Purple Star, Muret-Gaston Opening Tasting Room
In Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Wine Village

On Friday, May 27, Amy and Kyle Johnson will be handed the keys to their new tasting room in Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Wine Village, where they will offer their Purple Star and Muret-Gaston wines in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere.

By Ken Robertson

As Kyle and Amy Johnson were researching their families’ ancestry in search of a potential name for a new line of wines, they made a surprising discovery.

“Some 15 generations ago, their ancestors, the Murets and Gastons, were neighbors of sorts, living in adjacent villages in southern France,” the winery website states.

The surnames of their maternal grandfathers — the Murets and the Gastons — thus were a natural for the upscale wines they planned to add to their Purple Star label, which were priced to fit most consumers’ pocketbooks but still regularly won praise from wine critics.

And those grandfathers’ signatures, taken from the bottom of their almost daily letters home during their service in World War II, became the label of the Johnsons’ Muret-Gaston wines, reflecting their family’s sense of tradition and joint French heritage.

Their beautiful cursive — ”a lost art,” Amy notes — will be on display in the newest wine tasting room in the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village in Kennewick, WA., on Thursday, June 23.  That’s when the Johnsons will hold a soft opening of their new tasting room, formerly operated by Cave B Estates Winery.  The soft opening will take place from noon to 8 p.m. on the 23rd.

“Columbia Gardens is a great place to spend a warm, sunny afternoon,” Amy said, noting the view of adjacent Duffy’s Pond, which is frequented by waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds that bolster its appeal.  The location in a century-old waterfront area of Kennewick appeals to their shared sense of tradition.

They will be joining the tasting rooms of Monarcha, Bartholomew and Gordon Estates wineries in Columbia Gardens, which add to the area’s appeal for the Johnsons.  “Our goal is to engage the whole village to create a destination for wine lovers, tourists and anyone looking for an enjoyable afternoon,” Amy commented.

The Johnsons are familiar with the wines of Bartholomew, Monarcha and Gordon, and believe the array of wine varieties the four wineries have to offer, plus their different styles of winemaking, will appeal to almost anyone.

“It’s fantastic wine, and they’re all different and elicit different expressions that show how the winemakers differ in approach to and in the style of their wines,” Amy explained.

The Johnsons source grapes from the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), so some of the AVAs and vineyards they draw their grapes from are the same as their Columbia Gardens neighbors.

But Amy feels each winery’s different varietals and winemaking styles will complement one another and encourage tasters to evaluate and compare those differences. The Johnsons aim to “meet people on their wine journey … and help them discover where their palate is.”

The new tasting room for Purple Star and Muret-Gaston wines will be located in the building formerly operated by Cave B Estate Winery in the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village in Kennewick, WA.

They also will offer some of their Purple Star wines for sale by the bottle, which sell for under $20, including a Rosé of Mourvèdre, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all labeled as from the Columbia Valley AVA.

The offerings from the Muret-Gaston label will include a Rhone-style white blend made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne; a Picpoul and a Grenache Blanc, (both white wines also from the Rhone), a Chardonnay, a red blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot, and two Syrahs, one from Red Mountain, the other from the Yakima Valley. Their prices tend to run $10 to $25 higher than Purple Star.

The Johnsons are both graduates of Washington State University, where Amy earned a degree “in dairy farming,” aiming to return to her family’s dairy operation near Vancouver, WA.. Kyle’s focus was in plant sciences, and many of the skills he learned at WSU also had applications on the side of the dairy business that grows hay and other feed for cattle.

That was not to be. Kyle, a Tri-Citian at heart, was in essence rained out of the Vancouver area. The gray days and frequent rain convinced him he needed the sun, and he soon landed a job as a viticulturist for Chateau Ste. Michelle, working at the east end of the Columbia Gorge. From there, he became the winemaker at the now-closed Olsen Estates.  After Olsen, Kyle and Amy launched Purple Star in 2008.

The Johnsons have regularly been producing wines that score from 90 to 94 points, with the latter being a separate label, Native Sun, made only in years when the Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon grapes they buy from Kiona Vineyards’ Heart of the Hill planting are deemed especially promising.

They have slowly grown their operation to about 4,000 to 5,000 cases annually, with Muret-Gaston at 1,000 to 1,200 cases of the total.

They aim to make their new Columbia Gardens tasting room into a place to sit, relax, sip and savor wines. They don’t plan to have a traditional tasting bar and will offer flights of wine and deliver a personalized experience. Amy said they plan to align their tasting room hours with the other wineries in the village, which currently are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Sunday.

The aim is to step back from a harried world full of cell phones, texting and email to slow down a bit and to produce a feel more like reading a graceful hand-written letter with swooping, graceful cursive that transcends time and reaches back a couple generations — maybe more.

The address of the tasting room is 313 Columbia Gardens Way, Suite #120, Kennewick, WA 99336.  Phone: (509) 578-6604. To learn more about Muret-Gaston wines, visit: www.muret-gaston.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken Robertson had been sipping and writing about Northwest wine since 1978. His articles have appeared in several magazines and on several websites.