On Friday Christophe Baron, founder and vigneron at Bionic Wines, announced the promotion of Elizabeth Bourcier from assistant vigneron to resident vigneron for all of the estate’s Walla Walla Valley brands. Bourcier will now have primary responsibility for crafting some the world’s most sought after and highly acclaimed wines, including those from Cayuse Vineyards, Horsepower Vineyards, Hors Catégorie Vineyards, and No Girls.
“Elizabeth is an incredible talent and since our 2017 vintage, Elizabeth has been in charge of creating Bionic Wines’ full production,” Baron said in an email to his customers. “To recognize her accomplishment, I’m thrilled to formally announce Elizabeth as Resident Vigneronne of Bionic Wines.”
Baron will remain involved in Bionic Wines but will now give more time to Champagne Christophe Baron. This is a Pinot Meunier-dedicated project that Baron began in the 2014 vintage, using grapes from his family’s vineyards in France’s Marne Valley.
The announcement also referenced Baron’s involvement in “other exciting upcoming projects.” This will come as no surprise to anyone who has met the Frenchman once dubbed the Bionic Frog due to his always-active motor.
In 1997, Baron pioneered planting in the region of Walla Walla Valley now known as the Rocks District. Since then, he has continuously expanded plantings and also pushed viticultural and qualitative boundaries in the valley, focusing on biodynamic farming and crafting wines that express the terroir of each vineyard.
Bourcier is a Kirkland, Washington native who moved to Walla Walla Valley in 2001 at age 18 to study at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. She was in the Institute’s first graduating class. (Full disclosure: I am an adjunct instructor at Walla Walla Community College.) Bourcier subsequently completed a bachelor’s degree in viticulture at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
After working in the tasting room at Bonny Doon Vineyard in California, Bourcier spent time at Finca Koch in the Mendoza region of Argentina before returning to Walla Walla. She began working as a laboratory technician at Cayuse Vineyards in 2008. In 2010, Baron promoted her to assistant vigneronne.
At that time, Bourcier also took primary responsibility as vigneronne for Bionic Wines’ No Girls brand, which she had co-produced since its first vintage in 2008. The name comes from a sign painted on the wall of a bordello in Walla Walla when it closed in the mid-20th century, an indication of changing times for women in the valley. Over the last decade, the No Girls wines have consistently earned top scores. In 2012, Bourcier also founded her own brand, La Rata, crafting a Priorat-inspired blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The wine quickly established a well-deserved cult following.
In the 13 years since she joined the winery, Bourcier has brought to Bionic Wines an incisive palate and also an unerring commitment to low-intervention winegrowing and making that matches Baron’s. While Baron’s accomplishments are nearly unrivalled since he founded Cayuse in 1997 – Bionic Wines has over 85 wines rated 95 points or above at Wine Enthusiast magazine where I serve as a contributing editor – the wines have only continued to become more refined as Bourcier has taken an increasingly prominent role.
Now Bourcier will have primary responsibility for Bionic Wines’ entire Walla Walla Valley portfolio. This includes wines from its vineyards in the Rocks District – which Baron and Bourcier refer to as ‘the stones’ – as well its vineyard by the north fork of the Walla Walla Valley River, used for the Hors Catégorie Syrah.
“Christophe has trusted my gut and palate with every vintage. The stones [in Walla Walla Valley] are unlike anything else in the world, and my goal has always been to let that carry through into the wine,” Bourcier said in the customer email.
In addition to a significant change for Walla Walla Valley, Bourcier’s appointment also seems to mark a turning point for the Washington wine industry more generally. (NB: Bionic Wines is located on the Oregon side of Walla Walla Valley.) While women remain underrepresented as winemakers and vigneronnes in the Columbia Valley, they now occupy two of the most prominent and influential positions in the appellation. Last year, Katie Nelson was named winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington’s largest winery and most recognizable brand. Now Bourcier will oversee one of the Northwest’s most highly regarded estates.
“Women have come a long way, although I think you still have to work harder as a female to prove yourself – in the winemaking world you have to put yourself out there and be more quietly confident because the only way to the top is through hard work,” Bourcier said in the email. “My vision is to never let that quality diminish. It’s an exciting time for women in wine, especially in the Walla Walla Valley.”