From the state’s first Syrah plantings to the creation of some of its finest wines, Red Willow has made a name for itself in Washington.

One of Washington State’s most influential sites, Red Willow Vineyard, sprung up from humble beginnings.

“I was a new kid on the farm, 22–23 years old,” says grower Mike Sauer. “Just came to the farm looking for my place.”

Sauer would decide that his place was to grow wine grapes, a relatively novel idea back in the early 1970s.

“We were always looking for a new crop to farm,” says Sauer. “For some reason, I latched onto wine grapes, even though I’d never drank wine before in my life. I heard about these French-sounding grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. They sounded so interesting to me.”

Dr. Walter Clore, considered the grandfather of the Washington wine industry, was exploring areas suitable for different varieties of wine grapes. He said that Sauer’s location looked promising, and partnered with the young farmer to plant a 20-variety test block. They would make wine from the grapes and evaluate the results.

“We were headed to the firing range, and he asked if I was interested. I said I was, although at that point, I didn’t even know if Cabernet was a red or a white wine grape variety.” —Mike Sauer

“We always ended up being one of the top scorers for Gewürztraminer,” says Sauer. “For a little farm kid, that was a big deal.”

Sauer’s early plantings of Chenin Blanc and Chasselas in 1971 were unsuccessful. Two years later, a friend in the National Guard sought to sell a truckload of Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings.  Read More »