Victor Cruz launched a new career – not to mention a few good wines – at Cañon de Sol winery
By Andy Perdue | ('88, Journalism)
Growing up in the Yakima Valley town of Wapato, Victor Cruz (’81, Industrial Technology) watched his father toil in the fields as a farmworker.
Little did Cruz realize that he would also go into the agricultural business – as a barrierbreaking and award-winning winemaker.
His childhood also has left him with a great deal of empathy.
“I see how hard people work to earn a penny,” Cruz says. “I see how important education is.”
Cruz did not set out at first to be a winemaker.
He met his future wife, Kim (Douglas) (’81, Elementary Education), in high school. After graduating, he went to Eastern Washington University, becoming the first in his family to attend college. After a year, he transferred to Western.
In 1981, with a degree in hand, he headed back over the Cascades to work for Westinghouse, overseeing large projects at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation north of Richland. He did this for 15 years, then worked as a consultant for an engineering firm for a few years.
But even as an engineer, Cruz’s other career plans were growing on the vine. His friend from middle school, Charlie Hoppes, was a rising winemaker in Washington’s burgeoning wine industry, and the two talked for years about starting a winery together. The talk became more serious in the mid-‘90s, while Hoppes was the red winemaker at one of the state’s top wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle.
In 1999, Hoppes left Ste. Michelle to help start Three Rivers Winery near Walla Walla. Cruz jumped, too, launching his own Cañon de Sol
Winery with Hoppes as his consulting winemaker. It was the first Hispanic-owned winery in Washington – and one of the few in the United States.
The name means “Canyon of Sun” and reflects the winery’s location in the bucolic Badger Canyon area of the Tri-
Cities, a rustic location, home to coyotes, red-tailed hawks and other wildlife. “It’s a canyon of many different things,” Cruz says.
Cruz’s Cañon de Sol became home to other fledgling wineries, including Hoppes’ own, Fidelitas, with Hoppes and Cruz sharing winemaking duties. Such wineries as Gamache Vintners, Goose Ridge Vineyards and Ash Hollow also got their starts at Cañon de Sol because Hoppes was their consulting winemaker, too.
The wines Cruz and Hoppes made together quickly gained fame, with the 2000 and 2002 Syrahs winning Best in Show at the prestigious Northwest Wine Summit, the largest wine competition in the Northwest.
Eventually, all of the other wineries found permanent homes. And under Hoppes’ tutelage, Cruz has become an accomplished winemaker in his own right with little formal training. Now, he’s sought after by start-up wineries, including Anelare in nearby Kennewick, which Cruz helped to launch in 2006.
Cruz’s 45-acre Cañon de Sol includes an old horse barn the Cruzes converted into the winery tasting room and event center. The Cruzes also added additional buildings for winemaking and converted a three-bedroom house into a picturesque “winery retreat” for overnight guests wanting to soak in the tranquil and romantic side of the wine industry.
Together, the Cruzes – Kim is a 30-year elementary school teacher – often host wine trips for WWU alumni and donate wine to Western events.
In 2010, they opened a satellite tasting room in Woodinville to showcase the five different wines Cruz produces: Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and two red blends. His wines are sold in the best wine shops in Seattle, and he now has access to grapes from many of the state’s finest vineyards.
Today, the son of a farmworker and grandson of immigrants oversees one of the finest wineries in the state, and his parents are pleased with his success.
“Mom and Dad supported my sister and me with everything we’ve done,” he says. “My parents have had a hard life, but they are quite proud of us.”
Andy Perdue is editor of Wine Press Northwest, www.winepressnw.com, a quarterly consumer magazine about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.