Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where Have All the Wineries Gone - Sung to the tune of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

Some folks came into the winery the other day wondering if there were any wineries left in the Yakima Valley. Granted, they chose very well in finding those who no longer exist or are on very limited hours, but it got me thinking about bygone wineries; ones who are no longer with us. Everyone is focused on the new wineries (ones of a thousand) and forget those bygone ones. Let's have a quick review:
Stewart Vineyards Winery was started by Dr. Stewart and his wife Martha. After he and Martha separated, the Doc lost interest in the winery.  After Mike Januik left as winemaker, the quality of the wine went downhill pretty fast. I first met Mike at the winery, admired his work and hired him as a consultant to start Bonair Winery. Some things you do right in the wine business. Mike consulted for us for about a year before moving to Idaho. Stewart Vineyards Winery closed in 1997.
Who remembers M. Taylor Moore, known to his friends as Mike, who operated Blackwood Canyon? When Mike died, the winery died with him although I think it was closed prior to his death. People still tell stories of him pouring them vinegar as a last sample before sending them off to another winery. I miss people like Mike. Most of the people in the business today are here to make a fast buck (i.e. turn a large fortune into a small one) or to make 'award-winning, hand-crafted, ultra-premium over-priced wine; oh and yes did I mention they have a passion. These people are not a story.
Then there was Quail Run Vintners owned by some Yakima businessmen and a grape growing family. They got sued for trademark infringement by Quail Ridge Winery of California and decided it wasn't worth the fight and changed their name to Covey Run. That label exists today, but the tasting room is now occupied by Silver Lake Winery. Quail Ridge is now defunct, but Bronco bought the brand - you know Bronco - Fred Franzia of Two Buck Chuck fame.
Staton Hills is gone. Started in 1985 by Dave Staton with the help of local investors. It may be one of the wineries that actually sold for a profit. After selling, the name was changed to Sagelands, locally known as Sagebrush. The building is now occupied by Treveri Cellars.
Two of Yakima Valley's iconic wineries are now closed, Hinzerling and Yakima River. I remember sitting in meetings with Mike and John when the Yakima Valley AVA was formed. Mike Wallace was the father of the AVA and John Rauner was his chief competitor at that time. Mike passed away and John, I suppose, is off shooting animals. Both had stories to tell.
Remember Oakwood Cellars, operated by Bob and Evelyn Skelton? They were excluded from the boundaries of the Red Mountain AVA. Maybe that was their demise. Bob died and Evelyn eventually closed the winery.
Speaking of Red Mountain, remember Seth Ryan? It was started by Jo Brodzinski and her husband, Ron, in 1986. After Ron's death, Jo continued to operate the winery with the help of family. Eventually, like many of the first generation, she gave up.
Eaton Hill Winery was started by Ed and JoAnn Stear in 1987. Upon wanting to retire, as most of the first generation want to do, it finally sold to the Chinese in 2012. Marketing in China turned out to be more difficult than expected. When their winemaker, Marty Johnson, left, production stopped and they put it up for sale. It remains for sale.
And then there is Piety Flats. It never was a real winery. It started out as a mercantile selling wine when the owner, Jim Russi, decided to put a barrel in the back room and call it a winery. The wine was made by various real wineries. When his wife Chris' health started to deteriorate, the winery went up for sale. Eventually, it just closed. The building now houses a pizza joint.
Tefft Cellars is an interesting story. Started by Joel and Pam Tefft in 1991, it was one to the 'go to' wineries in the valley. Joel and Pam separated and later divorced. Joel wanted to move on to better things and sold the winery, name and all. The new operators were not as adept as Joel at making wine and selling it. After opening a second tasting room in Woodinville (a very expensive proposition), they ended up in bankruptcy. The Homestreet Bank  is still trying to sell the property. (Last I heard the property did sell at auction. No word on the new owners.)
Linda and David Lowe established Wineglass Cellars in 1994. They were mid to late comers to the Yakima Valley. They had hopes that David's son would take over, but that didn't work out. Eventually they sold down their inventory and vacated their license. The building is being leased as a production facility, but the tasting room is closed.
Zillah Oakes Winery was an offshoot of Quail Run Vintners. The building was built at exit 52 from I-82 hoping to draw visitors off the freeway. It was bonded around 1982 as a warehouse, but opened later with a tasting room. After Zillah Oakes went away, the building was purchased by Claar Cellars in hopes of having a visible tasting room in the Yakima Valley. Claar Cellars has since retreated to White Bluffs.
Still hanging in there is Windy Point. The property is for sale and I hear there are some good buys on close-out wine.
Well, that's quite a list. I'm sure next year I can add a few more names to this list. The interesting note is that wineries in the Yakima Valley do not seem to have a life beyond the original owners. The exceptions being Washington Hills and Covey Run - both of which were larger operations.
What advice can I give the new startup wineries? Have fun and have an exit plan that doesn't involve selling the winery.

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