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Washington winery expands family enterprise

Washington winery expands family enterprise

Once a week, Greg Fries makes the drive from a winery in Dundee, Ore., to a winery in Prosser, Wash. The drive takes about four hours. He stays for a night or two.

Greg, 39, doesn’t visit to drink wine and hang out. He owns both wineries, along with other members of his family. He, and his family, is involved in every aspect of both operations. His dad manages the vineyards. His sister is in charge of hospitality. His wife handles public relations. Greg was the winemaker for years, but lately he’s been helping out in the vineyards.

Greg’s parents first planted vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1985. Eight years later, the family founded a winery, called Duck Pond Cellars, in nearby Dundee.

About the time Duck Pond Cellars was founded, Greg’s dad, Doug Fries, bought some land in eastern Washington and planted Merlot and Cabernet grapes. He wanted to expand the family’s wine offerings, but the cool Willamette Valley climate was only good for varieties like Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. To grow a greater diversity of wine grapes, they needed a warmer area like eastern Washington, Greg said.

In 1994, Greg graduated from the University of California-Davis with a degree in fermentation science and enology. While studying, he did some winemaking off and on at the family winery in Oregon. He became the head winemaker in 1995.

The vineyards (now more than 500 acres) they planted in Prosser were the beginning of Desert Wind Winery – named after the local climate. In 2001, they started selling wine under the Desert Wind label. The family wanted their Washington grapes to be identified with a Washington winery, to avoid confusing customers, Greg said.

In 2004, they built a processing facility in Prosser. From then on, they were able to process Washington grapes in a Washington facility. Desert Wind Winery opened there in 2007, and currently produces more than 25,000 cases per year, with a capacity to produce 200,000. The wines produced are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Ruah, Barbera, Viognier, Riesling, Merlot, Sangiovese, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer, according to the winery’s website.

Irrigation is essential in eastern Washington. Fortunately, Desert Wind is on a piece of ground that has irrigation rights. The water comes from a nearby canal, Greg said.

Despite the dryness, there are pest pressures in the area: Mealybugs, thrips, leafhoppers and powdery mildew are problems. The region has big temperature swings, too. Winters can get extremely cold, and every few years the bud damage can be severe. Buds died last November, and there will probably be a shortage of fruit this year. The region’s summer heat, however, makes it suitable for growing varieties like Cabernet and Merlot, which need a long season to ripen, he said.

Desert Wind has a tasting room, guest suites and hosts private events. The family wanted to give a face to the wine label, and give people a reason to visit the eastern part of the state. Most visitors come from western Washington and the Seattle area, about a three-hour drive from Prosser, Greg said.

By Matt Milkovich
 

Originally posted Thursday, Jun. 2, 2011

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