You cannot talk with Woodward Canyon Winery’s Rick Small without coming away excited about wine, the winery, and the Walla Walla Valley. It is simply not possible. Small could be a motivational speaker for winemakers his love of viticulture and enology is so infectious.

Small is lean and wiry, intense and passionate. Among the things he is most passionate about are viticulture and his estate vineyard. This is so much the case that Small handed off winemaking responsibilities to Kevin Mott in 2003 to focus on the vineyard. “I figure if I can bring better fruit down to him, it’s a win-win,” Small says.

Bring better fruit down from the vineyard is exactly what Small has done. The Woodward Canyon wines are consistently among the best, most age-worthy wines made in Washington. The 2007 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon in particular is a wine that will stand as a testament to this exceptional vintage and this exceptional winery for decades to come.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard is a short distance from the winery. This is the Small family’s third generation on this land, with Rick’s grandfather on his father’s side settling down in the Walla Walla Valley and growing vegetables. The vineyard has stunning vistas overlooking the Walla Walla Valley. “I can’t tell you how much I love coming up here,” Small said on a recent trip to the site.

It wasn’t always like this. When he started out farming, Small wasn’t sure how he was going to make a living. “Wine grapes changed that,” he says. Since the winery’s founding in 1981, Woodward Canyon has grown to produce 17,000 cases annually. Much of that goes to the winery’s second label, Nelms Road.

The estate vineyard is planted to forty-two acres of grapes, with some vines over thirty years old. The vineyard has diverse plantings that include Dolcetto and Barbera. Grenache and other Rhone varietals were planted about five years ago. Small says growing the Grenache has been a struggle, particularly getting the vines to survive the winter, but he remains optimistic. “I’m not doing it to make a lot of money out of it. I just like it!” he says excitedly. A small well at the bottom of the vineyard supplies water to the site.

The vineyard is grown organically, although it is not certified as such (this is considerably more difficult). Small was one of the founding members of Vinea, the Walla Walla Valley’s Winegrowers Sustainable Trust. Small says, “sustainability led down the road to organic.” In addition to the grape vines, there is a tiny garden that has been organic for about twenty years at the bottom of the vineyard. Small delivers the vegetables from the garden to area restaurants.

Rick and his wife and winery co-founder Darcey Fugman-Small hope is to pass the business and vineyard on to the next generation. The Smalls’ daughter works at a laboratory at nearby Long Shadows. Their son works in the food industry. Rick Small says of the vineyard, “When my kids come out, I’m going to leave this soil more alive than when I got this from my dad.”

Don’t look for Small to go anywhere any time soon though. “I’m not going to retire,” Small says. Sixty-three years young with the energy of someone half that age, Small says that he is simply “trying to slow it down and enjoy the ride.” Amen.

Woodward Canyon Dry White Riesling Columbia Valley 2009 $25
Rating: * (Excellent) A very appealing aroma profile with pink grapefruit, mineral notes, and lemon rind. Tart and spritely acidic on the palate. Sampled at 58 degrees.

Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc Walla Walla Valley 2009 $26
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) An aromatic wine with pear, mineral, citrus, and melon. Crisp and textured on the palate with an extended finish. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.8% alcohol. 281 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Estate Chardonnay Walla Walla Valley 2009 $54
Rating: ** (Exceptional) A gorgeous aroma profile redolent with melon, spice, and banana. Beautifully textured on the palate with lively acidity that carries the flavors across the palate to a seemingly endless finish. One of the best Washington State Chardonnays I have had. 100% Chardonnay. Barrel fermented and aged in 1-year-old Burgundy barrels. 14.1% alcohol. 98 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Chardonnay Washington State 2009 $44
Rating: * (Excellent) A lightly aromatic wine with spice, hay, and traces of apple. A rounded, textured mouthfeel speckled with varietal flavors stitched together with a zip of acidity. 100% Chardonnay. 64% Celilo Vineyard, 36% Woodward Canyon Estate. Fermented and aged in French Burgundy barrels (20% new). 14.1% alcohol. 616 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Estate Barbera Walla Walla Valley 2009 $24
Rating: + (Good) Lively aromatics of cherries, rhubarb, and bright red fruit. A zing of acidity on a palate that shows lots of fruit and pretty oak accents. 100% Barbera. 15.7% alcohol. 252 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Merlot Columbia Valley 2006 $41
Rating: + (Good) An aromatic wine with toasty oak spices, butterscotch, and cherries. Palate boasts a lot of fruit but has a bit of a bight toward the finish. 81% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah. Weinbau, Woodward Canyon Estate, Sagemoor, and DuBrul vineyards. 14.6% alcohol. 623 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2006 $49
Rating: * (Excellent) A pleasing aroma profile with abundant earth, spice, and black and red fruit. A textured palate with a firm backbone of tannins. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 1% Merlot. Champoux, DuBrul, Sagemoor, Woodward Canyon Estate, and Charbonneau vineyards. 14.5% alcohol. 2472 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2007 $49
Rating: * (Excellent) A big wine with compelling aromatics of black fruit, licorice, and spice. Rich and intense on the palate with black fruit and butterscotch flavors. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot. Champoux (79%), Sagemoor (20%) and Woodward Canyon Estate vineyards (1%). 14.6% alcohol. 1,934 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Estate Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2005 $61
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color. Toasty spices pair with rich cherry aromas. A big wine that is quite stiff on the palate – loaded with fruit and tannins. This is one for the cellar but the results will not disappoint. 68% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Petit Verdot. 14.4% alcohol. 405 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Estate Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2006 $59
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Smalls says that he, “Envisioned this wine to be more Cabernet-based and it just didn’t turn out that way” winding up as a Cabernet Franc heavy blend. Campfire, wood smoke, rich blackberries, light herbal notes, and dark chocolate on an aromatic wine. Big, rich, and full on the palate with firm but well integrated tannins. The wine has a lot of oak on it but it works. Hangs and hangs and hangs on the finish. 42% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot. Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard. 14.8% alcohol. 294 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 $79
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Intoxicating varietal aromatics of intensely dark fruit and chocolate along with spice and licorice. The palate is seamless and structured, rich and intense. Beautifully layered with a long, long finish. Nothing short of an accomplishment of a wine. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Champoux (74%) and Sagemoor vineyards (26%). Aged in new French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 628 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Charbonneau Red Wine Walla Walla County 2008 $69
Rating: * (Excellent) An engaging nose with vanilla, a touch of pepper, cherries, and some green notes. Spreads out across the palate with rich fruit buffeted by spicy oak flavors. Winds and weaves on the finish. Give 2-3 years. First year including Petit Verdot. 77% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.1% alcohol. 198 cases produced.