The story began near the village of Charly-sur-Marne in the Champagne region of France, where a very young Christophe Baron walked the family vineyard with his father and grandfather. He was the youngest of the centuries-old Champagne house, Baron Albert, and his ancestors had worked the land since 1677.
Like generations of fathers and sons before, it was in his blood to be a wine grower and creator—a true vigneron. “It’s a title you’re born with, not something you become or learn in school,” Christophe says. “So I followed my dad, and wherever he went, I went. That’s the way it started.”
After studying viticulture in Champagne and Burgundy, Christophe realized he wasn’t yet ready to enter the family business and gave in to the urge to travel. “In Burgundy, I had fallen in love with Pinot Noir, and had met some Americans with land in Oregon,” he says. “My English was terrible, but I wanted to go there.”
An unexpected internship at a winery brought Christophe to the Walla Walla Valley for the first time in 1993. After one year, he traveled the world gaining experience in Australia, New Zealand and Romania before continuing his training in Oregon. He intended to buy some land and start a vineyard from scratch, but all those plans came to an abrupt halt on an April morning in 1996.
Christophe had returned to Walla Walla for a strictly social visit, and was wandering the countryside with a friend. As they drove near the Oregon/Washington border, he spied an open field littered with acres of softball-sized stones. Plans to move to the Willamette Valley were quickly discarded, and Christophe resolved to buy the property and plant a vineyard.
While others saw ten acres of the Walla Walla Valley’s worst farmland, he saw only enormous potential. The terroir reminded him of the cobblestones of the southern Rhone valley and Châteuneuf-du-Pape in his native France. “I almost fell on my derrière when I saw those stones,” he says. “And I’ve been living the dream ever since.”
Christophe purchased the property and planted his first vineyard in 1997. “People said I was crazy, that I’d break my equipment and waste my time and money,” he recalls. “But I knew that vines need to struggle in difficult ground in order to provide their best.”
He called the venture Cayuse Vineyards, after a Native American tribe
whose name was derived from the French word “cailloux”—which means “stones.” In the decade since, it has grown to seven vineyards, soon to be eight, encompassing more than 55 acres.
What was considered by many a foolish gamble on that field of stones has been rewarded year after year with some of the most acclaimed wines in the region—and in the nation. “Those stones are the reason I’m here in Walla Walla,” Christophe says. “It’s certainly not for the night life.”