Woodward Canyon sticks to guns, skips ’10 Dedication Series Cab

By on July 12, 2013

Rick Small is the owner of Woodward Canyon Winery in Washington's Walla Walla Valley.

Rick Small, owner of Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, Wash., is skipping the 2010 vintage of his Old Vines Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon – a first since he launched the winery in 1981. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

LOWDEN, Wash. – Since its first vintage in 1981, Woodward Canyon Winery‘s most recognizable wine has been a Cabernet Sauvignon known as the “Dedication Series.”

Each vintage, the Dedication Series has featured the photo of a Walla Walla Valley pioneer, and that person’s story is told on the back label.

Owner Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott, since his arrival in 2003, have made that wine every year for 29 years. In 2010 – what would have been the 30th anniversary of the Dedication Series – Small and Mott made the difficult decision to not bottle a wine under the label because the quality just wasn’t there.

For Small, the decision actually was straightforward.

2010 didn’t measure up

Woodward Canyon Winery's Old Vines Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon features a Walla Walla Valley pioneer.

Woodward Canyon Winery’s Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon features a Walla Walla Valley pioneer on the front label, and tells that person’s story on the back label. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

“The wine didn’t measure up to my standards,” Small told Great Northwest Wine. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Many wineries up and down the West Coast manage to make a reserve-level wine vintage after vintage, regardless of quality. Small doesn’t work that way, even if it means breaking a string.

“This is a long-term business,” he said. “My daughter and son will be in this business. You have to do the right thing.”

In the mid-1990s, Small began calling the Dedication Series his “Old Vines Reserve” because he was using fruit from older blocks at Champoux, Sagemoor and his estate Woodward Canyon vineyards.

The 2009 version was superb, earning a top “Outstanding” rating in Wine Press Northwest’s judging of more than 130 Northwest Cabernet Sauvignons and being described as “the standard bearer of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine by which others are measured.”

For Small, 2010 simply didn’t make the grade.

Losing some money but not sleep

Woodward Canyon Winery started in 1981.

Rick Small launched Woodward Canyon Winery in 1981, and the Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon has been his most recognizable wine. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

In past years, Small has made between 400 and 800 cases of the Old Vines Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignon, which he sells for $89 per bottle. In 2010, he and Mott could have made perhaps 100 cases. But they didn’t feel right about it, so the wine went into the Artist Series Cab, which sells for $54.

“2010 was an interesting year,” Small said. “We couldn’t see enough of a difference between our Old Vine blocks and Artist Series blocks. It wasn’t what we wanted to do. Old Vines has to have a ‘Wow’ factor.”

So the grapes he got from his Old Vines blocks went into the Artist Series instead.

“If it isn’t there, we’re going to make a really good Artist Series,” he said. “That’s a little bit of the European philosophy. If the wine isn’t good enough, they take it down a tier.”

Small, a third-generation farmer, said this is what agriculture is all about.

“It’s a gift. If you have great fruit and great wine, you get the gift.”

Even though the string of Dedication Series Cabs is broken, Small is at peace.

“We don’t have the inclination to make one just to make the money,” he said. “It cost us some money, but I sleep well at night. We did the right thing.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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