The string of success has continued in 2016 for Woodward Canyon Winery and founding winemaker Rick Small. Now, there’s a succession plan firmly in place too.
Small’s winemaking helped the Walla Walla Valley gain acclaim starting in 1981, and 35 years later, he and his team continue to make some of the best wines in the country. In 2014, he was named the Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine. Last year, the 2012 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon ranked No. 1 on The Seattle Times top 50 regional wines.
And this year, the Woodward Canyon 2012 Estate Reserve nearly repeated the feat — finishing No. 2 on the list.
Small’s diversified business at Woodward Canyon, managed by his wife, Darcey Fugman-Small, includes the farm that’s been in his family for four generations. They’ve made it all work through a series of brilliant hires that have included Gilles Nicault, who went on to become the director of winemaking at famed Long Shadows Vintners, and their current winemaker Kevin Mott, now in his second decade at Woodward.
After a decade of working in kitchens for some of Seattle’s finest chefs, Sager Small, 29, is going through Walla Walla Community College’s vaunted viticulture and enology program. That means he’s stepping away from Woodward Canyon’s on-premise Reserve House Restaurant and toward his family’s cellar and vineyard. Older sister Jordan, who worked in Long Shadow’s lab for five years, has moved into management at Woodward Canyon.
The winery’s roots reach back to 1976, when Rick, a proud Washington State University grad, planted Chardonnay on a block of the farm that wasn’t suited for wheat. Their certified organic Lazy S Arrow Garden, named for their cattle ranch, provides ingredients for Seattle-area restaurants and the Reserve House.
Both children have sat on the company’s board of directors since 2010, so with them having grown up around the winery and the farm, the future of Woodward Canyon — the second-oldest winery in the Walla Walla Valley — appears to be in great hands.
Still looking for a special gift for that wine lover? These wines are available at top wine merchants and through the winery.
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $59: This is one of the region’s showiest Cabs each year, and it makes up about 25 percent of Small’s total production. Expect to smell hints of dark cherry, bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and moist earth. Inside, the dark blueberry and cordial cherry flavors are framed by sublime tannins that allow for a pinch of clove and a savory note. (14.4 percent alcohol)
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $99: Some of the state’s oldest vines go into this Cab, one of the region’s most age-worthy wines year after year. Aromas of Bing cherry, milk chocolate, cedar and raspberry syrup lead to an elegant presentation of cherries, light chocolate and raspberry. A touch of slate adds finesse. (14.7 percent alcohol)
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $49: Rick Small and Kevin Mott create this beautiful, small-production Cab that comes with remarkable tannin management. Aromas of Rainier cherry, strawberry-rhubarb pie, Jolly Rancher watermelon candy and sweet herbs are matched on the palate that’s capped by a burst of raspberry. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Woodward Canyon Estate Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, $79: The Small family’s vineyard is naturally low yielding, and the latest release is a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright red fruit aromas include Graham cracker crust and thyme, which lead to flavors of raspberry, Montmorency cherry and boysenberry, backed by a pleasing tug of tannin. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Woodward Canyon Winery 2014 Chardonnay, Washington, $44: America’s favorite wine wine remains a passion at Woodward Canyon. Gorgeous aromas of lemon custard, white peach, Spanish almond and brioche lead to yummy flavors of cantaloupe, ripe banana and lemon chiffon. Bright acidity from orange zest makes it complete and a nice match with seafood or pasta in a light cream sauce. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com