Capital Press | Viticulture Capital Press Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:03:58 -0400 en Capital Press | Viticulture Firesteed Winery fills marketing niche Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:42:56 -0400 MITCH LIES RICKREALL, Ore. — Firesteed Winery started, innocently enough, when a wine distributor recognized a need for value-based Pinot Noir.

Twenty-one years later, the Willamette Valley winery is producing high-end Pinot Noir, some exquisite Chardonnay, and continues to stay with its original vision, offering a well-balanced Pinot Noir for $16 a bottle.

And the winery, which started with no vineyard and no wine-making facility, today is growing wine grapes on 225 acres, 130 of which it owns, operates out of its own winery and is distributing its wines to all 50 states and several countries.

Firesteed was started in 1993 when Howard Rossbach, a wine distributor at the time, noticed a shortage of value-based Pinot Noir. Rossbach approached several winemakers with the proposition of producing a lower priced Pinot Noir, but found no takers.

Rossbach eventually decided it was up to him to produce the wine. He purchased grapes from a vineyard, located a custom crush facility and a winemaker to make the wine, and, in 1993, produced his first vintage.

“From those humble beginnings, we now are sold in all 50 states and several countries,” said Debbie Chapman, hospitality and tasting room manager.

Firesteed primarily produces four varietals, using grapes grown at the site of its winery, which is just north of Rickreall on North Pacific Highway West, and from a vineyard planted in 2007 on acreage Rossbach purchased southwest of the winery in 2005.

Rossbach purchased the Firesteed winery in 2003. In 1998 he hired Bryan Croft as his winemaker, a year after Croft arrived in Oregon from the Napa Valley.

Lisa Zuniga serves as the winery’s viticulturist.

The winery is one of 291 vineyards, and 259 in Oregon, certified for its sustainable production practices by the third-party certifier, LIVE, an acronym for low input viticulture and enology.

“We pride ourselves on producing well-balanced wines at good price points, sustainability and care for the environment,” Chapman said.

In addition to its value-based Pinot Noir, Firesteed offers a higher-end Pinot Noir under its Citation label that is aged in oak for 18 months, bottled and laid down for a minimum of seven years.

Its current Citation series Pinot Noir is a 2003 vintage selling for $60, which, Chapman said, is still a low price point for a wine that has aged for upwards of a decade.

“Because we are so widely distributed, that gives us the bread and butter to make higher end wines and still pass that savings on to the customer,” Chapman said.

The winery also offers a high-end Chardonnay under the Citation label for $30.

Most of its wines, however, still sell for under $20, including the Oregon series Pinot Noir and its Riesling and Pinot Gris, which sell for $12.

Partners plan several wine-related businesses in downtown Roseburg Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:41:13 -0400 CRAIG REED ROSEBURG, Ore. — Dyson DeMara and Scott Kelley are putting their extensive wine experiences to use in a unique business concept in the downtown area of this southern Oregon town.

The friends and business partners have established the Paul O’Brien Winery in a former Chevrolet car dealership building and are working to establish a marketplace of wine-related businesses around the wine production facility.

“The catalyst is the wine,” DeMara said. “Everybody has said this type of concept is not possible, but it’s been done in Paso Robles and in Lodi in California. Why not us? Why not here? We’ve got a great downtown area.”

The partners say their business plan is unique because they don’t know of another facility that started with an urban winery and provided for supporting businesses, all under the same roof.

DeMara, 50, and Kelley, 41, met in 1999 while working for the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, Calif. Kelley was a winemaker and DeMara worked in marketing. In addition to the U.S., their work took them to several European and Asian countries to see vineyards and wineries and to give presentations at numerous events. They’ve seen urban wineries expand and become part of fully integrated marketplaces.

Wanting to leave the more corporate California wine industry in favor of a small-community, family-owned culture, they decided on Douglas County. In 2003, DeMara purchased the Hillcrest Vineyard west of Roseburg. That vineyard was planted in 1961 by Richard Sommer, Oregon’s Pinot Noir pioneer.

In 2009, Kelley purchased land near Hillcrest for a future vineyard.

But in addition to growing grapes, the two also had a vision of establishing a marketplace around an urban winery. They purchased the 27,000-square-foot building in March 2013. They had the wine production area set up in time for the 2013 harvest. Grapes were purchased from six Douglas County vineyards and nine types of wine, all bottled under the Paul O’Brien label, were made. Total production was 2,000 cases.

The next step was a tasting room. It opened in early July. An adjoining wine bar is scheduled to be opened in September. The winery, tasting room and wine bar total about 17,000 square feet, leaving 10,000 square feet for other wine-related businesses such as a restaurant, cheese shop, bakery, gourmet market or wine products store.

Dimensions are flexible, the partners explained, but 3,000 square feet are available for a restaurant, leaving seven 1,000-square-foot spaces for retail businesses. The partners would prefer to lease the spaces so they can concentrate on the winery.

“We want people with a like-minded vision,” Kelley said. “We already have people interested.”

Kelley added that people from California to Seattle have shown interest in the winery marketplace.

“We are trying to share the things we enjoy in our daily life,” Kelley said. “We’re about sharing, about enjoying fine cheese, fine bread, a fine glass of wine. It’s a culture of sitting and having conversation rather than a culture of go, go, go.”

Visitors to the winery will get the experience of walking through the production area to reach the tasting room and wine bar.

“It will stimulate the senses ... the smell of fermentation,” DeMara said. “You’ll get a heavy dose of the wine production side.”

After years of suburban malls being popular, Kelley said the trend is that people want to come back to downtown areas, have a glass of wine and walk to dinner at a nice restaurant.

“We just want to share here in Douglas County what many parts of the world already do,” he said. “There’s no reason people shouldn’t be able to come to Roseburg to do that.”

The winery name is a combination of their middle names — Paul for DeMara and O’Brien for Kelley.

Winery owner takes road less traveled Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:41:54 -0400 Erick Peterson ZILLAH, Wash. — Long before he owned Portteus Winery in Zillah, Wash., Paul Portteus prided himself for doing things that were a bit out of the ordinary. He maintains that tradition as he continues to build one of the area’s oldest wineries.

His history with alcohol production started when he was 19 and he started a home brewery.

“I was too young to buy beer or wine, so I bought the supplies and I made it,” he said.

He moved out of his parents’ home and he began living in an old houseboat, where he hosted frequent parties and introduced wine to friends who typically favored beer.

He was known, he said, as being out of the ordinary for his preference for wine during the late 1960s.

His early influences included his mother’s sister, who also made beer and wine at home. He was also turned on by his parents’ wine appreciation, and by his own travels to wine-producing regions of California.

Other work did not satisfy him, so he explored winemaking. He figured that he would have to start in California, until he read a newspaper article that featured the Yakima Valley, Wash.

There were only a handful of wineries in Washington state at the time, and few in the Yakima Valley.

He and some friends explored the area and visited the few existing wineries, such as ones in Prosser and West Richland.

He found land that was “so beautiful it made our jaws drop,” and they purchased it in the early ’80s, when wine makers were still considered “weirdos.”

He said that wine had not gained its current popularity among the public. There were some sophisticates who enjoyed wine, but most people opted for beer, if anything.

“It was just not an accepted part of our culture,” he said.

Still, he, his wife, his parents and a pair of friends purchased the winery, and together they started out by disregarding some early advice.

People told him that if he was crazy to go into the business. If he was going to do it, however, he should grow Riesling, they said.

“A lot of people were looking at it like farmers trying to make money,” he said. “Riesling was in high demand, and that’s where the good money was.”

He planted Cabernet and Merlot instead, because the people around him were drinking those varieties. The gamble paid off, as these wines sold well to Seattle restaurants.

Then, in the early 1990s, Americans’ taste changed, starting with news articles that informed the public of the health benefits of wine.

“It was night and day,” he said. Wines became more popular, and his business took off.

He now produces 8,000 cases each year, and he is still trying to stay ahead of the market, always attempting to anticipate the next big variety.

He also makes educated guesses about the industry as a whole.

“I think Washington will be the go-to area for wine in this country, or even the world,” he said. “It won’t be in my lifetime, and it might not be for 100 years, but it’ll happen, and it’ll be good for my great-grandchildren.”

Portteus Winery

Location: Zillah, Wash.

Year started: 1981

Owners: Paul and Marilyn Portteus

Acres: 74

Paul Portteus, owner of Portteus Winery, shows vines growing outside his tasting room in Zillah, Wash.

Carmela Vineyards owners keep it in the family Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:41:36 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Operating Carmela Vineyards and Crossings Winery at Glenns Ferry, Idaho, is a family affair, its owners say.

“These vineyards were originally planted in 1985 by the couple who built the winery, then my parents purchased it in 1997.” says Douglas Jones, who manages the vineyard.

Jones, his wife and siblings took over management after his father’s death and hope to keep it in the family.

The vineyard has several varieties of grapes, including 6 acres of Limburger — a European variety more than 1,000 years old.

“It makes a dark red wine that’s very good but people are turned off by the name (reminding them of the smelly cheese) so we use it as a blending wine,” says Jones.

They also have 5 acres of Riesling, a half-acre of Semillion and recently planted a half-acre of Merlot. It takes about 750 to 850 plants for an acre.

“We just got 50 starts of another strain of Merlot we’re trying — a clone from France. We’re some of the first people in the Pacific Northwest to try these,” he says. “They were sent to us as little twigs with a few leaves. We water them every day, by hand.”

By contrast, the older vines are watered once every 10 days to two weeks with drip irrigation.

“You want the vines to react as though they are in a drought — to put their production into fruit,” he explains.

All wine grapes are clones of certain varieties.

“Like potatoes, you don’t grow them from seed or you’d get hundreds of variations. Down through the ages people figured out the ones that make good wine and took starts off those plants,” he says. “For instance, there was a Merlot plant somewhere that is the parent of all Merlot plants today.”

The vines are pruned in spring and directed along the trellis system.

“Vines are like trees. It takes about 3 years to get a young plant into production, but if taken care of they live a long time,” he says, adding that some vines in California are more than 120 years old.

Grapes were first planted in the U.S. by Thomas Jefferson, who brought starts from France, but an aphid in the soil attacked the roots.

“People learned they could use a closely related native grape as rootstock and just graft the wine grapes onto those roots. When vineyard growers decide to change varieties they put the new plants on the old rootstock,” says Jones.

“Here in Idaho most of the vines are on their own roots because we don’t have the phylloxera problem — because of our altitude and climate,” he says.

By late August he starts checking the grapes to see if they are starting to ripen, and tries to harvest them before deer, birds and hornets decimate them.

“The longer the fruit is sweet, the more is eaten and damaged. We want to be ready to pick them before we lose a lot of the crop to these predators,” he says.

“The grapes are picked by hand into 5-gallon buckets, collected by a person on a golf cart to put into a big box that holds about 900 pounds of grapes.

“Those go to our crush pad where we de-stem and then crush them in a big press,” he says.

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards has room to grow Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:39:44 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Gary and Martha Cunningham started their vineyard 10 years ago near Eagle, Idaho, after 2 years of searching for a good spot.

They selected the location for its soil and climate — which they say is perfect for growing grapes.

“The Snake River Valley is part of an ancient lake bed which is now the Snake River Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area). It is fairly flat, with a layer of silt,” Martha says.

Their 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards is in foothills that would have been the edge of the lake, located on Pearl Road — the old stagecoach route to the Pearl Mines from Caldwell.

“Plans are underway to create a sub AVA, Willow Creek Idaho, identifying the uniqueness of the foothills soil and climate,” she says. This sandy, loamy soil is different from the valley floor.

“We planted our first grapes in 2005, harvested our first crop in 2007, and opened our first bottle of wine in 2008, our 2007 Viognier. It won an award at the Indianapolis International Wine Competition,” Martha says.

“Our ranch is 1,600 acres, with 600 acres that have been identified as ideal for grapes. It has a lot of water, and sandy, loamy soil,” says Martha. At this point only 60 acres are planted. The rest is leased out for pasture.

“We are growing French Vitis Vinifera rather than American hybrid rootstock. We grow Bordeaux style grapes which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, et cetera,” she says. They also have Rhone Valley grapes.

“We’ve tried to select what we think will work best for our site and provide the best wine. The variety selection needs to be specific to where you are growing the grapes.”

This vineyard is the largest family-owned and -operated vineyard and winery in Idaho. The larger operations are corporate farms owned by companies in Washington state.

“Our grapes are watered by drip irrigation. Each variety has its own water requirement so we water each group of plants as needed,” she says.

Tending grapes is a year-round task.

“We have more than 25,000 plants, and each one must be treated as an individual, pruned and monitored. We start pruning mid-February and are nearly finished by end of June when the tiny little grapes are ready to grow and ripen, so the vines can put all their energy into growing the grapes,” she says.

They are ripe enough to harvest by October. There are several ways to tell if the grapes are ripening.

“The old-fashioned way is tooth-tasting a grape to see if it’s sweet, and whether the seed is brittle/crunchy or still green and soft. The scientific method is to collect samples, crush them and run them through the lab to check sugar levels and acid,” she says.

Each variety ripens on its own schedule, so the harvest is spread out. “They are harvested by hand so we need lots of experienced help with sharp nippers. It’s a big job.”

Last year Gem County was declared a disaster area — freezing weather killed many of the vines.

“We lost a lot of grapes, so for the past 18 months we’ve had to rebuild, but we look forward to a good harvest this fall in 2014. Farmers are the greatest optimists in the world!” Martha says.

They make their own wine and market it in five states: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. “Our label catches your eye, with the three horses on it, and once you see it you can readily identify it.”

There’s a story behind the label.

“When we moved here as a family with our daughter, we each had one horse so we named it the 3 Horse Ranch,” she says. “There are still 3 horses on the ranch.”

Windy Point provides unique experience Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:38:11 -0400 Erick Peterson In a market crowded with wine and wineries, the folks at Windy Point Vineyards hope to stand apart.

Liz Stepniewski, owner of Windy Point Vineyards, said that her winery accomplishes that by offering uncommon wines in a beautiful, rural setting.

Windy Point sits high on a hill that overlooks the Yakima Valley near Wapato, giving visitors a sweeping view of the area’s farmland.

“We want to make it worthwhile for people to come here,” she said. The beautiful view is just part of the attraction, however, and the tasting room is also home to turtle aquariums, which help create a family atmosphere. Everyone, young and old, enjoys seeing the turtles, she said.

The tasting room must be a major focus, she said, as it is the portal through which her wines are available. Since the wines are not widely available at markets, most people buy her product through the tasting room.

Windy Point sells around 1,500 cases a year, she said, and the advantage of selling mostly through the tasting room is that she is able to keep prices low.

Many other wineries, she said, spend a lot of money dealing with distributors. In so doing, they can break into new markets, but their cost is high. They may be able to produce a bottle of wine for a dollar, but at the same time they have to sell that same bottle for $35 to $50 at stores, she said.

She hopes that by focusing her attention on the wine, she can build a reputation for quality. She said that her own cost for a bottle is as high as $11 or $12, and most of her wines sell for twice that amount.

It is important for her, she said, to have a niche that includes wines not offered by many other wineries nearby.

“Everybody produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot,” she said. “So, being a small winery, you kind of want to find something different.”

She offers Nebbiolo and Barbera, which are uncommon varieties in the region. A few years ago, she planted Graciano, which is most common in Spain. She calls it “really interesting” and a fun experience to create something this rare.

She said that she had not tried it when she planted it. She only decided to give it a try after reading an article by wine writer Jancis Robinson, who called it one of the best grapes in the world.

When the vines matured and she was able to make a bottle, the wine came as a pleasant surprise. She found the beverage to be dark, rich and full of berry flavor.

The first vintages were offered to her wine club at the tasting room, and they were good sellers. She expects to release future vintages to the public.

These creations are very exciting to her, she said, and she is happy to find a measure of success, especially since she started with limited experience.

“We didn’t really know what we were getting into when we started,” she said. “We broke all the rules, didn’t do a business plan, didn’t do all the things that we should have done. It was all by the seat of our pants, but we had a lot of help from other winemakers, read a lot, had advisers for early testing and we’re doing well.”

Windy Point Vineyards

Location: Wapato, Wash.

Owners: Liz and Mike Stepniewski

Year started: 1972

Acres: 10

Varieties: Nebbiolo, Barbera, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Graciano, Pinot Noir

Assistant wine-maker switches fields Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:36:17 -0400 MITCH LIES WALLA WALLA, Wash. — People take all sorts of routes into wine making. For Andy Slusarenko, it was a degree in turf management and a disinterest in mowing grass.

Slusarenko, assistant wine-maker at Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, became disenchanted with turf management while working at the local Veterans Memorial Golf Course after obtaining a degree from Walla Walla Community College in 1999.

Fortunately for Slusarenko, the owners of Three Rivers Winery, who were regulars at the course, approached him with the idea of installing a three-hole golf course at their winery.

“Finally, they just bugged me enough and I quit my job there and came here and drew in a little three-hole course for them,” Slusarenko said. Six months later, he said, they brought him into the wine industry.

“I was cellar master for a few years, and then, in 2004, I became assistant wine-maker,” he said.

Slusarenko, who was raised on an apple farm in nearby Milton Freewater, Ore., said not only is it ironic that he turned his degree in turf management into a career in wine-making, it’s ironic that he is working in agriculture, at all.

“I learned at an early age that I didn’t want to be a farmer,” he said, “and look at me now, I guess I’m still kind of a farmer. “But this is a little different and I like this aspect better. If you have a bad day, you can have a glass of wine and it turns into a good day.”

At Three Rivers Winery, Slusarenko works under wine-maker Holly Turner. Turner, he said, has a great reputation among area farmers, who sell grapes to the winery.

“They love to have her make their fruit into great wine,” he said.

Owned by Foley Family Wines of Healdsburg, Calif., Three Rivers sources grapes from between 10 and 20 vineyards, Turner said. Sources include a wide variety of appellations, including Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla.

“I like to source from warmer sites and cooler sites so our products can be consistent year after year,” Turner said.

“I have been working with the same vineyards for quite a while now, and have come into a comfort zone, especially on the Wahluke Slope,” she said.

“The skins are nice and thick,” she said. “I get great concentration of fruit and it has good varietal character.”

Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, where it gets a little windier, are great for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, she said. And Turner likes the “elegance” of the Walla Walla Valley Cabernets, she said.

In white grapes, she looks for balance.

Three Rivers has its high-end wines, priced at $50 a bottle, but it also has lower price points, including a $14 red table wine that is a favorite of consumers.

Three Rivers also recently started producing a “Steel Chardonnay” for $14, which, Slusarenko said, “has been a hit.

“In California, you hear about these Steel Chardonnays with less of that oak, less of that buttery malolactic characteristic, and we thought, let’s try it on a small lot, and we sold it out almost instantly after we bottled it,” Slusarenko said.

The winery doubled its output of the steel chardonnay this year, he said.

Still, about 80 percent of the wine produced at Three Rivers is red wine, he said.

Family switches from cattle to grapes Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:29:55 -0400 LACEY JARRELL When Dorothy Garvin’s three children suggested she and her husband get out of the cattle business and into the grape business, she was more than a bit skeptical.

After much discussion, Dorothy and her husband, Vern, decided to take the plunge, and after hiring a consultant and converting 66 acres of their Gold Hill, Ore., farm into a vineyard, Sam’s Valley Vineyard opened in 1999.

“It’s an adventure, that’s for sure,” Dorothy said. “No day is the same; no year is the same.”

Now, Sam’s Valley maintains 66 acres of Bordeaux, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon red wine grapes and two acres of white wine grapes. Some Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese grapes are also grown. Dorothy said about 60 percent of the grapes are sold to independent winemakers; the rest are processed in Portland under the vineyard’s label, Cliff Cellars. Their wines are sold in five states.

“A lot of labor, a lot of love, and a lot of testing goes into perfecting the wine grapes,” Dorothy said.

Dorothy’s son Lee said not being viticulturists by trade has forced the family to learn how to grow their brand’s award-winning grapes through trial and error.

“If you plant barley in a field and it doesn’t work, the next year you just plant alfalfa. You can’t really do that with a grapevine, because it’s seven to 10 years before you know if the crop is good. You have to stick with it,” he said.

Traditionally, the Garvins produce unfiltered French-style red wines with intense fruit and oak flavors, Lee said. He noted that crushed fruit remnants that are normally filtered out give Sam’s Valley wine an authentic and robust body.

In 2009, the Garvins decided to try their hand at white wine. Lee said the family spent two years waiting to decide if they would keep the whites. The growing process has been slow, but the flavor is good for what has been produced, Dorothy said. According to Lee, the vines won’t fully mature until their seventh year.

“If all goes well, they will live for 50 years,” Lee said.

Over the years, the Garvins have learned how many clusters their vines can support. They work to maintain about 24 clusters per vine to concentrate their flavors in about 3.5 tons per acre. Lee said each year the grapes have a new flavor and body, and ripening and fruiting schedule.

Sam’s Valley grapes have been picked as late as the day after Thanksgiving and as early as the third week in September, Lee said.

“Our shortest harvest was two weeks, start to finish, our longest was almost two months,” Lee said. “Each year is different — it’s part of the adventure.”

Dorothy emphasized that the vineyard is a family business and since opening, each of her three children have contributed to Sam’s Valley in his or her own way.

“There’s been an awful lot of fun in selling our wine. I think it’s brought our family together in many ways,” Dorothy said.

Agate Field Vineyard moves into slow lane Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:31:23 -0400 Erick Peterson Running a winery is hard work, according to Agate Field Vineyard owner Ginger Radke.

She owns the winery with her husband, Bob Radke, and her mother, Ruth Rashford, and she does not see a real need for her winery to be a big business.

She prefers a “just-right” sized winery, she said.

A few years ago, the family had built the winery to the point that it was producing 1,000 cases a year. This was fun, she said, but it was more work than her family had originally thought.

She said that her mom and dad started the winery and thought that they could build it, sit back and watch it grow, as if money would just flow through the door without a lot of work.

“There’s more to do than that,” she said, and she hopes to warn anyone who is thinking of starting a winery to be ready for a lot of exhausting labor — that is, if they want great success.

To grow, a winery must continuously develop new markets, she said. It must find distributors and keep up on new opportunities, and this takes a lot of work on the part of a business owner.

Her father died last year, and the family decided to reduce production to around 250 cases a year.

“We’re getting smaller and mostly just serving wine club members,” she said.

She also reduced the hours of operation at the tasting room and has been able to relax. With more free time, she intends to travel, taking RV trips with her husband.

At the same time, she is able to maintain a small winery that is still enjoyable for her. She is able to greet visitors, meeting new people and talking with them about wine and travel.

It’s a fun life, she said, and she has been able to converse with many interesting and diverse people, while also being creative with wine.

She likes experimenting with wines, testing, making changes and coming up with new blends. It is fun, she said, to offer new creations to customers, who visit her winery on tours of the Yakima Valley.

With continued feedback, she hopes to develop better wines every year.

Given the competition in the area, including wineries that are within a short walk of Agate Field, she said she has to continually improve.

In addition to working on the wine, she also spends much of her day bookkeeping and performing basic management tasks for the business. These things are fun for her too, she said.

“Right now, we’re doing what we need to do to pay for our building, but that’s about it,” she said. “We could do more, but doing all that stuff is just not us.”

Agate Field Vineyard

Location: Zillah, Wash.

Year started: 2006

Owners: Ginger Radke, Bob Radke and Ruth Rashford

Acres: 11

Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah

Yeast a rarely mentioned wine ingredient Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:31:53 -0400 MITCH LIES It’s never the signature ingredient and it’s rarely even mentioned, but without yeast, the Northwest’s famous craft beer and wine industries wouldn’t exist.

That fact didn’t escape the attention of Jeannette Kreft-Logsdon, owner, president and founder of Wyeast Laboratories. Kreft-Logsdon founded the laboratory in Hood River, Ore., in 1986, at the dawn of the craft-beer movement in America.

The company has been growing ever since.

“Some of our earliest customers were the pioneers in the craft-beer field,” said Michael Dawson, brand manager of Wyeast Laboratories. “A lot of institutions in the Oregon brewing scene, like Widmer, started at around the same time, and those guys are still customers of ours.

“We’re proud to have been involved in it from the start,” Dawson said.

Wyeast Laboratories today is one of just a handful of companies that supply yeast to the craft beer and wine industries, and, is arguably the biggest in the U.S., Dawson said.

The company, which sells liquid yeast in quantities as small as 1 liter, maintains a supply of about 70 strains, or lineages, of yeast available on a year-round basis. The company also keeps on hand several dozen proprietary strains that it banks for customers. And it has another two to three dozen that it rotates seasonally.

The laboratory keeps yeast in a cold state to keep it dormant, unless it is being propagated, in which case yeast likes to be warm, Dawson said.

Dawson described the company as “yeast ranchers.”

“You’re taking care of these little microscopic living creatures and making sure that they are well fed and happy and stable across multiple generations,” he said.

“When a brewery or winery orders yeast, we take the strain they want, we propagate it up, get the cells to reproduce and grow so we get the volume that we need for the order, and then ship it out,” Dawson said.

Different strains of yeast react differently to different environments and are kept for different purposes, Dawson said.

“Wine yeast is different from beer yeast, and within the beer yeast family, there are different yeasts that like different temperatures and produce different flavors,” he said.

Breweries and wineries typically don’t produce their own yeast, Dawson said, because they don’t have the time and specialized equipment it takes.

“Culturing yeast and caring for it and making sure the strains remain pure so you get consistent results every time is a full-time job,” Dawson said.

The company employs 35 full-time workers and has continued to grow since its beginnings, Dawson said.

“We built our current facility in 2008 and we outgrew it in three years, just because of the growth of the craft brewery industry, and also cider, which is very big right now,” Dawson said. “So we’re looking to expand.”

Hyatt Vineyards builds with new markets Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:32:22 -0400 Erick Peterson Leland Hyatt started his winery almost out of necessity.

He was growing grapes and selling them. It was mostly a side project to his construction work, he said, but he was still taking it seriously. He did not want to lose money on his grapes.

His efforts, however, looked as though they might fail when grape contracts began to dry up. Three years into growing grapes, buyers suddenly stopped buying.

“That put me into quite a bind,” he said.

In the 1980s, there were few wineries in the area, and not many potential customers for grapes. When his few customers pulled out, he was left with a lot of grapes on his hands, he said.

At that point, he said, he could have taken the loss, or he could have looked for opportunity. He chose opportunity. With his wife, Linda, he built his own winery starting in 1983, and they released their first wines in 1987.

“When I started, I wasn’t dreaming that it could be all this,” he said, as he waved his hand toward acres of grapes just outside his tasting room in Zillah, Wash. “I didn’t know it could even be all of this.”

When he started growing grapes, he had 15 acres in grapes. He then added 40 acres and added more through the years.

Thus, growth happened over time. He now markets 13,000 cases a year.

The Yakima Valley wine country has also grown, both in terms of the number of wineries and amount of land dedicated to wine grapes.

“It’s just been amazing,” he said.

The growth, however, has presented the “constant challenge” of trying to find new markets while competing with hundreds of other wineries that are trying to do the same thing.

Ten thousand of his 13,000 cases are shipped outside Washington state, and he relies on help from distributors to get his product into 21 other states across America. If he is successful breaking into Wisconsin, Ohio and six other states in the coming months, he could increase production to 20,000 cases by the end of the year, he said.

In addition to tackling U.S. markets, he also has set his sights abroad, including China, though he said he has some reservations. China presents great opportunity, he said, but many wineries have the same idea, and they all are trying to establish themselves there.

He shipped product to a Chinese broker a couple of years ago, and he has not done much else, though he remains hopeful.

“China is still growing,” he said, “but you need the right connections. We’ve worked with people, and we’ve received visitors. It’s one of those markets that just needs time.”

In the meantime, he said that he will continue to manage his fields, produce his wine and look for other new markets.

Hyatt Vineyard

Owners: Leland and Linda Hyatt

Year started: 1983

Location: Zillah

Acres: 180 acres

Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, Black Muscat, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Ice Wine