Like many Yakima Valley wine grape growers, Dick Boushey was an apple grower first. His last apple block has been replanted to wine grapes, but he still has a Rainier cherry block.
by Melissa Hansen
A good way to appreciate Yakima Valley’s role in developing the wine industry of Washington State is to follow the progression of Dick Boushey’s early farming years to his current operation.
Since planting wine grapes more than 35 years ago, he’s learned through trial and error, honed his growing skills, and developed his vineyard into one that’s widely recognized by winemakers and consumers.
The Yakima Valley American Viticultural Area, the state’s oldest designated appellation, is celebrating 30 years.
Good Fruit Grower interviewed growers and wineries earlier this year to learn about the region’s history, wine grape pioneers, and how Yakima Valley fits in today’s wine world. This is one of several stories that will appear in Good Fruit Grower this summer.
Apples are the number-one crop in Washington and in the Yakima Valley. Many of the valley’s early wine grape growers in Yakima Valley started out as tree fruit growers and added wine grapes in the 1980s and 1990s to their mix of crops. Boushey is no exception.
He and his wife, Luanne, started farming in Grandview, Washington, in 1975 and grew Red and Golden Delicious apples. Boushey and his father bought their apple orchard together with the idea that the younger Boushey would manage it for a year until his father moved over from western Washington.
One year turned into four, says Boushey. “That first year, Luanne and I felt like we were stuck here. We were both from the West side, newly married, and we weren’t sure this was really what we wanted to be doing.”
Two years later, Boushey added an experimental block of wine grapes to the apple orchard. He’d met Dr. Walter Clore, George Carter (Clore’s assistant), and other Washington State University researchers who were studying wine grapes as a “new” crop for the state. Clore, later dubbed the “father of Washington’s wine industry,” saw a future for wine grapes in the state and encouraged growers to try them.
A few years later, in 1980, Boushey planted a commercial vineyard, choosing varieties from WSU’s block that did well—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
He recalls that there were only nine wineries in the state at the time. Other prominent tree fruit growers, including the Andreas (Andy) den Hoed family, Larry and Richard Olsen, Mike Miller, Wyckoff Farms, Mike and Gary Hogue, and the Newhouse family, also were adding wine grapes to their crop mix.
“We were all trying to learn how to best grow wine grapes,” Boushey said, adding that the only growing information available came from California and didn’t always pertain to Pacific Northwest conditions. “There was a lot of trial and error and replanting.”
The knowledge base grew exponentially when Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery (now called Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) hired viticulturists like Dr. Wade Wolfe, Stan Clarke, and Clay Mackey, he said. Additionally, WSU began publishing research data, such as Clore’s report on a ten-year variety trial.