On the southern slope of the Rattlesnake Hills, where nature provides an ideal blend of warm days slowly fading into cool nights, Dick Boushey produces what are recognized as some of the finest wine grapes in the country.
“I feel lucky to be able to do this,” the 61-year-old grower humbly observes, referring to some 300 acres planted in wine grapes, juice grapes, apples and cherries in four different sites around Grandview. “I like what I’m doing.”
Boushey shares his home, settled in the midst of his vineyards, with wife of 34 years, Luanne. From there, he “can sit and look out at Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and all the Horse Heaven Hills. Behind me is the stark beauty of sagebrush. In ‘the world according to Dick,’ I have the perfect setting,” he says. It’s these same vineyards where his two daughers grew up. “On the farm,” he says.
Boushey specializes in Syrah grapes — a dark-skinned fruit that has become popular for its full-bodied, intense red wines — as well as Merlot and Cabernet grapes. He also raises other Bordeaux grapes, with a few Italian and Spanish grape varieties thrown in for good measure. Although he does not make wine commercially, he sells to 35 wineries in Washington and Oregon. His name appears on bottles for about 10 varieties of wine made by 15 wineries, ranging from Maison Bleue in Walla Walla to Fidelitas Winery in Benton City. Boushey also manages local vineyards for Efeste Winery and the Upchurch Vineyard.
Among his honors, he’s received the 2002 Erick Hanson Wine Grape Grower of the Year award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, the 2007 Walter Clore Award from the Washington State Grape Society and the 2008 Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers’ Industry Service Award. In addition, he sits on numerous boards, including Welch’s National Grape Cooperative, the Washington State Wine Commission and the Auction of Washington Wines (which raises money for Children’s Hospital in Seattle).
Boushey’s outgoing manner and wide range of experience draw enthusiastic reviews from his peers and acquaintances alike.
“He’s a very affable, friendly guy, a lot of fun to be around,” observed Wade Wolfe, co-owner and winemaker for Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser. “I’ve known Dick for at least 30 years. He is among the most active members of the wine industry — not just as a grower, but as an advocate and representative.”
And noted wine columnist Paul Gregutt thinks Boushey is quite a character. “Before turning to wine writing, I worked in radio and television and interviewed hundreds of artists, musicians, actors and media personalities. Dick Boushey is right out of central casting, and I mean that in the best possible way,” Gregutt said. “When you look up Yakima grape grower in the dictionary, you get a picture of Dick Boushey. He is humble, dedicated, innovative, canny, self-effacing, witty, immensely talented and relentlessly hard-working. I have often written, and believe in my heart, that his vineyard produces, among many other successes, the best Syrah grapes in the country.”
The rave reviews are all the more remarkable for a man who didn’t want to go into agriculture. In fact, Boushey started out in finance. In the 1970s, Boushey studied banking at the University of Puget Sound, after years of helping out on farms in the Sumner area. He was fed up with summers spent picking everything from blueberries to rhubarb, strawberries, daffodils and tulips.
“I went to school to become a banker, but I found I didn’t enjoy it,” he explained. “In 1975, my dad bought an apple orchard in Grandview and asked me to run it. It was supposed to be for only one year.”
But one thing led to another, and Boushey discovered that farming might not be so bad after all.
“The challenge of making a living off a farm is you have to be very creative, work very hard, outthink Mother Nature, outthink the market,” he said. He began planting wine grapes in 1980 when the industry was just beginning in Central Washington.
“I’ve had to learn over the years how these things grow,” he observed. “At first, it was just intuitive. Everyone was learning together. The wine industry here wasn’t taken very seriously then, but I was fascinated by it.”
Nowadays, though, he knows what’s going on in the plants. “I have really good people working for me … I read a lot. I hang out at the WSU Prosser research center (where wine grape research is done).”
Boushey routinely walks through every block of grapes he’s planted. He still has to laugh as he passes through his first plot of Cabernet grapes.
“I had no clue what I was doing,” he recalls. “In the middle, several rows curve and are uneven. But now I know where the rocky areas are, where the good soil is.”
His renowned Syrah grapes, now his biggest seller, came along in 1993.
“I was one of the earlier growers of Syrah,” Boushey explained. “The conditions here — higher elevation, cooler so that the grapes ripen later but don’t get high alcohol content or over-ripen, shallow, rockier soil that allows us to keep the canes shorter and pick smaller grapes with good color — are the closest thing to the Old World origins of this grape of anything in the New World, even California.”
And he says he never has enough Syrah. “It’s different from other reds. It has a big, bold taste. It’s lush. It doesn’t have harshness. You don’t need to age the grapes as long. They reflect where they’re grown, and can taste dramatically different.”
Jon Meuret, owner and winemaker for Maison Bleue in Walla Walla, has purchased grapes from Boushey since 2008.
“He’s great to work with,” Meuret says. “He’s got a keen sense of how to struggle the vine (a technique of making the vine work harder) to make great fruit and he’s also got a great palate … All of the top wineries want to be in his vineyard(s).”
In Boushey’s words, there’s “a lot of hype in the wine business,” and he admits there’s a certain romance to the idea of growing exceptional grapes. But, he says, “What’s important is doing things right year after year and making a good product.”
Boushey says that he has never had his own winery “because I’ve never had the time or the money. I also kept thinking, ‘I would have to compete with my customers.’” However, he and his father-in-law, Glen Holden, have dabbled in making a small amount of wine over the past 30 years.
“We probably make about 55 gallons a year,” Boushey said. “I love wine. I’m a wine nut. I drink all kinds of wine.”
And he has no intention of ever leaving this industry he loves.
“I’m probably going to do this ‘til I fall off the truck one day,” he said with a laugh.