Did you catch that blur buzzing down the rows, between the grapevines? That’s Dick Boushey in his 2003 Subaru Baja, his dogs Copper, Coda and Bear in the back. While most farmers in Eastern Washington consider their monster pickups a member of the extended family, Boushey’s practical rig might hint at his roots, growing up on the other side of the state.
“People are always giving me a hard time about it,” said the veteran grower of vinifera grapes used by some of the top producers in Washington. “I’ve had full-size pickups, but they tend to get filled up with junk.”
Boushey grew up in Sumner, in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and when he was a kid, summers were spent picking berries. Still, that hardly prepared him for the cold plunge into agriculture he took shortly after graduating from the University of Puget Sound in 1975 with a business degree, heading for an internship at a bank.
“I had uncles living in the Yakima Valley and my father always wanted to have an orchard over there, so he bought one, but he wasn’t ready to make the move,” he explained. “I was the oldest son, so I went to take care of it for what was supposed to be a year, but ended up being five.”
More than 30 years later, some of those original orchards remain, but grapes are what fuels Boushey’s Baja, what gets him up and out in the vineyards nearly every day of the year. A chunk of his time is also dedicated to raising concords – Steady Eddies, he calls them -- and he is generous in praising early growers of that juice grape with paving the way for vinifera vines.
When Boushey first arrived in the Yakima Valley, there were few other wine grape growers and only a handful of wineries. “In 1980, I planted five acres of Cabernet, five of Merlot and five of Cabernet franc along with some Chenin blanc,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But nobody else did either.”
He met Dr. Walter Clore, the father of the modern era of Washington state wine industry, at the Prosser Research Center, and learned much from him. “I found people who knew what they were doing and I hung out with them,” he said. “There are few industries where you can go ask your competitors how to do things and they’ll tell you all their secrets. It’s great to be part of that community.”
Over the years, Boushey has immersed himself in learning everything there was to know about grape physiology and the nuances of various soils, trellising and the like. He’s not a fan of high density planting and doesn’t believe clonal selection is “the silver bullet so many people want it to be.”
“I’m always looking for ways to make things better, always trying to evolve,” he said. Studying enology and making wine made him a better grower, for instance. And he has been recognized for his efforts.
He was honored in 2002 by the Washington State Wine Commission as Grower of the Year and was awarded the same title again in 2007 by Wine & Spirits magazine.
He shares his success with his hard-working, longtime crew (“I couldn’t do it without them”) and also with the largely unsung efforts of nurserymen who supply growers.
“Without them, especially early pioneers like Don Mercer, we wouldn’t have a wine industry,” Boushey said.
So, does he ever regret not going into banking?
“No, and that business background really helped me when dealing with banks. I could speak the language and I’m good with budgets,” he said.
That combination of business savvy and his hands-on work ethic means he’s never hurting for new clients. He’s already had a handful of requests from new-to-him vintners for 2013 fruit. He’s also got an exciting project possibly starting up soon, but like a venerable businessman, he’s circumspect until the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.
“I can’t say anymore about it right now,” he said.