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While planning for retirement we discussed the possibility of owning a vineyard or winery. It is important to acknowledge the word "or" in the previous sentence. Its relevance will become clear later in our story. Although we enjoyed wine and knew about it from the consumer's perspective, we didn't really know what owning a vineyard or winery really meant. In 2002, we started doing our homework.
We found a wealth of knowledge on the Internet and read every book we could find on viticulture (growing grapes) and winemaking. Still eager to learn more, we came across South Seattle Community College which offered a number of classes we could attend to fill in the gaps in our book knowledge. The first classes we took were in the fall of 2004. Like a fish grabbing a lure, we were hooked.
In the fall of 2005, South Seattle Community College established a bonded winery on the campus and we were in the first production class at the school. We attended nine courses between September 2005 and June 2006. We learned about winemaking, and the chemistry and microbiology involved in the process.
In July of 2006 we established Davenport Cellars LLC and began acquiring the equipment we would need to start a commercial operation.
Continuing our quest for knowledge, in 2007 I enrolled in the U.C. Davis Winemaking for Distance Learners program and Sheila enrolled in the W.S.U. Online Viticulture program. We had decided to divide and conquer; I would focus on winemaking and she would focus on the vineyard. We both successfully completed the programs in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Our 2007 vintage was made through a custom crush agreement with a local winery. Fruit was sourced from some of the best vineyards in the State and was made using our tenets of winemaking - source the highest quality grapes available, use a minimalist approach, pay attention to the details, handle the fruit and wine as gently as possible, and maintain traditional practices.
Although we found our own place in September of 2008, we would not be bonded and licensed before the 2008 crush so we again contracted for a custom crush for this vintage.
After completing our Federal bonding process in February we finalized Washington State licensing in March. The year has been non-stop ever since. To be ready for the 2009 crush we focused on getting our fruit sources lined up and our barrels ordered. Once that was done we began setting up the tasting room, allowing us to open our doors in July. We then put all of our energy into getting the winery production ready. With the year winding down we are catching up on all those little things we postponed since April, like getting the web site up and running.
Plans for the future? Remember the first paragraph when I said the relevance of the word "or" would become clear? In June of 2007 we purchased five acres of vineyard property on Red Mountain. So far the land is still bare except for the native grasses and brush. We hope to begin planting in 2011.
As far as retirement, it looks like it will be a while, quite a while!
Jeff and Sheila Jirka
UPDATE December 2010: After a few years of hoping to plant the vineyard "in another two years", we decided to sell our Red Mountain property. Our decision to sell also supports our philosophy of blending wines from different areas to produce more complex and layered wines. At some point in the future we may decide to own a vineyard, somewhere in Italy, New Zealand or Australia perhaps. For now we are having too much fun making wine, and new friends.
UPDATE July 2013: With almost 22 years spent working IT for a local company, I finally "retired" from my day job. Sheila continues to work outside of the winery while managing to put in countless hours at the winery.
UPDATE November 2014: After years of planning and hard work, we were finally able to bring food to the warehouse district when we moved to our new spacious tasting room. Partnering with Chef Anne Marie we provide small plates, soup, salads and sandwiches to wine tasters looking for some balance during their wine tasting experience.
UPDATE September 2016: Chef Anne Marie has decided to pursue other endeavors - a new cookbook, commercial production of her wine chips, increasing her catering business and opening a new commercial kitchen in the warehouse district. We wish her the best in her new ventures. We will continue to see her make appearances at Davenport Cellars for Valentine's Dinners and our Release Events. In the meantime, we will be taking over the food side of the tasting room from her. We will continue to offer small plates, soups, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads. Having food available in the heart of the warehouse district is something we have worked toward offering since 2012.
UPDATE June 2019: We have decided to retire from the wine industry at the end of this year. The final day of operations for our Woodinville Tasting Room and Bistro will be December 29. We have enjoyed all the great people we have met and the relationships we have built. We are at a point in our lives where we want to focus on us and our families. Having lost both of our moms in the last couple of years, we realize how much we are missing while working seven days a week on the business. We look forward to traveling and enjoying life while it is still possible.
UPDATE December 2019: We closed our Woodinville Tasting Room and Bistro on December 29th. Our wines are still available online and at local wine events.
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Best Regards,