The owner of Seattle’s Wine Outlet stores has been around the proverbial block and then some. After it all, the only thing he wants to do is sell you good wine at the best price.
By Josh LaRosee
Richard Kinssies has been somewhat of a polarizing figure in the Washington wine industry, partly because he’s been around long enough to help shape the retail side of the business. He started back in 1973 as a store manager for one of the few retailers in the region and worked his way up as a writer for various local publications, including the now defunct Seattle P-I. He was also the wine steward that helped shape the way wine is sold via large outlets such as Safeway. Now, he runs two outlet stores of his own in Seattle, aptly named Wine Outlet, where he buys wines below wholesale and passes the savings on to his patrons.
WINO: When did you decide to open up your first Wine Outlet?
Richard: When I was at Safeway, back in 1980, there were over forty distributors in King County. I was every one of them’s best customer. Excuse me…
[Takes a moment to playfully ask the woman behind us if she’d planned the way her purple suede jacket matched the chair she had just gotten up from.]
Richard: Nicely done! So anyway, these guys would come to me to sell wine. They would, when that work was done, they would pull a bottle of wine. “Richard, you gotta help me out here. XYZ winery left me for that SOB down the street, good riddance, but left me with thirty-seven cases of wine. I don’t want to build his brand, so I just want out of this thing.” And I’d say, “That looks like a $15 cabernet,” which would have gone for wholesale at, say, $10.50. I’d say, “I guess I’d buy it for seven bucks.” It kept happening. Pretty soon, I was getting all this stuff and grew to understand that wine is a commodity, just like anything else. People have this reverence for wine, and if they think it’s a good product, it will always sell and at a good price, which is so much pucky, because in any commodity, there’s a reason anything has to be moved and has to be moved now.
As the Black Sheep of Woodinville’s affectionately named “Hoodinville” wine district, Jeff Jones aims to break all of the rules when it comes to the tasting room of his Senoj wine label. If his sense of humor doesn’t get you, his Passport blend just might.
WINO: When starting something new, everyone has a sort of “eureka moment.” What was the pivotal moment that made you decide to become a winemaker?
Jeff: It was when a girlfriend of mine took me wine-tasting in Woodinville. I was new to the area—a Northern California transplant—and she wanted to go wine-tasting on Saturday to some wineries. I was thinking she was crazy—later that turned out to be true—there were no wineries in Woodinville, and you could not grow grapes in Woodinville. Having been to Napa numerous times, I had a vision in my head of what a winery was; and that consisted of a grand estate with rolling fields of vines, which was nowhere to be seen in Woodinville. We went wine-tasting, stopping at some of the larger wineries, and then we went to Stevens Winery. On the drive there, I noticed some broken down cars out in front of a mechanic’s shop and some toilets on a pallet in front of a plumber. In-between these two business in a nondescript warehouse was Tim Stevens’ little winery. I remember thinking this was fantastic wine and how was this guy doing this in a warehouse without vineyards and fountains and a million dollar tasting room? It was at that point that I said to myself, I can do this. Everything I have done and every decision I have made since that moment in time has been with the sole focus of learning about the winemaking process and getting my winery open.
Alan Busacca is the founder of Vinitas Vineyard Consultants. A superhero for vintners, he saves the day by traveling the globe to help wine growers produce the best grapes possible.
WINO: Alan, you’ve got a wall covered in diplomas including a Ph.D. from UC Davis, and a résumé the length of my arm including professorships and research at WSU. Most recently, you’ve started a company called Vinitas. Could you tell us a little about what that’s all about?
Alan: Vinitas is my consulting company focusing on vineyard site evaluation and development. I created Vinitas to share my experience and insights about soils, climates, and geology—that is, terroir—with people who would like to find the perfect piece of land to build their dream vineyard. In the past two years I have helped families find parcels as small as twelve acres and helped larger companies find, evaluate, and buy ranches as large as 4,000 acres! So far, projects for Vinitas have taken me all over Oregon and Washington, as well as Argentina and Chile!
Wino Doug Haugen had the chance to talk with Hope Moore, founder of Heaven’s Cave Winery and the Make the Dash Count Foundation.
WINO: We visited Heaven’s Cave last July when we were in Prosser, and Ali told us a lot about what Heaven’s Cave does. For the benefit of our readers, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your winery?
Hope: We are a small-case winery that currently produces about 1,000 cases a year. All of the fruit for our Heaven’s Cave wines comes from the Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation. We like to think of ourselves as a purpose-driven winery in that we are a for-benefit winery that chooses to donate 100 percent of our proceeds, after operating expenses, to charity—in this case, the Make the DASH Count Foundation.
By Guest Columnist Berle “Rusty” Figgins, Jr, Clos Sainte-Rose® XO fine brandy
I am often asked why I chose to establish a brandy distillery instead of finishing out my wine business career lavishing in the rewards of yet another stellar Washington vintage. The truth is that in brandy production, winemaking is essential, and I have become accustomed to learning that most people do not know that fine brandy is distilled from wine.
Steve Brooks is the owner of and winemaker for Trust Cellars in Walla Walla. In the new goldrush, Steve left it all behind to seek the treasures of Washington wine, discovering that a little trust goes a long way.
WINO: Steve, I understand that you weren’t always in the wine business, and that you had what most would consider a pretty successful career. Tell me a little about your background.
SB: For nineteen years, I worked for CNN in Atlanta. At the time I left, I was a producer for CNN Special Projects. It was a great place to be. I traveled the world, met lots of interesting people (both famous and infamous), and had many experiences—anyone else held against their will by pro-Noriega secret police?—that I would never have had sitting behind a desk.
By R.M. Shor
John runs the J. Bookwalter Winery, established in 1983 in the heart of the Columbia Valley, specializing in small lots of wines with personalities and attitudes. But he hasn’t always been in this business…
WINO: You are often called the “first second-generation Washington State winemaker.” Is that true?