For Love

The word "amateur" has a faintly dismissive ring. Take the phrase "amateur winemaker," for example. Doesn't that sound like someone sloshing around in the basement? But if it weren't for some amateur winemakers sloshing around in a Laurelhurst garage, there might be no Washington wine industry worth talking about. The gang of UW profs calling themselves Associated Vintners were the first winemakers since Prohibition to show that Washington state fruit could be turned into first-rate wine. Dr. Lloyd Woodburne and his buddies were definitely in the rubber-boot, carboy, and surgical-rubber-tubing league when they set up shop; others began with the vinous equivalent of a silver spoon in their glass. Such were and are the lucky members of the Boeing Employees Wine & Beer Makers Club. The Lazy B is home to more than 40 employee clubs and associations, and until recently was generous in its support of them. The wine club alone used to get $1,500 a year to spend on speakers, travel, and events, and although that's dried up, members still have free access to a lot of things the usual amateur can't afford or has no room for: presses, crusher-stemmers, a bottling line, a reefer container, all housed rent-free on Boeing property. Thanks to their numbers—over 200, including the beer mavens—they also have access to fruit of a quality the average amateur can only dream of purchasing: 50 tons of fruit a year from some of the finest vineyards in the state (and nation). It's commonly known that some of the best wines on the local market are the product of Boeing Wine Club alumni. What's not so commonly known—I didn't know, at least—is that some of those winemakers aren't really alums: They continue to work at Boeing while moonlighting as licensed commercial winemakers. One such is Nota Bene Cellars' Tim Narby. Dave Larsen of Soos Creek Wine Cellars has been producing wine commercially since the 1989 vintage, but he only retired from Boeing last year. And if it seems that their Boeing connection gives them unfair advantage when it comes to procuring fruit from the likes of Ciel du Cheval, Connor Lee, or Champoux, that's nothing compared to the advantage consumers get, considering the subsidy of time and investment we derive from the cushioning provided the winemakers by a steady income. One of the most noted Boeing wine babes really is an alum. Ben Smith won top plaudits for his Cadence wines the very year after retiring from the Ranch, but the realities of the open market have him thinking longingly of the old cushioned days. Next year, though, his huge investment in his own property and vines on fabled Red Mountain should begin to pay off in fruit, and if any winemaker can turn fruit into liquid gold, Smith can. (To be continued . . . ) rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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