Red Willow Vineyard: Hallowed ground in the Yakima Valley

By on September 11, 2014
This blog is re-posted with permission from Great Northwest Wine.
For the complete article and podcast visit Great Northwest Wine.

Red Willow Vineyard and its iconic chapel.

WAPATO, Wash. – In just about every conceivable way, the 140 acres of wine grapes here at Red Willow Vineyard are hallowed ground.

Here is where Washington’s first Syrah was planted. Here is where some of the Northwest’s earliest plantings of Tempranillo, Viognier, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc went into the ground.

And atop a steep-facing vineyard is a humble stone chapel – perhaps the most recognizable building in the Washington wine industry.

For owner Mike Sauer, the spiritual roots grow even deeper. Here is where he developed one of the great partnerships and friendships in the history of Washington wine. Here is where four generations of a family have farmed on the Yakama Nation reservation and in the shadow of rugged Mount Adams.

Mike Sauer and David Lake

Red Willow Vineyard is owned by Mike Sauer.

Sauer has been growing wine grapes here for nearly 45 years. He started out with Chenin Blanc and Chasselas – which didn’t work out too well – and now his oldest grapes are a block of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1973 that now go to David O’Reilly of Owen Roe.

This has long been a diversified farm, with Concord grapes in the lowlands and wine grapes on the hillsides. Nearby are wheat and alfalfa.

In 1979, Sauer met David Lake, a British expat who had recently started making wine for Associated Vintners (now Columbia Winery). They met at a grape growers meeting; Sauer needed a ride back to the vineyard, and Lake was happy to oblige. This was the beginning of a great friendship and collaboration that would change the direction of the Washington wine industry.

“We were both relatively young at the time,” Sauer told Great Northwest Wine. “We had similar personalities. We were both perfectionists in some ways. If (I was) willing to experiment with grapes, David was always willing to make wine with it.”

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