Spotlight On: Woodward Canyon Winery

By Kori ~ August 1st, 2011.

Rick Small’s agricultural roots run deep; he’s a third generation farmer on his father’s side of the family and fifth generation on his mother’s side. Rick and his wife Darcey Fugman-Small founded Woodward Canyon Winery in 1981, making it the second winery in the Walla Walla Valley. In fact, the Smalls played an instrumental part in the federal approval process for the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Woodward Canyon, named for the canyon Rick’s family farmed, currently produces about 15,000 cases per year.

On a recent visit to Walla Walla, we had the pleasure to sit down with Rick and taste through five of Woodward Canyon’s current releases. As we sat in their beautiful reserve house, Rick shared some of the history and philosophy behind the winery. It was Rick’s good friend Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar who encouraged him to get into wine in the first place back in the mid-70’s. In 1976, Rick planted the first of 41 acres of the Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard.

With his farming background, it is no wonder that Rick places such importance on Woodward Canyon’s vineyard sources. The hiring of winemaker Kevin Mott in 2003 has allowed Rick to focus his attention on the vineyards. In addition to their estate vineyard, Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyards with Paul and Judy Champoux and three other wineries, Andrew Will, Powers, and Quilceda Creek. They also source fruit from other top vineyards in the state including Sagemoor Vineyards, DuBrul Vineyard, and Celilo Vineyard, to name a few.

“I want people to buy our wines because they are drinkable, go well with food, and are age-able.” –Rick Small, Owner/Director of Production

Rick and Darcey drink wine with food. Therefore, they strive to produce wines that are balanced and food-friendly. In fact, when we were tasting the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Rick could not stop raving about how well it pairs with Darcey’s Dungeness crab cakes. (Mmmm…makes me hungry just thinking about that pairing.)

The Woodward Canyon “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon is their “standard bearer” for Cab, and each vintage features a different work of art on the label. The featured artists are predominantly from the Pacific Northwest. Woodward Canyon has every original art piece from every “Artist Series” label since 1992.

Of the current releases we tasted, my favorite is the 2008 “Old Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon for this wine typically comes from two of the oldest Cab blocks in Washington State, 1972 plantings from Champoux and Sagemoor Vineyards. This particular vintage also contains a small percentage of Petit Verdot from Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard.

We have visited with Rick and Darcey at events and tasted some of their previous vintages. I have interviewed Darcey for our Women of Washington Wine series and Rick for articles about Champoux Vineyards and Sagemoor Vineyards. Whether on the phone or in person, Rick’s enthusiasm and passion for wine, Woodward Canyon Winery, the Walla Walla Valley, and the Washington State wine industry is evident.

Since the very beginning, Rick and Darcey have maintained a cellar library. They hold back a small amount of each wine they make for their library. In the early days, Rick recalls the bank not understanding why he purposely was not selling all of the wine he made. He tried to explain that it was important for research purposes, not to mention sentimental reasons, to have wines from each vintage that could be used for age-ability studies, vintage comparisons, and so forth. This foresight recently proved quite valuable when they began making wines from the 2010 vintage, which was a cool vintage. Rick and winemaker Kevin Mott went into the Woodward Canyon library and pulled out bottles from other cool vintages. They tasted through them to learn what to do and what to expect and made some adjustments as a result.

Woodward Canyon is located in Lowden, Washington, just 13 miles west of Walla Walla. If your travels take you to the Walla Walla Valley, I highly encourage you to visit Woodward Canyon. Their tasting room is in a restored 1870’s farmhouse, and the production facility is in the old Small family farm shops. Private, sit-down tastings of their reserve wines are available in the Reserve House adjacent to the tasting room.

2008 Woodward Canyon “Old Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State): 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Deep, dark red. Gorgeous nose with black cherry, black currant, leather, cinnamon, and nutmeg aromas. Luscious black fruit, mocha, and spice come through on the palate. Full-bodied with crisp acidity and medium to high, silky tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity, and a long, rich finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $79; Available elsewhere, $73 to $80

2010 Woodward Canyon Washington State Chardonnay (Washington State): 100% Chardonnay. Medium, golden yellow. Very aromatic with pear, apple, nectarine, and vanilla on the nose. More pear, nectarine, and vanilla as well as mineral notes come through on the palate. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Well-balanced with a long, lingering finish. One of the best Washington Chardonnays I’ve ever tasted.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $44; Available elsewhere, $41 to $44

2008 Woodward Canyon “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State): 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Syrah. Deep, dark red. Nice nose with black cherry, blackberry, and chocolate aromas. Black cherry, mocha, and a hint of spice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity and silky tannins. Well-balanced and smooth with a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $49; Available elsewhere, $32 to $50

2009 Woodward Canyon Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot, and 4% Mourvedre. Deep, dark red. Nice nose with black cherry, black currant, tobacco, earth, and mineral aromas. Flavors of black cherry, mocha, and tobacco. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium, drying tannins, and a long, very dry finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $44

2009 Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Light, straw yellow. Very aromatic with pear, melon, and white peach on the nose and palate. Light-bodied with crisp acidity and a long, rich finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $26; Available elsewhere, $25

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Red Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Spotlight On, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. James Stripes | August 1st, 2011 at 8:57 am

    We visited Woodward Canyon in June, fell in love with their wines, brought some home. In mid-July, we attended a dinner at Lovitt Restaurant in Colville that featured four of their wines, including the pre-release Dolcetto. Nice feature about a great winery!

  2. Kori | August 5th, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Thanks for sharing your recent Woodward Canyon experiences. They are great people making great wines. Cheers!