You Are Viewing Profiles

Washington Wine Month Stop #23: Dumas Station

Another winery tipping its hat to the history of the area. This time the tribute is to the railroad system as well as the apple industry from whom the winery is named after.

Our 23rd stop on our Washington Winery tour is a gem from the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

About the Families:

Dumas Station Wines was started in 2003 by two Walla Walla natives, Jay DeWitt and Doug Harvey, after a few years of making wine in a garage.  Winemaker Jay DeWitt calls himself a “recovering wheat farmer,” while his partner Doug Harvey is a “recovering attorney.”

Jay and Doug took a humble approach to building a winery and fixed up an old apple-packing shed known as Dumas Station – the site of one of the oldest apple orchards in Washington, started by James Dumas in the late 1800s.

This isn’t known as a fancy winery with lots of high-tech equipment; Jay and Doug rely on friends and family for help with the harvest. They spend the rest of the year racking the wine – one oak barrel at a time.

A random morning at the winery may look like this:

7:00 a.m. Jay meets with the pruning team in the vineyards to get them organized for the day.
8:00 a.m. Doug & Ali arrive at the winery. Doug checks on the wine and gets started on re-wiring some of the lights in the barrel room. Ali decorates the tasting room and posts pictures of the winery on Facebook.
9:00 a.m. Jay arrives and starts taking barrel samples.
9:30 a.m. The rest of the day is spent “racking” wine. “Racking” means emptying a barrel into a tank, cleaning the sediment out of the bottom of the barrel, then refilling the barrel with the wine from the tank. If there has been any evaporation through the barrel, they might “top up” the barrel by filling it with extra wine to make sure there’s no room for oxygen.
1:00 p.m. Debbie arrives with food–taking a break from her “real” job.

About the History of Dumas Station:

Our winery is located at the site of one of the oldest apple orchards in Washington, started by Mr. James Dumas in the late 1800s and called Pomona Ranch. Dumas Station was the name for the apple-packing shed for the ranch. At the time, competing railroad lines on each side of the building vied to haul the apples, one of which you can still see today.

The apple packing shed.

The first railroad track connecting Walla Walla and Dayton was completed by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company on July 14, 1881, and would later become part of the Union Pacific rail line. On July 19, 1881, engine No. 439 pulled the first passenger train to leave Dayton for Walla Walla, and they now have a wine named after this engine, called Cuvee No. 439.

Other railroads in the area were originally “a narrow gauge, with the first rails made of wood and covered with rawhide and later metal. Because of the materials use in the construction of the railroad, the builders had many maintenance problems. Unfortunately sometimes the wooden track would pop loose and come through the bottom of the car floor injuring a passenger. Coyotes and other animals would eat the rawhide from the rails.”

One writer at the time labeled Dumas “the Apple King of the Walla Walla Valley, whose Pomona orchard is fast becoming a synonym for the best apples on earth.” In keeping with the rich history & heritage of the area, we have created a new line of labels for our wines, featuring vintage train pictures from all over the United States. The full line of labels will start with the 2010 vintage, to be released in 2012 – 2013.

*Information courtesy of Dave Burkhart, grandson of James Dumas, in his book From the Schoolhouse to Pomona Ranch and Dayton Historical Depot Society.

About the Winemaking Process and Vineyards:

We take a vineyard-driven approach to winemaking, to create a wine that reflects the vineyard and vintage, rather than forcing the wine into a specific style each year. Jay DeWitt is not only an owner of Dumas Station, but also our Vineyard Manager and Winemaker.

Similarities among their wines comes from using fruit from the same vineyards year after year, rather than a specific winemaking syle. Using the same terroir showcases the effect that Mother Nature has on their vines from year to year, creating a unique wine each vintage.

Because of this commitment to quality, they may even skip a wine one year. For example, in 2009 they did not produce their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or Estate Merlot and instead put this juice into their Cow Catcher Red to make one of the best red blends they’ve ever made.

You may have heard this before: great wine is made in the vineyard. Dumas Station’s winemaker, Jay DeWitt, is the 4th generation of his family to farm in this area. Jay is in the vineyards throughout the year with his crew, pruning, trellising, and monitoring for pests. Spending this time in the vineyard creates the quality grapes from which they start their winemaking.

Minnick Hills

The vineyard lies 2 miles north of Walla Walla at the point where the valley transitions to rolling hills. Elevation is between 1050 and 1200 feet, and the land slopes to the south and west.

The soil is extremely diverse. A healthy dose of volcanic ash that was deposited following the eruption of Mt. Mazama 7700 years ago dominates the bottom portion of the vineyard soil. This eruption formed the caldera in Southern Oregon now known as Crater Lake. At a depth of three feet there is a layer of undisturbed ash that is 6 inches thick. This soil has the same texture and smell as ash cleaned out of a fireplace.

Loess deposited by wind provides topsoil for the hillside and at the top of the hill lies a knob of clay. It is rare to find such a diversity of soil types in one spot, which is why Jay & Doug can make an exceptionally complex wine from a single vineyard.

The site also has excellent air drainage, which reduces the risk of frost damage. Rainfall averages 16 inches annually, so a small amount of supplemental irrigation is provided via drip system.

Because of the diversity of soil and differences in the microclimates—from the top of the hill to the bottom—the vineyard must be closely managed. Jay’s experience with this particular piece of ground began while changing sprinkler pipes when he was 12 years old, and this experience and respect for the terroir can be tasted in the wines produced at Dumas Station.

Birch Creek

This vineyard is located near the Walla Walla River at the southern end of the Walla Walla Valley, at an elevation level of 850 feet. It is a relatively warm site that ripens earlier than their other vineyards. The first vines were planted in 1993 and it is older than most of the vineyards in the Walla Walla Appellation. Soil structure in the vineyard is sandy loam with random spots of calcium carbonate. The age of these vines provide a nice tannic structure to the resulting wines

Breezy Slope

This vineyard sits near the base of the Blue Mountains, southwest of the city of Walla Walla. At 1650 feet in elevation, it is one of the higher vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley Appellation. The soil is a rich but shallow clay loam. Because of the hillside where the vineyard is oriented, air is constantly in motion at this site, often changing directions every few minutes. This has the effect of cooling the grapes on the hottest days, and allows Dumas Station to expose the clusters to more direct sunlight.

Dumas Station’s Wine Portfolio:

Cow Catcher Red – a Bordeaux style blend
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Cabrenet Franc

Dumas Station Wines

36229 Highway 12
Dayton, WA 99328

(509) 382-8933

Be Sociable, Share Great Wine News!

    Theresa Dillon

    Theresa Dillon
    Theresa Dillon earned her bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending concerts, weekly trivia nights, watching movies (especially her favorite The Wizard of Oz), and of course wine.