Richland's Barnard Griffin Winery is in good hands

Andy Perdue Special to the HeraldMay 3, 2013 

Barnard Griffin Winery

Elise Griffin, left, and Megan Hughes and are the children of Deborah Barnard and Rob Griffin, owners of Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland. The winery is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

COURTESY ANDY PERDUE — Great Northwest Wine

If the second generation is anything like the first, Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland should be in good hands for the next 30 years.

"When I was little, I watched my parents come home happy," said Megan Hughes, daughter of Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard. "I realized at an early age that being able to like what you do in your career is rare, and you should run with it."

One of these days -- not too soon, though -- she will be running the 30-year-old winery with her sister.

"How lucky are we to be in this industry that so many people want to be a part of?" Elise Griffin said.

That the two of them ended up in the wine business isn't a stretch. That their skills pair like syrah and pepperoni pizza is serendipitous.

Megan, 24, studied winemaking at Washington State University, and she works in the cellar and vineyards. Elise, 27, earned a business degree at WSU and handles marketing and promotions for the winery.

Their collaboration began at an early age. Before the Richland winery was built in 1997, Barnard Griffin wines were made at other facilities, and sometimes their father would bring his work home with him, such as labeling bottles by hand.

"I always got bored with that really quickly," Elise said.

She fondly recalls the fun family times around the winery.

"We would take dinner to Dad on late nights when he was bottling wine," she said. "I always wanted to drive the forklift, but they wouldn't let me."

In college, Megan roped Elise into helping her make her first batch of wine in a bathtub.

"Only part of it was made in the bathtub," Megan said with a laugh.

She came home from WSU on a weekend her father was crushing Merlot, so she bought a 25-gallon plastic bin and scooped out enough crushed grapes to fill it and headed back to Pullman. Her boyfriend and sister helped lug the bin up to her second-floor apartment, and she made the wine in the bathroom.

"That was tons of fun," Elise said.

And the wine?

"It wasn't bad."

Though that first winemaking effort was consumed long ago, plenty more is ahead. Megan is the consulting winemaker for Preston Premium Wines, where her father got his first big break in 1977.

He graduated from the University of California-Davis in 1975 and took a job at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County before being recruited north by Bill Preston, a tractor salesman who started Preston Premium Wines north of Pasco in 1976. After his first winemaker left, Preston headed to California on a recruiting mission.

Griffin already was familiar with Washington, which was the wild west of winemaking back then. He recalled picking up a bottle of Ste. Michelle in the mid-1970s and seeing a map on the back label that showed how Washington and Bordeaux were on the same latitude. He thought Washington could be an important part of the American wine industry.

"I wouldn't have come here if I hadn't believed it to be true," Griffin said.

He and Barnard married in 1980 and launched their small winery with a few hundred cases in 1983. The next year, he left Preston to become head winemaker at Hogue Cellars in Prosser. He stayed there until 1991, when it came time for him to focus his effort on Barnard Griffin.

Now a 70,000-case winery with a newly remodeled tasting room, bistro, glass art studio and conference space, Barnard Griffin is looking to the future. Griffin, who turns 60 this year, is pleased his children are poised to eventually take over.

"It's a rare opportunity to have a legacy business and be in on the ground floor of something that has some financial security," Griffin said.

"We always encouraged them without demanding or even heavily suggesting" they get into the wine business. "They both realized the potential was good, so both decided to come back home. They have different strengths, and they've always gotten along well."

Which bodes well for the next 30 years.

w Andy Perdue is editor of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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