Dynamic Duos: Couples Pair Up on Locally Made Wine

Love and wine just seem to go together. And for some Washington winemaking couples, their mutual lov
Shannon Borg  |   February 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Chelan couple Heather and Dean Neff share a passion for making wine (Dean makes reds; Heather, whites) at Nefarious Cellars

Love and wine just seem to go together. And for some Washington winemaking couples, their mutual loves—for wine and for one another—is what adds passion to the process. At Nefarious Cellars in Chelan, for instance, husband and wife Dean and Heather Neff have split the winemaking duties: Dean makes all the red wines; Heather crafts the whites. “We both wanted to be winemakers and have our own realms, and it seemed the clearest way to do it,” says Heather. “I think the process of making white wine is exciting, to take grapes we’ve grown in our own vineyard and have a vision for where the wine will go. Dean really enjoys working with red wine.”

Until a few years ago, Dean got his red grapes from vineyards in other parts of the Columbia Valley, because Chelan is thought to be too cool to ripen red grapes. But the Neffs resisted popular opinion and planted Syrah and Malbec in their aptly named Defiance Vineyard, just outside their tasting room overlooking Lake Chelan. Heather works with Viognier from this vineyard, and other white grapes, including Riesling, from the Neffs’ other vineyard blocks—Rocky Mother and Stone’s Throw—near Pateros, north of Chelan.

Many other couples in the Washington wine industry work together in different ways. Some, like Kay Simon and Clay Mackey of Chinook Wines in Prosser, balance each other by focusing on different tasks. Clay sources fruit and works the vineyards, making sure Kay gets the best fruit for her award-winning wines. Poppie and James Mantone of Syncline Cellars in Lyle and Nina Buty Foster and Caleb Foster of Buty Winery in Walla Walla share every aspect of their businesses—working in the winery, collaborating on making and blending wines, as well as marketing and sales. And some couples work for completely different wineries. Marie-Eve Gilla and Gilles Nicault, for example, are award-winning winemakers for two different Walla Walla wineries—Forgeron and Long Shadows, respectively.

Walla Walla couple Ashley Trout and Brian Rudin also work at different wineries. Ashley is the winemaker/owner of Flying Trout Wines and travels to Tero Estates in Oregon, and also to Mendoza, Argentina, to make white wine from Torrontés grapes (she also makes Syrah and Malbec from Washington fruit). Husband Brian is the head winemaker for Buried Cane and Cadaretta wineries in Walla Walla. Ashley and Brian support each other in their adventures, helping each other work through the challenges of making wine. Brian likes that he and Ashley can travel together, work the same events, and talk about what is happening in the vineyards. “We really respect each other’s opinions,” he says. “And we taste a lot of other wines and develop our palates together.”

Whether winemaking couples collaborate through the whole process or give each other freedom in the winery, they do what works for them. “We don’t have any input into each other’s process, so when it comes time to tasting each other’s wines, we can be totally honest,” says Heather Neff. In any case, the process is a labor of love in more ways than one, and the results give lucky wine drinkers some of Washington’s most delicious wines.