wine community.