In 2011, Hors Catégorie was the first vineyard planted on the steep slope along the North Fork of the Walla Walla River. Hidden in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, Hors Catégorie Vineyard is located where the North Fork converges with the Walla Walla River. The Syrah vines cling to the hillside beneath ragged cliffs and surrounded by rocky outcroppings. Their roots struggle for nourishment in the fractured basalt.
It’s a rare terroir unique in America, with a climate, exposure, and topography creating an incomparable wine-growing estate. “This combination of expressiveness, power, and weightlessness is rare in American Syrah,” said Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman, who visited the site for the first time in 2006.
After tasting the first wine straight from 600-liter Demi-muids, Steiman wrote, “The first thing that struck me was the open, almost weightless texture." He noted "...mineral notes galore, reminiscent of wet stones and hot bricks” and “hints of cinnamon, fresh-baked bread and a field of flowers.”
“Baron is right. Hors Catégorie looks like a jewel,” he continued after barrel-tasting the 2014 vintage. “This combination of expressiveness, power, and weightlessness is rare in American syrah.”
At the convergence of the north fork and the Walla Walla River, the syrah vines of Hors Catégorie survive in meager soils of fractured basalt. The high density planting of 3,555 vines to the acre are staked only 3.5’ x 3.5’ apart.
On this virgin soil, the gradient can be up to 60 degrees, and cultivation can only be done by hand or with machinery winched between the rows. The estate is farmed biodynamically, as all of Christophe Baron’s vineyards are, and in the pasture 150 feet below, cows, goats, sheep, beehives and other wildlife complete the natural ecosystem.