The Golden Touch: Boushey Vineyards

By Kori ~ October 24th, 2011.

Kori S. Voorhees, our Wine Peeps Editor-in-Chief, is also a contributor to Washington Tasting Room Magazine, a quarterly magazine that focuses on Washington State wine with articles about wineries, vineyards, travel, and lifestyle. The following article, written by Kori, appeared in the Spring 2011 issue.

A tour of Boushey Vineyards with renowned grape grower Dick Boushey, who makes the tough task of growing world-class grapes appear effortless

One would never guess by talking to Dick Boushey that he ranks among the most respected growers in Washington State. His Boushey Vineyards in the Yakima Valley have been producing much sought after fruit for 30 years, yet he remains remarkably humble about his success.

“I first planted grapes around my house, and then ventured out from there, looking at sites that would fit wine grapes,” explains Boushey without any airs.

Boushey Vineyards is comprised of seven smaller vineyards, called blocks, all in close proximity to Boushey’s home north of Grandview, Washington, at the base of the Rattlesnake Hills. Boushey planted his first experimental block with ten different varieties in 1977. In 1980, he planted his first commercial block.

Today, Boushey grows an impressive 23 grape varieties on 125 acres, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Currently, about 30 producers purchase Boushey grapes. Boushey refers to them as partners rather than customers. “I want to sell to a lot of people,” he says, adding, “It spreads the risk out.” Speaking of diversification, Boushey also grows concord grapes, apples, and cherries in addition to wine grapes.

Boushey grew up in Sumner, Washington, never dreaming he would end up farming. After college, he worked as a banker but decided it wasn’t the career for him. His father bought an orchard in eastern Washington and asked Dick to take care of it for him until he retired and could move there. About the same time, the wine industry in Washington State was just beginning to emerge and Boushey spent a lot of time at the Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser trying to learn as much as he could about farming. It was there he met Dr. Walter Clore, considered the father of Washington wine, and the relationship sparked his interest in the industry.

Grower and Winemaker

One of the things that makes Dick Boushey an exceptional grower is that he understands the needs and wants of winemakers and the importance of growing the wine in the vineyard. He’s been a home winemaker himself for 25 years, which helps him to understand the process and talk to the winemakers who buy his grapes.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a winemaker, but I probably have more experience than a lot of people starting wineries,” says Boushey. “I’m always a little dubious of winemakers who don’t have a good background in enology. There’s going to be awkward years. You need to make good wine every year, and good winemakers do.”

The Gift of Syrah

The variety most often associated with Boushey is Syrah. Syrah ripens late in the cooler climate of the Yakima Valley, which allows it to retain good natural acidity without the alcohol getting too high. Boushey grows Syrah on several different vineyard sites including McPherson Vineyard, County Line Road Vineyard, Grand Côte Vineyard, and Golden View Vineyard. While all four vineyards are within walking distance of Boushey’s house, they do have some variability when it comes to the slope and the depth of the soil.

When asked to characterize the overriding traits of Syrah made from Boushey fruit, winemakers frequently mention the concentration of color, texture, and integrated tannins.

Marie-Eve Gilla, winemaker for Forgeron Cellars says, “The main thing for me about the Boushey fruit is that it’s got a texture to it. It’s very precise. When you get it into the winery, you don’t need to fight with it. You can let the fruit do what it wants to do and then get it right into the bottle. It’s a gift, beautiful from the beginning to the end.”

Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars agrees, “Texturally, I think it is unique. We’ve messed around with trying to blend it; at least we did in the first couple of years, with other vineyards from other sites. But it’s so singular and so special texturally that we just can’t mess with it. When the Boushey comes into the winery, there is sort of a celebration and a ‘here it comes’ because we’re so excited about it’s unique characters.”

Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery produces his La Serenne Syrah each year with fruit solely from Boushey’s County Line Road Vineyard. “We’ve been farming the same rows with the County Line Vineyard since 2000. We farm eight blocks total of Syrah from Red Mountain to Red Willow. We receive the smallest berry size and the smallest cluster weight from Boushey’s County Line. We typically get this lush, characterful suppleness of tannins that come out of there. We are looking for pigment, concentration, tannins, and yet vitality and vibrancy. I contend that’s what we get from this County Line Syrah.”

Farming Practices

Speaking about his farming practices, Boushey says, “My approach is minimalistic. I don’t like the word stress or deficit irrigation, but it’s moderation. I try to keep a small canopy—small clusters, small berries—and I think that’s one of the attributes that helps the wines have good color and good uniform ripening.” He doesn’t employ a by the book approach and uses technology sparingly. For Boushey, it’s all about experience, learning what makes each row in his vineyards tick to perfection.

Boushey’s good-natured personality makes him immediately likable and actually helps him promote his fruit and the wines made with it. Even after three decades, he considers himself new to the business. “I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this. I’m still learning. I’ll probably be doing this for another 20 years.”

The fruit already speaks for itself, but with Dick Boushey’s dogged determination and unpretentious attitude, look for Boushey Vineyards to stay ahead of the pack as the vines and grower continue to mature together.

Filed under: American Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, Washington Tasting Room Magazine, Wine Magazines

Reader's Comments

  1. Mike Veseth | October 24th, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Great profile of a real giant of Washington wine. Thanks, Kori!

  2. Kori | October 24th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Thanks! Boushey is certainly one of the best. Cheers!

  3. Bridgit Griessel | November 7th, 2011 at 9:20 am

    We feel very privileged that the Boushey Vinyards is part of the Betz Family Winery, thank you Dick for all that you do. Cheers …

  4. Kori | November 9th, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Boushey and Betz are a great combination. Keep up the good work. Cheers!