Summer 2018

Boutique winery takes unconventional approach

Innovation and unconventionality are commonplace at GLM Wine Co., a boutique operation tucked away in the far northwest corner of Whatcom County in Blaine, Wash., just off the second-to-last I-5 exit before the Canadian border.

Husband-and-wife winemaker/owners, Tom Davis and Tracey DeGraff, have earned a reputation for doing things just a bit differently. It applies not only to how they met, but also to their winemaking practices and the logistics of running their tasting room.

Different, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the couple will be the first to tell you that considerable time and research have gone into developing their wines and making them what they are today.

THE CANADIAN CONNECTION

Davis is a St. Louis native who moved with his family to Port Moody, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, in 1967. He currently holds “landed immigrant” (permanent resident) status and plans to apply for Canadian citizenship soon.

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DeGraff, on the other hand, was born in Calgary and later moved to Vancouver. It was there where the two met in 1996, albeit under slightly strange circumstances.

“I was a bartender at the Granville Island Hotel and I got fired,” Davis recalls, “and she got my job. Then we ended up meeting at a nightclub after work,” he says with a laugh.

They married in 2009 and now reside in Steveston, a small community within the city of Richmond, just south of Vancouver. When not working at their day jobs – Davis at a printing company and DeGraff as a server for the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver – the two make the 30-minute commute from their home to the winery tasting room and production facility in Blaine, a stone’s throw across the international border.

FROM MICROBREWERY TO MICROWINERY

Davis’s foray into winemaking originated as a natural progression from his work in the early 1990s as a brewmaster at Horseshoe Bay Brewery in West Vancouver, one of Canada’s first microbreweries.

“At the same time I was working as a bartender on the side and I started buying and drinking a lot of good wine and getting interested in wine. My employer told me to learn more about wine, so I did.”

That eventually led to home winemaking, an enterprise that DeGraff recalls was quickly getting out of hand. “It got to the point where he was buying a ton of grapes, making wine, making beer, selling wine to friends ….”

“And I never considered starting a winery,” Davis adds, “until they started loosening up credit to the stupid levels they did in the late ’90s. Then suddenly, I could get a line of credit almost by just asking for it.”

Davis and DeGraff made what they term their first “serious” wine in 2000 from Washington-grown grapes from the Yakima Valley’s Kendall Farms in Sunnyside. That proved to be the impetus to push them into full-time winemaking.

“We went on vacation in 2001, knowing it was our last vacation,” DeGraff says half-jokingly, “and then we started the winery in 2002.”

NAMES AND METHODOLOGY

“We were originally going to call ourselves, ‘The Garagistes’ but there was already a wine store in Seattle that had that name,” says Davis. “So then, driving through Eastern Washington, we noticed the unusual landscape, … and I learned that it was caused by the Missoula Floods.”

After a minor kerfuffle with a now-defunct Montana winery over their use of the name ‘Lake Missoula Winery,’ the pair decided on The Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Co., which is frequently shortened to GLM Wine Co. as today’s official name.

Since the beginning, Davis has never been completely content to make “by the book” wines.

“We use the saigner method, which is a common practice in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Australia … for all our reds,” he says. “We also will not harvest our grapes above 25˚ brix,” (which could result in high-alcohol wines) “so we don’t dilute our must.”

“And we’re also very careful about high acid/low pH for the entire existence of the wine.” That means the wines are acidified at crush, not near the end of the winemaking process and just prior to bottling.

Davis is also a proponent of “enrobed wines,” where the juice of any red grape is removed and the skins are added to the juice of a white grape during fermentation. In the past, he’s used this method to produce a Marsanne wine fermented with the skins of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The result was a full-bodied white wine with a dark red color that has continued to cellar beautifully.

“I really hope someday people imitate (enrobed wines) because there are a million possibilities. Wine is really so boring and conservative in so many ways, and this is a way to make ‘new’ wines, to innovate.”

A VARIETY OF VINEYARDS

GLM’s past vineyard sources have covered a broad range: from Rebecca’s Vineyard in Umpqua Valley, Ore., to Yakima Valley’s Kestrel Vineyard. Their currently available 2015 Deluge, a bottling of 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, comes from Wickersham Vineyard near Yakima, “a nicely managed vineyard by (Naches Heights’) Phil Cline,” says Davis.

A soon-to-be-released 2017 Rock Flour Sauvignon Blanc is from Open Gates Vineyard, on a north-facing hillside above the Wenatchee River. DeGraff notes that they picked these “perfect grapes” themselves, and Davis is confident that the combination of malolactic fermentation and five months of barrel aging will “give the wine a little more seriousness.”

Another 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon label, the 2015 Reserve Deluge, is also scheduled for release in late spring, following an extended stay of 28 months in the barrel.

MAKING THE VISIT TO BLAINE

GLM Wine Co.’s Blaine location makes it a destination winery, of sorts, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only local attraction for out-of-town visitors.

As a convenient stopping point between the metropolitan areas of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., DeGraff mentions nearby attractions in the Blaine area that include Drayton Harbor Oyster Co., The Vault Wine Bar, Birch Bay, and Semiahmoo Resort.

The winery’s small annual production of up to 250 cases limits its distribution to a handful of local restaurants and retailers. That means the best way to try these wines is to simply stop by the Blaine tasting room. You’re likely to find an “unusual” wine being poured there, along with a great story about the innovative methods used to create it.

This story was originally published May 23, 2018 12:00 AM.

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