Kerry Shiels began as Côte Bonneville’s winemaker in 2009, after getting her master’s from the University of California, Davis, and working harvests for five different wineries in California, Australia, and Argentina.
by Melissa Hansen
Hugh Shiels had one reason for expanding from wine grape grower to winery owner.
“I wanted to show what our vineyard was capable of doing,” he said, referring to his DuBrul Vineyard. “My goal as a grower is to enhance the reputation of our wine grapes. Our fruit had been made into high-scoring wines, but the vineyard was not always identified on the label.”
The winery helps him take his wine grapes to a higher level by allowing the estate fruit a chance to show its worth.
Shiels says that he knew early on that DuBrul Vineyard was a special site, capable of producing world-class wines. Shiels and his wife, Kathy, bought an apple orchard in 1991 and began planting wine grapes the next year. “The turning point was the 1999 season,” he said, explaining that with one of the Washington’s coolest vintages on record, various wineries turned his grapes into well-received, long-lived wines. “We realized that we had been granted one of those unique terroirs to nurture.”
Shiels launched his Côte Bonneville winery in 2001. It was built for efficiency, not for aesthetics. Wine tasting is by appointment only, and it doesn’t house the normal winery tourist trappings.
The winery production and storage rooms, dug four feet into the ground for energy savings and efficiencies, use outdoor electrical plugs and lights so that both rooms can be annually power-washed for sanitation. Vents and an overhead ceiling fan keep the air from layering inside the winery and help prevent molds and mildews from developing in the rooms.
Initially, Stan Clarke (now deceased) served as winemaker, with a winemaker from a large winery serving as consultant.
Shiels’s daughter Kerry, who worked near Chicago for Case New Holland International as a mechanical engineer, was interested in returning to the family business and began the transition to winemaker in 2005. She first earned her master’s degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis. Before she took the reins as winemaker, she worked for several wineries in California’s Napa Valley (Joseph Phelps, Folio, and Robert Mondavi), and also at wineries in Australia and Argentina.
Kerry became winemaker in 2009. The winery has grown significantly since it’s first release of 100 cases of two wines in 2001. The winery has expanded once already, doubling from the initial business plan of 1,000 to 2,000 cases.
Today, Kerry makes seven different wines, bottled under two labels. Côte Bonneville is the top label, and Carriage House is the label for their less expensive wines. The wines are made exclusively from their estate vineyard and are sold in about a dozen states from coast to coast and exported to Denmark and Hong Kong.
“When we decided that we wanted to have a national presence with our wines, we had to come up with a pricing structure that encourages distributors in our selected markets,” Hugh said. “If you’re going to be in the national market, your prices have to be high enough to give adequate margins to all those involved in handling your wines, from the distributor on down to the retailers.”
Prices listed on their Web site for their wines are from $22 to $200 per bottle.
DuBrul Vineyard was named Vineyard of the Year in 2007 and 2009 by Seattle Magazine, and the Côte Bonneville 2004 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wine received the magazine’s Most Outstanding Wine of the Year in 2009. Wine Spectator magazine named the winery one of the wine industry’s Rising Stars in 2008.
The winery, Côte Bonneville, is named after a mansion that Hugh’s great-grandfather, an inventor, built in 1902 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His great-grandfather’s most well-known invention was the railroad lantern. The mansion had a carriage house on the property, which was at one time a convent. The mansion is now a private home.