For a new mom and pop winery outside Issaquah, winemaking is a fine art of maintaining a hobby without growing their business to an unmanageable size.
“It’s the personal touch,” said Dona Ahrens, who helped her husband, Rod, open Twin Cedars Winery. “I don’t want to lose sight for what this was all about in the beginning.”
The Ahrens plan to uncork their first 2009 bottles, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this summer. They also plan to release a 2010 Orange Muscat, their only white wine.
The couple works out of their five acres of lush cedar-filled land on Tiger Mountain. Retiring as a carpenter in 2010, Rod built the small winery off the back of a detached garage.
The operation, which yielded about 115 wine cases this year, is small enough that they hauled their two-tons of grapes from Eastern Washington in a trailer and pressed them over a long concrete driveway.
The well-manicured property is entirely enclosed by towering cedar trees. The winery is named for the two that stand in front of their home.
A winding stone path leads around the garage into the winery, which is loaded with equipment, some of it Rod made by hand, and barrels stained purple from wine splatters.
The lush greenery of the mountain makes a nice intimate spot to buy a bottle of wine straight from the maker, and then soak in the flavors while lounging in the grass.
At first the couple only plans to do tastings by appointment, but eventually they hope to have some regular hours.
Interest in wine grew slowly for the Ahrens, who enjoyed wine tastings for several years, before deciding to try their hand at winemaking.
While tours talked a lot about wine, the guides never got into how it was made, Rod said. “Wine making was a mystery, and no one wanted to divulge the secret.”
His curiosity drove him to start taking winemaking classes at South Seattle Community College in 2007.
“I just wanted to see how good I can make it,” he said.
One evening his daughter asked for a bottle of his 2007 wine to take to a blind tasting party with friends.
She woke them up late in the night overjoyed, her dad’s wine won the contest.
“It was a hit,” Dona said. “That was a sign that he should try it again.”
Rod had thought before taking the classes that he might start a small winery, but that solidified it for him, he said.
In 2009 the couple applied for a license to sell and got their label approved by the state and federal agencies.
Their grapes come from connections Rod made in Eastern Washington, including Rattlesnake Hills.
Winemaking isn’t as difficult as it seems, he said. “It really does depend on how good the fruit is, and from there it’s a matter of not screwing it up.”
While the plan has always been to stay small, something to do in retirement, Rod does plan for it to grow some. The 2011 release will have about 200 cases of wine, he said.
They still want to keep things simple, he said. “We could be the smallest winery in the state.”
Twin Cedars Winery is releasing four different wines this summer with its first official launch. From the left, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Syrah, 2009 Merlot, and a 2010 Orange Muscat, which is their only white wine.