Washington Wine Month Stop #4: Hamilton Cellars
The third time was the charm for this winery as government red tape got in the way of their dream twice.
But they never gave up and prove for all that starting your own winery is hard work but worth it in the end.
“We tell people that opening this winery has been like birthing a baby – a very big baby who doesn’t want to be born,” Stacie and Russ Hamilton explain.
Their winery dream began on a beautiful spring day in 2006. They shared a passion for wine and spent much of their free time visiting wineries. They were at a winery, standing on their balcony drinking some superb Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, looking over the vineyards and they experienced a perfect moment of tranquility and peace. They turned to each other at the same time and said, “Let’s do this!” Their dream was born.
The first and most important step to realizing their dream was to find a world class winemaker. For years their favorite wines were the ones produced by Charlie Hoppes. Therefore, it made sense to contact Charlie. They were fortunate that Charlie agreed to become their winemaker.
Now they had to find a place to call home for Hamilton Cellars.
They quickly found that their area of Washington has some very strange and strict zoning laws and, at the time, they could not locate a winery in the city limits of any of the three cities that make up the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland). The counties presented their own challenges, so they finally ended up purchasing a 23 acre parcel in West Richland.
They had plans drawn up to create a wine village with their facility occupying a third of the site. They spent six months working with architects and site designers so they could build their winery. A week before they were scheduled to break ground they received a letter from the US Bureau of Land Management telling them they were trespassing on their land and the Hamilton’s were to vacate immediately. It turns out that when the City of West Richland sold them the land, they did not actually own it and the attorneys and title company all missed it. They initiated a lawsuit to retrieve the money they had invested in the land, but meanwhile they were still producing wine and needed a place to sell their product.
Their next stop was a beautiful lot in S. Kennewick. During the time they were working on the property in West Richland, both Kennewick and Richland added zoning that would allow wineries to locate within City limits. The Kennewick lot was only 2 acres, so they had to totally redesign their winery to fit on the new property. Once again, they spent six months in the design phase and, right before they were set to break ground, the bank told them that they did not want to finalize the loan while they were involved in a lawsuit against West Richland. Strike two!
At that point, the Hamilton’s seriously considered giving up on their dream. However, they were determined and decided they would give it one more shot. After a lot of deliberation, they decided to convert an office building they owned in Queensgate Village into their tasting room. At the same time they found a large building that had formerly been used as a beer distribution warehouse and Hoppes thought it would make a great winery production facility.
They spent many months renovating both the tasting room building and the production building. In January, they finally opened the tasting room and received an occupancy permit on the production building. The third time really was the charm!
About the Winemaker:
In the early stages of winery dreaming, the Hamilton’s knew in order to produce the wines they envisioned, they had to select a winemaker whose palate and style reflected their own. After years of enjoying wine made by Charlie Hoppes, they were determined to hire him as the consulting winemaker for Hamilton Cellars. To their delight, Hoppes accepted their offer three years ago.
Hoppes is regarded as one of the nation’s finest winemakers. After graduating from UC Davis in 1988, Hoppes spent the past 20 + years as a leading winemaker for several noted Washington wineries. Beginning first as Assistant Winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, he then worked as Head Red Winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s facility at Paterson, where he helped to create the premium label, Col Solare’s first two vintages.
In 1999 Charlie worked to help start Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, and then he began his own label for Fidelitas wines in 2000. Although Charlie serves as consulting winemaker for various wineries, he has the talent to meld his extensive winemaking skills with the palates of the owners, creating a unique reflection for each winery. Charlie has now worked with the Hamilton’s on 5 vintages, and they look forward to the many vintages to come.
About the Vineyards:
The Hamilton’s are fortunate to live in the middle of the Columbia Valley, home of some of the finest vineyards in the state, so all their wines are sourced within 50 miles of their tasting room. With Hoppes’ guidance, they select the vineyards with a history of producing exceptional quality grapes for their wines.
• Stillwater Creek Vineyard – a south facing, steep slope on the Royal Slope in the Frenchman’s Hills.
• Weinbau Vineyards – part of Sagemoor Vineyards group on the slopes of the mighty Columbia River.
• Gamache Vineyards – located atop the White Bluffs of Columbia Valley.
• Kolibri Vineyards – a tiny 6 acre vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills.
• Conner-Lee Vineyards – located on the upper East end of the Wahluke Slope near Othello.
Hamilton Cellars produces a Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Rosé of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, a white blend with 83 percent Semillon and 17 percent Viognier and a red blend called Bona Vita which consists of 51 percent Malbec, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 13 percent Merlot and 12 percent Cabernet Franc.
In Queensgate Village 509-628-8227
1950 Keene Rd, Bldg I
Richland, WA 99352
In Queensgate Village