Vineyard was their destiny
Jarrod and Ali Boyle call it destiny, but the family dream has required hard work.
Naming a winery after your wife can earn a husband plenty of brownie points, but it also keeps her vested in making sure the wine is something to be proud of.
Alexandria Nicole (Ali) Boyle is the namesake for Alexandria Nicole Cellars, a relatively young but fast-growing winery located in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills appellation. Ali, who is in charge of marketing, works beside her husband, Jarrod, who serves as grower and winemaker. The two founded Alexandria Nicole Cellars and have a 50 percent ownership of Destiny Ridge Vineyards. In just a handful of years, the winery has grown to 9,000 cases and has expanded its reach by opening a tasting room in western Washington.
“I got a lot of points for the winery’s name—for a little while,” joked Jarrod during an interview with Good Fruit Grower at the production facility last fall. On a serious note, he explained that his wife of 16 years has been his supporter throughout their marriage and her name was an obvious choice for the winery.
In a video, Ali said she was flattered by the name. “But it’s been a little bit overwhelming at times to have my name out there,” she said. “I hope I can be what the name evokes in people’s minds.”
The couple’s venture into the wine world was bold. They didn’t grow up in the wine industry and had no formal education in winemaking, wine marketing, or the related aspects of running a winery. Jarrod gained agricultural experience working for a diversified farmer in Prosser, Washington, after high school. His start in wine grapes came in 1996 when he joined Hogue Cellars to work in grower relations.
With Dr. Wade Wolfe (then general manager at Hogue Cellars) as his mentor, Boyle traveled on behalf of Hogue throughout the Pacific Northwest and learned to discern important viticulture aspects (slope, climate, soil). One day, on the way to a vineyard inspection, he found himself looking at the perfect vineyard site in Horse Heaven Hills. The site overlooked the Columbia River, which he knew would provide a maritime influence, and it had south-facing slopes that would warm up the soil and give good air drainage.
“It was barren ground, but I had this vision of the hillside being planted in wine grapes,” he said. It was a vision that changed the course of Jarrod and Ali’s lives, a dream that has required family effort and a lot of hard work.
The site, owned by Bud Mercer, was for sale, but the Boyles didn’t have the financial means to be sole owner, and Jarrod wasn’t interested in just managing the site. An agreement was struck that gave the Boyles half interest with the Mercer family in the 370-acre hillside.
About 200 acres of wine grapes were planted in 1998. At last count, there were 264 acres of mostly red varieties.
“From my work at Hogue, I knew how to tell growers how to grow good grapes, but I had never done it by myself. I’d never planted and developed a vineyard before,” he said, admitting that it was a scary and nerve-wracking time.
The vineyard name Destiny Ridge was chosen because it depicted what Jarrod describes as their fate to be part of Washington’s wine industry.
From vineyard to winery
Jarrod’s original plan was to sell fruit to other wineries and make just a small amount of wine, which he began when the first grapes came off in 2001. He was impressed enough from the quality that the plan for a small boutique winery soon expanded to a larger scale one. He put a business plan together, found investors who provided capital for the winery, and built Alexandria Nicole Cellars at the vineyard in 2004. The project had to stand on its own because the winery was to be self-financed.
Jarrod, who has had dual roles from the start as grower and winemaker, has an advantage over some winemakers—he knows the grapes intimately and can control everything (except Mother Nature) from dirt to bottle. The Boyles hired a wine consultant for the first 15 months to help guide Jarrod in winemaking, but he also learned from his former Hogue supervisor. “Wade Wolfe’s been my mentor through the years. He’s been a phenomenal help to me.”
The winery has grown quickly, from 300 cases in the first year to 9,000 cases in 2010. They opened their first tasting room in downtown Prosser in 2004, relocating in 2006 to the Port of Benton County’s Prosser Food and Wine Park. A wine-tasting room in Woodinville was opened in 2007. The tasting room at the production facility in Horse Heaven Hills is by appointment only.
More than 80 percent of the grapes from Destiny Ridge are sold to other wineries. About 20 different varietals are grown at Destiny Ridge, giving Jarrod control from bud to bottle when he creates small case lots from estate-grown grapes. While he makes standard varietal wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, many of the wines are blends and what he calls “esoteric” wines from varieties like Tempranillo, Malbec, Grenache, Rousanne, and Marsanne.
“Blends are my passion,” he said, adding that he also makes wines for several restaurants, bottled under the restaurant’s label.
Wine club perks
The Boyles credit much of the winery’s success to Alexandria Nicole Cellars’ wine club. “It’s been a blessing, because the members take quite a bit of the wine, and we don’t have to sell as much to distributors,” he said. The strong wine club allows them to direct market about two-thirds of their wine.
Being a wine club member at Alexandria Nicole Cellars is about more than just receiving discounts on wines. Perks include hidden doors at the tasting rooms that lead to “wine club only” rooms pouring library wines, private events, wine club dinners, and a unique blending competition giving members a chance to blend the best wine.
The winning combination, selected by professional wine critics from a blind tasting, is bottled as a Members’ Only wine and the winning member’s name is included on the label.
“We spend money on our wine club,” Jarrod said, adding that some have been members since the winery started.
Ali shared that they believe wine club members should have special access to their best wines, which is why they make wines sold only to club members.