Wineries Open in Washington

Spring debuts for wineries and tasting rooms across the state

by Peter Mitham
Overbluff Cellars Washington
Spokane's annual barrel tasting last weekend was a raging success for brand new Overbluff Cellars.
Sammamish, Wash. -- With their initial vintage set for release this spring, Scott and Margaret Fivash of Fivash Cellars weren’t sure how to price their inaugural release of three wines made largely from grapes grown in the prestigious Walla Walla AVA of Eastern Washington.

But with a license in hand, inspection of the winery’s Sammamish facility this week and an opening planned as soon as labels are approved and applied to bottles, the winery’s red blend will likely debut in the $40 per bottle range, while Chardonnay and rosé releases will likely debut in the mid-$20s.

“We’re going to be a pretty exclusive wine; there won’t be that many cases out,” Fivash told Wines & Vines. “I’m excited.” His expectations for pricing were fueled by his participation in the University of California, Davis, Wine Executive Program in March, and his read on the direction of the economy.

The former publisher of Washington CEO, he sold the magazine in 2006 to take up winemaking. Margaret studied enology and viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, while he got hands-on experience at wineries including Walla Walla Vintners, L’Ecole No. 41 and Va Piano Vineyards. Margaret’s practical experience includes a stint at Long Shadows Wineries.

Fivash Cellars, located in Sammamish, a small community 30 minutes east of Seattle, is one of a crop of new wineries in Washington state, which numbered 593 in April 2010, according to the Wines & Vines IndustryBase (see Wines and Vines headline, “North American Wineries Top 7,000,” April 8, 2010).

Woodinville Wine Country, which represents approximately 58 wineries and tasting rooms in Woodinville, a short distance from Sammamish, also is seeing growth.

Several wineries from Eastern Washington have opened or have plans to open tastings rooms in Woodinville this spring, including Airfield Estates Winery, Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards and Otis Kenyon Wine. Pepper Bridge Winery is set to open a tasting room in Woodinville at the beginning of June.

“Weekends have been good,” said Cynthia Dasté, executive director of Woodinville Wine Country. She said improvements to Woodinville’s tourist district have facilitated the flow of visitors, many of whom park at the Hollywood school house (a local landmark) and walk to surrounding wineries.

“People are certainly buying,” Dasté added, though she said exact numbers are difficult to track. Wines in the $20 to $25 range are selling; higher-priced wines, not so much.

It’s a similar story in Spokane, where John and Lynnelle Caudill are preparing for the grand opening of Overbluff Cellars. The spring barrel tasting event the Spokane Winery Association hosted last weekend was successful for Overbluff, a small producer offering just 800 cases annually. The initial releases from the 2007 vintage showed well among visitors, with 1,000 ring-throughs of tastings and bottles sales. Other wineries saw drops of 15% to 40% in business compared to previous years.

“The funniest thing is the (wine) we sold most of is our Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, our highest price-point wine,” John Caudill said. It sells for $34 per bottle, on a list that begins with Viognier at $19.

Caudill isn’t sure what to make of the sales, but he’s optimistic.

“With our new history, I can’t really judge the market,” he said. Stores at the barrel tasting “were interested in carrying the wine, but all of them basically told me, ‘Come and see us next year, you’re going to sell this out,’ which was encouraging news, but I don’t know.”

While he believes the economy is improving, he’s cautious as long as housing continues to struggle. “Once housing and employment resolve, the entire market resolves,” he said.

Other wineries making their debut in Washington this spring include Vortex Cellars in Redmond, Devorah Creek Vineyards in Auburn and Market Vineyards in Kennewick.
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