From their beginning, with concord grapes for Welches, to Cabernet vines for their own estate grown, award winning wines, Hugh and Kathy Shiels have been on a journey of wine excellence. DuBrul Vineyards is their vineyard where they grow the grapes for their estate Côte Bonneville wines as well as the grapes they grow for other premium Washington state wineries.I have had the good fortune to enjoy wine and food in a variety of settings, but one of my favorite ways is in the company of wine makers. This winter, I had the honor of enjoying simple sandwiches paired with elegant Côte Bonneville wines and the company of Hugh, Kathy and Kerry Shiels. Over lunch, Vivian and I learned how a young family’s desire, to seek out land to roam and learn for their children, evolved into winning the 2009 Most Outstanding Wine of the Year and the 2007 and 2009 Vineyard of the Year awards from Seattle magazine.
In 1977, the young doctor and his family purchased property in the Yakima Valley. This would become their home and small farm where they cultivated Concord grapes and asparagus. As the years passed, the Sheils developed an appreciation for great wines. They knew basic viticulture and began to study about the important distinctions between viticulture for juice and wine production. One of the most vital differences is how important soil and site selection is in creating the nuances of exceptional wine grapes. As their knowledge grew, so did their desire to obtain the land necessary to cultivate an award winning vineyard of distinction. They weren’t interested in just growing good grapes, they wanted to grow world class fruit.
Just five miles from their home, a 45 acre apple orchard became available. The Shiels family believed that this apple orchard, located on a rocky basalt rise, offered the slope, sun and soil suited to exceptional wine viticulture. Like many Washington orchards of that era, the trees came out and the grapes went in.
In 1992, they planted their first vines of DuBrul Vineyard and with their purchase, inherited a block of Riesling vines planted on the property back in 1983. These are some of the oldest Riesling vines in Washington state and the fruit these vines produce are highly prized. It is not only the terroir that influences the quality of the juice but the time and attention of the viticulturist. Hugh Shiels really KNOWS his vineyard. He can tell you the rock characteristics of the soil of every block of this impressive vineyard by memory and the rationale behind every decision made about the vines grown here. The reputation of this vineyard and the meticulous attention that the vines receive, are what encouraged Vivian to select a DuBrul vine as one of the vines that she will track for the next year. In a subsequent post, I go into more detail about the exquisite vineyard management of DuBrul Vineyards.
Côte Bonneville Wines
In 2001, the youngest of the Shiels children left home for college. Hugh and Kathy Shiels decided to direct their new found time and energy to crafting wines from their own DuBrul grapes. Knowing literally every inch of the vineyard and working so intimately with the grapes, convinced them that they could create stellar wines that would best illustrate the fruit that they had invested so much time and energy into. Most grapes grown at DuBrul are still sold to other wineries, but small lots are reserved for the estate wines.
This is truly a family winery. Whereas Hugh takes the lead in the vineyard, Kathy takes the lead in the winery. Now daughter, Kerry Shiels is also working as Director of Wine Making in the family winery. Kerry and Kathy kept us entertained over lunch telling us stories about the science projects the kids were involved in over the years, including wine fermentation projects for the middle school science fair!
Over that lunch in the Shiels’ sun room, Vivian and I had the good fortune to sample three exquisite estate Côte Bonneville wines:
- 2007 Estate Chardonnay
- 2005 Carriage House
- 2004 Côte Bonneville
The same commitment to excellence they exhibit in the vineyard extends to the winery and with it the conviction that they are creating world class wines from the very beginning. The first vintage of Côte Bonneville wine retailed for $100/bottle to the shock of many. Although many have reacted harshly to the prices that Côte Bonneville wines garner, the fact is that these award winning wines are distributed internationally to rave reviews. The 2004 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend won Seattle magazine’s Most Outstanding Wine of the Year for 2009. When I was tasting that wine at their table, the conversations around me lost all focus and faded away as this wine seduced me. I was absolutely captivated by the nuances and depth of this Washington wine. It was just me and my “wine moment” until Hugh was finally able to wrench my attention away from my glass and back to the real world at the lunch table. I was embarrassed by my rudeness of ignoring my hosts, but I hope that is all forgiven now. I think they got a chuckle out of inspiring my “wine moment”!