The Story of How it All Began
In 1980 Seattle-based neurosurgeon Vincent Bryan II, along with his wife Carol, purchased a several-hundred acre parcel of land high on the cliffs above the Columbia River. The closest town was Quincy and the nearest paved road was interstate 90, six miles away. The Bryans had been on a year-long quest to find land in Washington State which was similar in latitude to the great wine-growing regions of France, and which had tremendous variety in both soil and microclimate. They were looking, after many years of research and planning, for land which had nearly perfect conditions for the growing of grapes.
When Vince and Carol Bryan chose this land for their vineyards, they immediately saw that they had also received much more than they bargained for. They were now in possession of a piece of land which was extraordinary in its natural drama and beauty. To have such amazing conditions for the growing of premium wine grapes, coupled with a location so stunning in its sweeping, panoramic gorge cliffs, valleys and views, was extraordinary. There was no mistaking it.
But the goal was the vineyards and the Bryans immediately set to work planting on this land which until that point had only seen the grazing of cattle and the growing of alfalfa. And shortly on the heels of these first plantings came the first winery: Champs de Brionne. At this time Washington State was not the many-wineried state it is today. There was the biggie (Ste. Michelle) and a handful of others. Estate wineries - those who used only their own, estate-grown grapes in the making of their wine - were even more rare. That was the ultimate goal: to ultimately have a premiere estate winery. The excitement of possibility was in the very air; nearly palpable. The soils and the microclimates gave the promise of potentially great wines.
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The beauty of the location was clearly recognizable as special. Yet few even knew of this one winery "in the middle of nowhere," as the papers tended to write, or of the awe-inspiring gorge views at its doorstep. How to introduce Washingtonians to Champs de Brionne wines? How to get them to come?
This question was in the back of the Bryans' minds as they hosted some friends, taking them on a hike into the gorge, as had become the custom. Near the top of the cliff leading down into the "little gorge," there was a strangely wonderful natural bowl in the cliff side. Carol and friends walked down the bowl to the bottom, and Vince remained at the top. Soon Vince noted he could hear every word they were speaking, over 1,000 feet below. This was the first indication of the amazing natural acoustics provided by the "bowl" on the cliff. An idea was born: music! Always, wine and music had been together in the Bryans' minds as feathers of the same bird. They were complementary; one enhancing the enjoyment of the other. And with acoustics such as this...
Fairly soon the "little gorge" was to hear its first music; to hold the sound within its naturally-curved cliff walls and send it back out to a listening audience. It was not fancy: a small wooden stage, and a few hastily-laid sod terraces. The sole intent of the "amphitheater" was to provide a wonderful musical experience that would draw visitors to Champs de Brionne Winery. As summer approached pamphlets were written up and dittoed into damp, inky-smelling piles. The Bryan children handed out these "Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater" pamphlets at the end of the dusty, unpaved road leading past the winery. And, to everyone's amazement, they passed out 1,000. It was clear: the amphitheater, with its amazing sound, its jaw dropping views of flood-carved cliffs and ribbon of grand blue water stretching off into the horizon, was a very special place. Guests came, tried Champs de Brionne wines, sat on the grassy terraces and enjoyed themselves tremendously. Quickly the amphitheater grew to include a much larger stage and an increasingly exciting line up of performers... the fact that the Bryan family had to vacate their summer trailer to turn it over to these early performers didn't matter: it was exciting to the Bryan children that people like Chuck Barry had just sat on their couch; eaten at their dining room table.
The Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater was gaining momentum. This land seemed to elevate everything and everyone around it, and with that understanding came the decision to close the winery and concentrate on making the estate vineyards larger, more mature, more select in making them a match to their surroundings. Then and only then would a new, smaller, boutique winery be built.
The Gorge Amphitheater
After only a few years, the Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater had become The Gorge Amphitheater, and soon thereafter shortened in many northwesterner's minds to "The Gorge." It had grown to encompass a world-class stage, multiple grass-terraced levels, and 20,000 concertgoers per show. Artists like Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan took the stage. With every concert at the Amphitheater, one thing became increasingly clear: something special happened to people who attended concerts there. There was a palpable sense of peace, and community. Even out here in "the middle of nowhere," amidst the dark and often the wind and burning heat and rugged surroundings, people were having phenomenal experiences. You could sense it all around you at each concert: it felt like the entire world was somehow at peace. Those who came often said they left feeling like they could do amazing things.
The Bryan family spent many dinner time conversations discussing this phenomenon. The result of these discussions was an understanding that the natural beauty of this particular location had an innate power. There was something in human nature that responded to tremendous natural vistas. Being "in the middle of nowhere" meant the air was crystal-clear, the sky dense with stars, the quiet absolute. The floods of long ago which carved their way down the center of Washington State left in their receding waters a mammoth, dramatic gash of tremendous beauty. And when musicians picked up their instruments and began to play and opened their mouths and began to sing, all of it: the entire, visceral experience of it all - had a profound effect.
The decision was made to let this particular land have its effect on those who came to it. That meant opening it up to guests instead of closing it off to a select few. It meant carefully allowing venues which allowed for the wonderful talents of performers to shine while at the same time trusting that those who came would treat the land with respect and reverence. It was a gamble.
Music pulsed and soared at The Gorge over the years while the vineyards grew and the vines thickened and the grapes came into their own. It was time to build that second, smaller, premium winery, and in 2000 the doors of Cave B Estate Winery were opened.
All around the winery other construction began, as more of the vision of Carol and Vince Bryan came into reality. They knew that just like wine and music, wine and food and the opportunity to enjoy both with those you care about: to linger and taste, discuss and educate, grow and have fun - made wine something beyond simply a varietal, a vintage, a blend. It made wine an experience. So Cave B Inn rose to the northwest of the winery, with architect Tom Kundig at the helm. The rock which covers the Inn's massive walls and those of the Cliffehouses and Cavern Rooms came from this same land. The arch of the roofs was designed to mirror the curve of the clifftops across the river. Tendrils Restaurant was built, a chef's garden planted, a small, boutique spa created. The doors of Cave B Inn & Spa opened in 2005. This place; this land "in the middle of nowhere" had become, as Vince and Carol Bryan liked to say, "In the middle of everywhere." And through it all the land remained, and remains, central to everything about Cave B. This location is extraordinary in its natural drama and beauty - here 150 miles from a coastline, 50 miles from the mountains; both places of the usual sort one thinks about when picturing grand, sweeping beauty. Cave B has its own intensely specific kind of beauty. And it continues to evoke a specifically Cave B kind of guest experience: one that brings people together with nature in a way that celebrates the combined efforts of nature and person: soil and farming, cliffs and music, grapes and wine, extraordinary vistas and the birth of countless new ideas and creative solutions.
Cave B is an example of how nature and humans can both enhance the other: like wine and music; wine and food. It's an unusual place in the best possible meaning of the word. The Bryans continue to extend their Cave B vision, taking their cues from the land. Let's see what great things come next.