In the mid-1990s, Vigneron Christophe Baron planted a vineyard in a cobblestone-strewn field in the Walla Walla Valley, reminded of the puddingstones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Baron’s wines at Cayuse Vineyards quickly rated among the most coveted in the country, evidenced by a years-long waiting list. Their stratospheric scores helped establish Washington as premier winegrowing country.
Later this year, if all goes as planned, this 5.9-square-mile pocket will become the Walla Walla Valley’s first subappellation, bearing the lengthy name of the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. To say this area will become one of the most important wine regions in the country would be an understatement; it will surely be one of the most important wine regions in the world.
Wines from the Rocks District are unmistakable—those outrageous aromatics and earthy, savory, mineral-laden flavors could come from nowhere else.
This potential new subappellation—an area within a federally approved wine-growing region called out by name on a label—gets its name from its unique soils, composed of fist-size, basalt cobblestones deposited in ancient channels of the Walla Walla River. So even more recognition for those distinctive Rocks District wines would surely burnish Washington’s reputation, right? Not exactly. Though wines from the Walla Walla Valley are generally associated with Washington, every single cobblestone of the Rocks District lies on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley.
By federal law, wines could only display “The Rocks District” on the label if they’re almost entirely made in Oregon, a considerable complication for Washington-based wineries. The growers and wineries that support the application hope the government will grant some type of exception.
At the very least, Washington must now share a piece of what has historically been an important part of its wine identity. But one of the world’s finest wine regions will receive the recognition it rightfully deserves. Cheers to that.