Why are Napa and Washington cabs so different

Spending time with Caleb the winemaker at Bookwalter in Washington we got a clear explanation of why the Merlot and cab taste so differently in Washington. While a wine geek answer it has to do with pH and conditions. Caleb was told that next to Pomerol France, Merlot grows best here because of the desert dry conditions. The winemaker at Bordeaux Margaux said that it’s because in August a drought happens every year. In Washington they always have drought desert-like conditions but control their water. They can turn on a drought and so it allows their wines to receive intense heat but dry conditions. This retains acidity and fruit as long as it’s not sunburned. They struggle to create shade against sunburn and must water their grapes. In Washington they seek west facing passive shade through vine canopies because they have constant relentless heat. Contrarily a thousand miles away in Napa, their conditions are softer on the grapes and not sunburned. Further in Napa, with a little bit of pH control they can get a big jammyness out of it. The pH is very different in Washington where they’re dealing with grapefruit and acidity.

In Washington, it’s interesting how much cab franc is used because it grows very well here. In the product Spellbound, the winemaker tells the story about how cab franc will turn out, creating a surprise each time.Also interesting, the Bookwalter winemaker is preparing a Chenin Blanc, a varietal which is disappearing because wine producers struggle to earn money on whites. He’s fermenting it for next year and because it’s going to be so rare, it maybe even more popular.Thank you Caleb for the great wine education.



  1. Nice write up. A pleasure having you visit us! Cheers to your adventures bringing you back our way someday. Happy Thanksgiving.


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