The Science and Soul of Southwind
In the foothills of the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington, the Walla Walla Valley has over 1,600 acres of grapes planted next to fruit orchards and wheat fields. Close to 90 wineries now call the region home. The Walla Walla Valley is also home to both Cadaretta and our estate vineyard, Southwind.
Grapes do well here because of the soils, the climate and the overall terroir of the region. Basalt bedrock is overlain with well-drained sand and silts (loess), rich in minerals like quartz and mica. Ash, deposited by eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes, adds more complexity to the soil.
The valley’s latitude (46° north) is the same as the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France. Latitude 46° produces long, hot summer days and cool nights, developing a perfect balance of sugars and acids in the grapes. The high latitude also means that autumn weather cools quickly and sunlight diminishes rapidly, so the grapes benefit from additional “hang-time” on the vines.
We conducted extensive soil testing and evaluation prior to planting the Southwind Vineyard. Soil content varies by vineyard location and elevation, and understanding its composition block by block helps determine planting and growing decisions for years to come.
Southwind’s main soil type is Walla Walla silt loam. The steep southwestern parts of the property also have Lickskillet “very stony loam.” Soil depths vary, and all of the soils were deposited by winds following the Missoula floods between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago. We conducted extensive soil analysis prior to making clonal selections and planting the initial 22 acres of vineyard. Professors and graduate students from Whitman College, Washington, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and Williams College, Massachusetts, performed research on electrical conductivity and soil characteristics. In addition, graduate students from Washington State studied hydraulic conductivity and soil texture.
So why spend so much time on scientific details of the vineyard? Because for us, winegrowing isn’t just trial and error. We’re interested in combining the best available scientific knowledge with the soul and passion of experience in the vineyard and winery. To find the varietal clones best suited to a particular site, we have to first understand the site. Spending so much time in the vineyard is an investment that the Middleton family knows will pay off in the future, both in wine quality and in vineyard health.
Even with all of the initial planning, we still consider the first 22 acres at Southwind our “experimental” vineyard blocks. As the vines mature we’ll be evaluating the varietal selections individually, both in the field and in our experimental winery. Our initial planting includes 11 different varietals and 20 separate clones. We’ll add two acres of vines this year, including one Counoise clone and one Petit Verdot clone that are brand new to the U.S. Eventually, the Southwind Estate vineyard will comprise more than 200 planted acres.
And if you wonder where the name Southwind came from: The Cadaretta was conscripted for use in World War II. After the war the ship moved on to new owners and was rechristened “Southwind.”