One of the most fascinating new vineyard projects in the Columbia Valley already is producing some of best wines in the Pacific Northwest for young Rocky Pond Winery.
Seattle businessman David Dufenhorst owns the winery and Double D Vineyard along the Columbia River downstream from Lake Chelan. In the summer of 2017, he transitioned from one talented winemaker to another, hiring Shane Collins, a Lake Chelan native, to oversee his rapidly expanding operation.
“As long as I don’t mess it up, the hope is that we build on our momentum,” Collins said with a chuckle.
Ron Bunnell helped put Rocky Pond on the map by making many of Dufenhorst’s first wines at Bunnell Family Cellar in Prosser, and the growing number of top awards earned recently led Wine Press Northwest to name Rocky Pond as its 2019 Washington Winery to Watch.
Rocky Pond’s future might best be reflected in the 2016 Double D Vineyard Grenache, which earned a Platinum during the year-end 19th annual judging of gold-medal wines by Wine Press Northwest. It also displays the transition from Bunnell, who crushed and fermented that Grenache, to Collins.
“All credit is due to Ron for those wines,” Collins said.
Those would include 2016 Double D Vineyard Malbec (Platinum) and 2016 Double D Vineyard Stratastone, a Rhône-inspired blend that earned best of class at the 2018 Savor NW Wine Awards. Bunnell, whose career includes five years as red winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle and Col Solare, has produced 14 career Platinum awards since launching his own winery, but Dufenhorst needed to fill a day-to-day position that goes beyond winemaking to overseeing the fruit from the three estate vineyards.
“I don’t think Ron was going to get Susan and his mother-in-law to move to Orondo with their two young kids,” Dufenhorst quipped.
There’s also the highly decorated 2016 Double D Vineyard La Domestique Red Wine, a Right Bank Bordeaux-type of blend that earned best of class at the 2018 L.A. International Wine Competition and double gold at the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition. That wine has been spearheaded by Jonathan Kaczmarek, who has a dual role as business manager/winemaker. Kaczmarek, who earned a finance degree from Wisconsin, contributes to the wine program after spending several years at Soos Creek Wine Cellars in Seattle. The product of South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy worked for Dufenhorst in the business world prior his appointment to Rocky Pond.
Meanwhile, Collins continues to prove he ranks among the Northwest elite. Last year, the graduate of Washington State University and College Cellars in Walla Walla produced two Platinum winners for Tsillan Cellars with Riesling and Syrah. Tsillan has earned 17 Platinums, which ranks eighth all-time among Washington wineries, and Collins was responsible for most of those in his decade of work on the south shore of Lake Chelan.
Not far from Tsillan Cellars is ClosCheValle Vineyard, and Collins used it to earn a Platinum with the 2017 Gewürztraminer for Rocky Pond. His 2017 Double D Vineyard Rosé of Grenache merited best of class at last year’s Northwest Wine Summit, and his 2017 Clos CheValle Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir grabbed gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.
“We are an estate winery, and I’m heavily in the vineyard — probably more than the crew wants me to be,” Collins chuckled. “Winemaking is my lead role, and I handle all the sales contracts for grapes, too.”
It all is the expanding vision of Dufenhorst, CEO of Security Properties, a Seattle-based real estate development firm with a portfolio that includes 21,000 apartment units in 21 states. He’s a Boise native and University of Idaho grad with a master’s degree in real estate from University of Southern California.
A cycling trip with his wife, Michelle, that took them through vineyards in Europe sparked the idea for Rocky Pond. Soon after, they purchased 50-acre Clos CheValle, opened tasting rooms in downtown Chelan and Woodinville, and established Double D Vineyard in 2013. That 200-acre parcel has a history in orchard fruit and looks up at the Knapps Hills Tunnel downstream from Wells Dam.
Bunnell said, “When I first saw this site with Jim McFerran, who has 30 years in viticulture and is one of my best friends, he told me, ‘This is exactly where Walt Clore said to plant your Cabernet — between 700 and 900 feet elevation and within sight of the Columbia River.’ It gets well beyond 3,000 heat units and is littered with river rock and lots of granite …. And this corridor has historically been apples and cherries, so David and Michelle are definitely pioneers.”
They’ve hired Walla Walla geologist Kevin Pogue to spearhead the petition for the Rocky Reach American Viticultural Area. It’s also an extremely warm site little more than a stone’s throw from the Columbia in some places. Cobblestones make it a costly challenge to plant, but Dufenhorst said there’s room for 180 acres. He plans to leave about 25 acres of pears, and Michelle’s roles include overseeing the scenic wedding venue surrounding the rock-lined pond.
“It could all go into grapes eventually,” Dufenhorst said.
Then there’s Rocky Reach Estates, a multi-purpose 50-acre riverfront wine lifestyle community five miles south of Double D and just upstream from Daroga State Park. It also will be home to the estate winery to join the 12 acres of red Bordeaux planted in soils with wind-blown sand that’s up to six feet deep.
At this point, Collins farms about 120 acres of vines for the 5,000-case brand that soon will feed new tasting rooms in Portland and Seattle.
“Last year, we sold 65 to 70 percent of what we grew,” Collins said. “We’ll continue to plant more acreage and make more wine, and we’ll sell about the same percentage.”