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How We Got Here

 

Northwest Totem Cellars -  A name that pays respect to a life and people that once depended on, respected and revered their environment and the living world. We and our children are committed ambassadors to this living world. Our commitment to compassion runs broadly across many constituents; people, planet and, never to be overlooked, all other non-human living beings who share our world. Our reverence for life securely encompasses the animals of our planet. We share a view that they are their own communities, like that of our native ancestors, like us today. They are their own nations. The totem is our connection to life; old and new, human and non-human.   

Our winery - We arrived on this path through a discovery of new passions. We returned to the Northwest after life wound us throughout the country. 20 years ago we had lived in the Vancouver, BC area where I (Kate) grew up. We explored the Northwest as a wilderness playground from the Northern tip of Vancouver Island down through the San Juan Islands to the Southern end of Oregon. It was during those times we realized we were people of the beautiful Northwest. In 1996, after careers wound us through Texas and California for several years, we settled in the Woodinville area and have watched it grow with our children, developing strong friendships and community ties. Those community ties and friendships led us to Chapter 1 of the why/how a winery story. 

We met Cheryl Jones in a high level power brokered meeting; in the transfer of the local elementary school PTA presidency. Cheryl was the outgoing president and Mike was the incoming one. Conversation soon turned to wine and we discovered Cheryl’s 30-year wine background with local Woodinville wineries; Chateau Ste. Michelle, Silverlake, Di Stephano, Cavatappi and others. Cheryl offered to find Mike a job in the "high-paying" wine industry ($10/ hour) that had the potential upside of losing all of our net worth as well! A bond was formed and we had discovered what was to be our 4th most important rule in developing the winery…surround yourself with great people and listen!  

Cheryl set Mike up as the ‘Cellarmaster’ with Peter Dow of Cavatappi Winery in Kirkland.  Having been fluent in French, Mike had not heard the French word, Cellarmaster, and quickly learned that it is French for janitor! Learning the business from the apprentice model, Mike developed a true understanding of winemaking from the ground up. The 3rd most important rule in winemaking became apparent and was the focus of his glamorous beginnings at Cavatappi…Clean! Clean! Clean! 

After a full annual cycle of learning had passed, we join four other people to craft a very small production of wine. That year, the group made two small batches of cabernet and syrah as well as a lasting set of friends. We grew into a group of nine people the next year in our quest to increase our ‘stable of reds’ by adding merlot and cab franc as well as share our passion with new friends. These two varietals are still sourced by Northwest Totem Cellars from Chandler Reach and Sagemoor Vineyards today. Both of these grapes have outstanding fruit and character and taught us the undeniable 2nd rule…it’s about the grapes! 

An interesting phenomenon occurred; the process appeared to be a net loss in wine creation. We consumed more wine than we were making. Seriously though, we shared great times and learned much about our grapes and their destiny for greatness in the upcoming years. It was also a crucial learning process in changing the scale of going from 60 gallons to 270 gallons. Our next step was to move us to 2,700 gallons and now to over 5,000 gallons which translates into roughly 2,100 cases of wine. 

From the beginning of our incursion into wine appreciation, we had our eyes on several Washington State vineyards for premium grape production. The problem was twofold. The first was that vineyards were protective of who they allowed to have their grapes to ensure a quality job was being done with them and they also required a minimum volume/tonnage to harvest efficiently. Sagemoor and Chandler Reach were accessed the early years by piggybacking on a commercial winery’s delivery. However, it was clear to continue on to higher levels, we would need to be producing at a commercial scale albeit still maintain a small, handcrafted production. In the midst of those discussions of our direction, a major block of cabernet became available with Elerding Vineyards. It was time to make a decision. Having had a strong interest in creating something that could potentially nurture a stronger connection to our community and new friendships, the winery was something we felt would facilitate that. In May 2005 we commenced our licensing process and in September we processed our first commercial harvest under the Northwest Totem Cellars name. 

Overwhelmed would be an understatement. We were, however, surrounded by our friends and our community. Help was everywhere and enthusiasm was remarkable. There, we discovered our own ultimate #1 rule of winemaking and, moreover, wine enjoyment…it’s about the people!

Failure was not an option! Aided by our newly-formed vintner club and their contribution to the work load along with past winemaking friends, we were able to handle 15 tons of grapes that first year for the 2005 vintage, released December 2007. Year 2 production took us to 30 tons thanks to additional help from the illustrious Washington Wine Ambassadors, friends and community support! 

Fall 2007 took us to year three and fall 2008, to year four--and we are still here! Our friends, our private vintner club, the Washington Wine Ambassadors, Cheryl Jones, other community supporters and our three vineyard partners; Chandler Reach, Elerding and Sagemoor are all playing an incalculable role in our effort to make quality wines for old and new friends to share as well as to facilitate the deeper connection to a community that is always reminding us of why we returned to the Pacific Northwest. 

The highly-acclaimed Northwest fruit pairs with the rest of our winemaking efforts and efforts of our partners to create an intimate experience expressing the best varietal characters each year. Our community is our customer. Our customers are our friends. They all make our wine and the experience which is ours to share. 

Please join us at the winery to help us create and tell the rest of our story.