Tom's blog

Cayuse dumps an entire vintage

Let's all have a good cry. Cayuse, the Walla Walla estate launched by Christophe Baron in 1997, announced this week that it will not release any of its 2015 wines -- nearly 3,000 cases of 750ml bottles and 2,678 magnums.

 Christophe Baron

Christophe Baron

Let me give you a perspective of the significance of this decision to both producer and customer. You can't get any Cayuse in the store. You have to be on a mailing list and there's a 7-year waiting list for that too. The wines sell for more than $100 each -- the iconic Bionic Frog Syrah can fetch $300 on the open market if a customer wants to resell his allocation. These wines are coveted.

With this kind of money at stake, the financial consequence is huge for Baron, Washington's first biodynamic producer and a guy who insists on quality. The loss to the customer who salivates while waiting his allocation is equally catastrophic.

The cause of this decision? Bad corks.

In a letter to customers, the producer said during the early bottling process, "paraffin particulates caused by faulty corks was discovered." (Paraffin is often used to seal cork, a natural product of the bark of a cork tree). Bottling was immediately halted. The unnamed cork manufacturer insisted the problem was isolated to the first lot of corks and assured Cayuse that a second lot would be just fine.

It wasn't. The paraffin and an oily film was discovered in a random check and a professional analysis was done of the entire bottle. Researchers confirmed everything was defective. Cayuse offered refunds for the nine bottlings that had been released; another five bottlings were not released.

The letter to customers read, "We are devastated at the loss of these wines...As you know, there is considerable anticipation for the 2015 vintage from Cayuse Vineyards and the wines were outstanding prior to that bottling in May. In March, just two months before that bottling, Jeb Dunnuck of The Wine Advocate tasted barrel samples of these wines and scored them between 93 and 100 points."

Wow. By my calculation, the financial loss is more than $3 million.

However right the decision, it must have been painful. Surely they'll recover their costs from lawsuits and insurance, but the emotional loss cannot be satisfied. A lot of painsaking effort and stress goes into growing grapes from bud set to harvest. To see it all lost to a frickin cork?Mind boggling....