Story and photos by Viki Eierdam
When Windy Hills Winery opened in Ridgefield, WA. over Memorial Weekend 2017, it was owner Dave Kelly’s intention to make a statement.
After pulling into the 56-car parking lot, visitors are greeted by stunning rock work at the prominent entrance that carries through a substantial portico into a 2,400 square-foot great room. Accented with massive wood beams, one end is anchored by a rock wall fireplace with rock arched doorways on either side.
Windy Hills owner Dave Kelly lends his larger-than-life personality to the winery’s tasting room on most weekends.
Each pass-through leads into a sizeable tasting room with a lowered beam system designed to mimic a vineyard trellis and add a cozy scale to the space. A curved bar sets the stage for wine tasting and a window runs the full length of the opposite wall. This gives visitors a look into the 2,100 square-foot production area during crush season and bottling. In a few years, when the estate grapes are mature enough to harvest, some of the production space will be reserved for Windy Hill’s barrel-aging program.
“I wanted that ‘wow’ factor. I wanted people to drive up and say ‘wow.’ I wanted them to walk in and say ‘wow,’” Dave said.
Windy Hill mirrors Dave’s larger-than-life personality. Nothing less than a hearty hand shake or a hug will do for this man who spent 30 years handling national pet food accounts for Mars, Incorporated.
As one of the fastest growing cities in Washington, Ridgefield is experiencing a population boom that will put Windy Hills smack dab in the middle of approximately 1,000 new homes. Their 25-acre site is already a much-appreciated oasis in an area that supported a predominantly agricultural landscape for generations.
Back in 2010, Dave and his wife, Karen, were already planning for their next adventure. They then set about pulling up approximately 10,000 stumps to reimagine Windy Hills Tree Farm as Windy Hills Winery and this is its third incarnation — the first being a cattle farm. Now, just over five acres are planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.
The Kellys are looking forward to a few more seasons under their belt to join the ranks of area vineyards supplying locally-sourced fruit in a growing region of just under 20 wineries. Better known as the wet side of the state, Southwest Washington received a boost back in the 70s when pioneering Linc and Joan Wolverton of Salishan Vineyards in La Center, Washington had early success with several viniferous grape varieties including the three that Windy Hills is growing.
Since opening, guests have enjoyed wines crafted from grapes sourced from La Center, the Willamette Valley and Walla Walla. This fall, Windy Hills will also unveil a Dolcetto with grapes from Sunnyside Vineyard in Salem, OR.
Located seven miles from Windy Hills, White Dog Farm was planted to 6.75 acres of Pinot Noir back in 1982 — both Pommard and Wadenswil clones. On a side note, the success of this vineyard will be pivotal as Southwest Washington actively works toward AVA (American Viticultural Area) status.
The current tasting lineup at Windy Hills Winery includes Viognier, Pinot Noir Rose’, Tempranillo, Malbec, Syrah, a red blend called Trinity, and Pinot Noir.
Windy Hills’ current tasting lineup includes Viognier, Pinot Noir Rosé, Tempranillo, Malbec, Syrah, a red blend named Trinity and Pinot Noir.
Windy Hills’ winemaker, Bob Mayfield, is also a long-time neighbor of the Kellys. A former wine writer, Mayfield has been on the vintner side of the industry since 2001, so when the Kellys began talking about a winery, they had him on their short list of candidates.
Now 100 percent at the winemaking helm, Mayfield was responsible for about half of the first releases at Windy Hills, and Cougar Crest Winery lent a hand to complete the portfolio.
“Our friends at Cougar Crest, Dave and Debbie Hansen, made the (initial) Viognier, Syrah, Malbec and Trinity. They’re fellow WSU grads. I wanted somebody that grew their own grapes, made good wine and went to WSU,” Dave chuckled.
Down the road, Joe and Bev Leadingham of Stavalaura Winery have been friends of the Kellys “forever” because their kids attended school together. They share winemaking resources here and there and refer patrons to one another’s winery.
Bob Mayfield (left), former wine writer turned vintner, talks shop with Windy Hills owner Dave Kelly while Doug the dog looks like he wants the two men to wrap it up.
On its own, the 5,300 square feet of interior space at Windy Hills is ample but there’s more than just wine going on here. Dave’s vision of a combination winery/vineyard/event space includes a commercial kitchen, a 3,200 square-foot concrete patio for outdoor receptions, a groom’s room and a 400-square-foot bride’s room.
With a dedicated restroom, a salon-style shampoo bowl, an ample and well-lit make-up counter and plenty of room for seating, visiting and changing, it’s clear that a woman’s touch went into the bride’s room planning.
That would be Ashley Miller, daughter of Dave and Karen. As a Business Management major from Washington State University, Ashley raises twin toddlers with the help of her husband while handling all on-site events from weddings to reunions, anniversaries, office parties, Christmas parties and company meetings.
With their deep community roots, the Kellys are “betting big” that not only Southwest Washington but Ridgefield will come into its own as a competitive grape-growing and winemaking area.
Dave said, “What we have created, what other winemakers are doing, it raises the tide and all boats raise. I think we’re in the infancy. I think I’m kind of catching the wave early. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here for the wine industry.”
Windy Hills Winery is located at 1346 S. 38th Court, Ridgefield, WA. 98642. Visit them at: www.windyhillswinery.com, or call Dave Kelly at (360) 727-2200.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Viki Eierdam is a freelance writer who lives in Battle Ground, WA. Connect with her at: www.savorsipandsojourn.com