This enterprise is the “Poster-Child” for the many small, family owned wineries that call Washington State home.
Owner Phil Warren has gone from making small batches of wine in his garage in 2008 to making 1,800 cases annually at his Benton City production facility that he operates with wife Danette and son Ethen.
By Dan Radil
If you think that most of Washington’s wineries are large, faceless, corporate-owned entities, you might be in for a surprise. In fact, the vast majority of the 900-plus wineries in the state are small, family-owned enterprises that oversee every phase of the winemaking process…from crushing, fermenting and aging the grapes, to bottling, marketing, and distributing the finished product.
This hands-on, personal touch is the hallmark of many smaller wineries, and the “start-to-finish” process requires long hours and dedicated service. But most family-operated wineries feel this approach results in a quality, attention-to-detail product…and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tucannon Cellars, located about 15 minutes west of the Tri-Cities just outside the Red Mountain Appellation, is a model winery for one of these 100-percent family-owned and operated businesses. The winery is named for the Tucannon River near the Blue Mountains in southeastern Washington and owned by father-and-son duo Phil and Ethen Warren and Phil’s wife Danette.
FROM GARAGE TO FULL-SCALE WINERY
Phil started producing wines in 2008, primarily, “to see if he could make a small batch of handcrafted wine for private consumption,” notes Ethen. The elder Warren’s wines became popular among friends who, “got so tired of waiting for the next batch that they helped and supported him in the winery licensing process,” Ethen recalls.
That took place in 2011, and Phil continued to produce wines in the garage at his Pasco home. Then, as a logical step in the growth of the winery, he purchased Oakwood Cellars on Red Mountain in February, 2014, and changed the name of the business to Tucannon Cellars. Ethen serves as tasting room manager and assistant winemaker while Danette handles the winery’s administrative work.
In 2014, Tucannon was primarily focused on making red wines. “We started out just doing reds, but we’ve really gotten more serious about white wines,” Ethen says. That includes varietals such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer, many of which are sourced from the state’s Ancient Lakes American Viticultural Area which he notes is their “favorite AVA for white wines.”
In addition to sourcing grapes from the state’s renowned Mill Creek and Alder Ridge Vineyards, to name a few, the Warrens have frequently utilized grapes from the Yakima Valley and Wahluke Slope AVAs.
The winery also produces a Rosé every year, and last year’s 50/50 blend of Carménère and Mourvedre was sourced from a first-time harvest of two acres of estate-grown varietals. Ethen notes that Tucannon’s first 100-percent, estate-grown red is planned with the upcoming 2018 vintage.
TUCANNON CELLARS “GROWS UP”
As the winery has evolved, so have the tasting room and its surrounding facilities. That includes the construction of a pizza and bread oven stoked with cherry wood from the next-door orchard, beautifully landscaped grounds complete with a gently running brook, and the opening of Tucannon’s Sugar Pine Barn (sugarpinebarn.com), in January of 2017.
The 4,800 square foot building, which resembles a rustic barn with a fragrant, all-pine interior, can accommodate up to 225 guests. According to Ethen, the Sugar Pine Barn will be the site of at least 30 weddings, banquet dinners, and other special events before the end of this year.
The winery hosted its first winemaker dinner with a professional chef this summer. And blending classes, where customers design their own custom-blend, have also proven to be extremely popular.
With the increase in on-site events as well as a gradual rise in the winery’s production to the current level of about 1,800 cases annually, one might think that Tucannon has begun to outgrow its small-time charm.
But that hasn’t had an effect on all the little details the Warrens still have to address while operating their family-owned winery. “We still do everything by hand,” Ethen says, including picking the grapes and crushing them manually.
As for his increasing involvement in all phases of the winemaking process, Ethen notes, “I wouldn’t be able to do it without my dad…and our friends continue to be a tremendous help.”
TUCANNON CELLARS TASTING NOTES:
2016 Viognier – Pleasant cantaloupe and burnt cream aromatics give way to tropical fruit and ripe peach flavors. Finishing notes of caramel and crème brûlée, along with a big mouthfeel, give the wine a full-bodied profile.
2016 Semillon – Sourced from the Walla Walla Valley, this white wine features round, Golden Delicious apple flavors with a finish of apricot, vanilla wafer, and lemon zest. A nice complement to roast chicken or turkey.
2016 M-C Rouge – This 50/50 blend of Mourvèdre and Carménère starts off with notes of fresh-cut hay and alfalfa and bright flavors of red currant, cranberry and rhubarb. The bone-dry finish also carries a spritz of pepper, giving the wine excellent food-pairing potential.
2014 Merlot – White pepper and dark plum aromas lead to more concentrated black plum and blueberry flavors on the palate. The finish is slightly textured and accentuated with a whisper of cinnamon spice.
2014 Cabernet Franc – Dense, ultra-dark plum flavors are capped with a swirl of vanilla bean and lovely floral notes of violets and rose petals. This is a delicious, fruit-forward Cab Franc with no suggestion of anything vegetal that sometimes accompanies the varietal.
2014 Syrah – Coffee and vanilla bean fragrances fill the glass. Dense, chewy, dark fruit and cherry cola flavors are capped by an underlying hint of black molasses and a near Port-like finish.
2014 Red Fusion – This easy-to-drink blend of 30-percent Merlot, 30-percent Syrah, 20-percent Cabernet Franc, and 20-percent Malbec combines mouth-watering black cherry, blueberry, and cassis flavors that melt into a velvety-soft finish. This is the winery’s best effort to date and a true pleasure to taste.
Tucannon Cellars’ tasting room is located at 40504 North DeMoss Road in Benton City, WA., just minutes north of Interstate 82, and open Thursday, Sunday, and Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wines can also be ordered on line at www.tucannoncellars.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dan Radil is a freelance wine writer and educator based in Bellingham, WA., and has been an avid follower and supporter of the Washington wine industry since the mid-1980s. He currently contributes to Wine Press Northwest and Bellingham Alive Magazine, is President of the Whatcom Beer & Wine Foundation, and produces a wine blog called: danthewineguy.com.