Annette Bergevin has one of the brightest smiles in Walla Walla -- and she's got a lot to smile about. Bergevin and business partner Amber Lane are entering their second decade of business with Bergevin Lane Vineyards, bringing "sizzle and mood" with a consistently strong lineup of high scoring wines. It wasn't always easy, but with hard work, the support of a strong community, and a good dose of humor, they've blazed a trail for women in Washington wine. By the looks of things, they'll continue doing so far into the future.
Annette and winery pooch Cody
Have you Googled yourself lately?
I haven't been asked that question ever. I've giggled at myself lately, but I haven't Googled myself lately. What comes up?
The September 2006 "Winery Babe of the Month"
Ooooohhh... I saw that. I actually kind of liked the Photoshopping. I think my boobs were a good proportion and size. And they were perky, which I loved. So, I might use that image, going forward, for the winery because dang, that's the best I've ever looked in a swimsuit.
You're originally from Walla Walla so was starting a winery just something that made sense?
Actually, I was in the telecomm industry for about 10 years down in the Bay Area -- one of those people that sat at the same desk and worked for four different companies and had four different job titles. The last year I was down there, Amber and I took a year off just to decide what we wanted to do for the next phase of our lives. We were talking about starting a family and then, within a matter of months, I was pregnant, we'd put our house on the market, and decided to move to Walla Walla to start a new business. So just about every major life stressor aside from a death in the family we took on in a period of four months. It was like, "Go big or go home!" And I came home big!!! But the biggest fear was how were we going to be received in Walla Walla then, back in 2002, and how was I going to tell people I got pregnant. We came up with the hot tub party: "We don't know how it happened -- it was something in the water!"
Somebody might believe that, you know. I tease a lot and one time we were doing a tour at the winery with a group of folks that weren't really wine savvy. We do a Syrah called the Princess Syrah and it's just this gorgeous, deep, dark color. I was showing them the juice and teasingly said, "It's 90 percent Syrah and 10 percent ink!" About 10 minutes later someone asked me if we really put ink in there. So, see people believe all kinds of things. I guess I should start saying "I'm just kidding."
So, anyway, when we first got here we were sourcing grapes and working with some vineyard growers who were pretty conservative guys and they turned out to be some of our dearest allies and protective best buds, so it really was an amazing experience to come back home to that.
You didn't have any issues?
You know, not to our faces. One time somebody said, "We're not going to drink that gay wine" and I said, "Our wine's not gay!" I mean, it's OK if it is, but I don't think it is. Not that there would be anything wrong with "gay" wine.
What would "gay" wine taste like?
It would be really sassy and probably taste amazing! It would probably be like $200 -- because of all the disposable income -- it would have a really good sense of style, and, if it was a lesbian wine, it would know how to build things.
So conservative small towns may not be as "conservative" as people imagine them to be?
You know, this town and the folks here have been here a long time and we've all evolved over the years. But everyone we work with sees that we buy insurance, we pay taxes, we do everything they do. At the time Amber and I were together, we're separated now, she adopted our daughter -- actually had to adopt her! It felt so weird! We had to be interviewed and they looked at me and said, "Are you going to adopt the daughter as well?" and I was like, "Um, she's mine!" But Amber had to go through the process so, anyway, people have seen what we've gone through. We're really not spokesmodels for anything, we want to raise our child the best way we can. We want to make really good wine. And that's why we're here. That other side piece just seems to pop up from time to time but we've had a lot of support and it's been really nice. We love this town. It's a great place to raise a little one and people are really cool.
So what exactly inspired you to undertake this endeavor?
It was a moment of insanity! But really, I just wanted to find a way to move back home. A lot of our friends were starting wineries and it looked so amazing and so fun -- and, I love wine. I wouldn't say I'm this scientifically-minded person who drinks wine and analyzes every square inch of it, but I just really enjoy it. I also love cooking so it's a fun combination. And there's also usually really fun people around wine so...I wanted to move home and Amber was looking for a change too. She's such a great salesperson so it just translated well. She's gone from door-to-door in her past and there were a lot of doors that slammed so for her it was just a no-brainer. And for me as well -- it's easy to sell something you love.
Sometimes it's hard to sell something you love -- especially when you had a hand in making it. Do you ever have a hard time putting it out there?
It's so personal! It's so personal that you just want to die. You just cringe every time you put it out there -- even if you love it, you know it, and you've seen it through from A-Z. Putting it in front of someone and acting like you know it's subjective and they may or may not like it, but when they love it, it's so exciting. And when it's not quite to their liking, you just want to die. You just want to throw yourself off a bridge and call it a day.
Have you wanted to throw yourself off many bridges???
Well, I can truly say our wines are really well-made. They're really balanced, the fruit in them is exceptional but yeah, it can happen. Though there are people who might not like a Merlot or who prefer sweet wines. We don't produce those now and we try to be really up front with folks -- if there's no sweetness we're not going to tell them it's there. Some people like really oaky, buttery, chardonnay and ours is stainless steel fermented so they might not prefer that style.
Taste in wine is truly subjective but do you try and get those folks who say they don't like certain things to just give them a shot?
People just need to be open-minded and just trust their palates -- that's really all that matters at the end of the day. I would say it's ok if you don't like something but you should at least give it a try. And honestly, it doesn't hurt our feelings if people put it in the dump bucket but I think it's good for them just to expand their palate. It's like that "thank you bite" you tell your 9-year old when they don't want to eat a vegetable. It's like, "Try it! You have to have just one little bite and you never have to try it again." Works with 9-year olds and a lot of adults are about the same. Just big kids!
In the scheme of things, you've been in the business a long time. What do you do at the winery and how has your role evolved?
I sweep floors? Um...really, a little bit of everything. Amber and I, since day one, have done a little bit of everything. We initially sourced the fruit and everything. We tried our hand at winemaking the first year -- in spite of ourselves, it actually turned out OK. We had one stuck fermentation and then we said, "You know, we better not do this anymore." But we had really great support around us the whole time and that, I think, was really the key to our success; always surrounding ourselves with people who are a lot smarter than we are. And, I mean, Amber's really smart but we kind of found our strengths in this process. Amber's more on the sales side, she has more of that entrepreneurial spirit. She was always the "Yes, yes, yes" and I was always like, "Wait!" -- always the realist thinking, "Can we really do this?"
We didn't have a lot of confines because we didn't come from a structured winemaking world so we didn't know what we were doing wrong and what we were doing right. It was just pure, pure luck. There were few errors along the way: the first crush we did was up at Dunham Cellars and we forgot to put our steel bin under the crush pad and the grapes were just going through -- they looked so good just off the vine, and they were all falling on the floor. Nobody stopped us and before we knew it there was a little pile and a lot of photographs taken to memorialize the moment. Little things like that. They happen just about every day with us.
Anyway, so mostly I'm more organization and operational and I do consumer events, like wine dinners and tastings and things like that. Amber's doing more traveling and working with distributors and building those relationships. She's a headhunter by trade so is a great recruiter -- she used to work in the high tech world in Silicon Valley. She's great at finding talented people. And there must be something I'm good at because they still have me here 11 years later.
And 11 years later, aren't you one of the larger producers in the Walla Walla Valley?
I don't know if we're larger, but by Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance standards we're considered a large winery. We're making 8500-10000 cases a year. With the second label we do, we make a little more, but that varies every year. So here we may considered large but when folks from California come through the winery they look at it and say they break more bottles than we make so, it's all perspective.
We were lucky because we started with a 20,000 sq. ft. space. I don't think most people even know what we have here because we're not near any of the other wineries. That has kind of been a detriment to us because we're not out at the airport or south of town. It would be really cool to be nestled in the vineyards or the gateway wineries but people hear about us through word of mouth or because they've tried the wines so they'll come in.
And you've also got an Estate vineyard going?
Yes. It's a 40-acre parcel that we call "100 years in the making." Three generations of my fanily have farmed it and now, finally, we got to put the vineyard there. We have 22 acres planted. My favorite afternoon is to take Cody out there, get on the quad, and rid through the vineyard. I let her swim in the lake and then freak out because she's covered in mud and my car is like a mobile dirt clot. Have you noticed that about Walla Walla?
The dirty cars? Yes, I have one.
Does it freak you out when you go back to Seattle and there are spotless cars everywhere?
Not really. I was one of those Seattleites with a constantly dirty car because I did not have a garage. So when will you get grapes from this new vineyard?
Next year will be third leaf! It's been fun but my brother is going crazy. My brother and my dad are farmers and so they've taught, or tried to teach me, patience and tolerance and hanging in there when it comes to waiting for crops to come in. Now, because grapes take longer than other crops, it's fun to see him having to sit there and wait. This next year will be a lot of fun.
Speaking of fun, let's talk about food. You mentioned you like to cook -- do you have a specialty?
I LOVE to cook. My ultimate go to, which I don't do very often because it's a little time consuming, is boeuf bourguignon with our Intuition blend -- that's a favorite. I'll do that maybe once a year but more what I do is -- my brother and I tease because we cook a lot together -- we call ourselves "The Kitchen Sink Chefs" because we are famous at making things out of nothing. Like, you can just have crap in your refrigerator and we might make that crap taste good. We've got some good crap! And that's kind of our favorite thing to do. And he farms so we have a lot of produce that he brings in and it's kind of fun.
Have you made kitchen sink concoctions that made you say, "Damn! How the hell did we do this?"
That turned out good or bad?
Well, I was thinking good but, either one!
Last night was kinda cool. We had frozen some sweet corn from my brother's farm and I had a bunch of leeks that were about to go bad. We also had some leftovers from a "Potato Bar" so I sauteed those together with just a little chicken stock. The corn was so sweet it made this amazing soup that we topped with some curry roasted cauliflower that Kristy (Annette's partner) had made. Also, we added some leftover chicken from the other day and, it worked -- it was good! So that was last night. It's called...Wait, I'm not going to say what I called it.
Why not? This is adult reading.
OK, it's the "Dinner You Pull Out of Your Ass". But then you're pleasantly surprised that you can just pull out a bunch of junk and make magic.
Do you have anything "magic" coming up that folks should be aware of?
You know we're always looking forward -- we have a heck of a time stopping to say "good job!" It's been twice in 11 years we've all sat down, had a glass of wine, and said, "Yay, us!" We're always looking forward to what's next and asking, "What can we do different?" One thing we are excited for is our Malbec, a pretty limited release, that we'll be releasing in the next couple months. It's called Dreamweaver and it's really fun, so we're excited about that.
We have a new winemaker named Dave Harvey who's been making wine in Washington State for about 20 years and he's brought something new to the table -- just that next step of winemaking. He's worked in facilities that made up to 40,000 cases a year and he just brings a level of maturity and evenness that we've needed. Dave is just really even-keeled. Which balances really well with Amber and I because we can just be crazy -- mountains and valleys! I don't know if that's just being female, or being a business owner, or having kids, or it's hormonal. But God forbid somebody should call it that here.
I think this next decade of winemaking for us is so exciting and we're looking forward to it. We've really found our way in the world and are no longer the newest or most exciting thing on the block. I think that proves we've sustained great quality at reasonable prices so that people can enjoy our wines on a daily basis. That's our goal -- producing really enjoyable, drinkable wines. Over the next 10 years that staying power will keep up with us -- we may never be the considered the "flashiest" but you know, we can really surprise you sometimes.