If awards were given for most miles driven, Jarrod Boyle might just be the winner.
The owner and winemaker of our 2011 Washington Winery of the Year keeps his odometer spinning, thanks to running tasting rooms in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser and Woodinville near Seattle. Then add another 40 miles from Prosser to his vineyard.
For Boyle, it's all worth it to live the dream of being in the Washington wine industry.
"I am very fortunate," he said humbly. "I am blessed to be surrounded by so many great people."
Boyle grew up in Prosser and worked as the business manager for a farm after college. In 1996, Wade Wolfe hired him to work as a viticulturist at Hogue Cellars. One day, he was in the Horse Heaven Hills to check on grapes at famed Champoux Vineyard. As he drove down a gravel road past a field that was mostly sagebrush and rocks, he envisioned it filled with vineyards. A little later that day, he saw friend Rob Mercer, whose family owned the land, and asked him about it. Rob and his father, Bud, were not interested in being in the wine industry at that time (they later partnered with Mike Hogue to create Mercer Estates), but the idea never left Boyle's fertile mind.
"I didn't have any money and no way to pull it off by myself," he said.
In 1998, though, he partnered with the Mercers to plant what became Destiny Ridge, a 264-acre vineyard overlooking the Columbia River. In 2001, he launched Alexandria Nicole Cellars. The winery is named after his wife, Ali. Without any formal winemaking experience, he leaned heavily on others for help, including Wolfe, who owns Thurston Wolfe, as well as Dave Minnick of Willow Crest and Ray McKee, who got him through the early stages of the winery.
"It was baptism by fire," he admitted.
Today, he makes about 10,000 cases of wine for Alexandria Nicole and has a tasting room near Hogue Cellars, where Thurston Wolfe was located for many years. In 2007, he opened a second tasting room in Woodinville - one of the first wineries from Eastern Washington to open a satellite operation there. The first location was in what is known as the "warehouse district." He has since relocated to the Hollywood Schoolhouse, just up the street from Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Both tasting rooms have secret rooms behind sliding walls, which are open only to wine club members.
"I'm a big fan of the people in our wine club," he said. "I wanted to provide something extra for them, something exclusive. The hidden door is kind of fun, and people really like that."
Wine club members get a different wine each month, and to accommodate that, Boyle makes about 20 different bottlings - "way too many," he admits - but everything he does focuses on creating a fun and unique opportunities for his fans and customers.
One experience that has turned into a huge deal is "glamping," a word that means "glamorous camping." Customers can camp at the vineyard, but they aren't roughing it by any stretch of the imagination.
What's next for Boyle? He's kicking around the idea of a third tasting room in Hood River, Ore., and he's working on building up a second label called A Squared. He's also working with Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware on some unusual products. And he admits he'd love to start his own microbrewery.
"But I have enough to do right now," he laughed.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars
Prosser: 2880 Lee Road, Ste. D, 509-786-3497. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Woodinville: 14810 N.E. 145th St., 425-487-9463. Open noon-5 p.m. Thursday-Monday and until 8 p.m. Friday. www.alexandrianicolecellars.com.