At the turn of the century the Washington Wine Industry was starting to boom, and I felt left out. I remembered my many ventures to Napa during my law school years in the 1980’s, and how exciting it was as the promise of that place came to fruition in beautifully rich wines. I remembered hanging out during those years at my Uncle’s short-lived Spokane winery, and how I’d felt there could be no greater calling than that of a winemaker!
Since "discovering" it as a teen ager, I've always loved Lake Chelan and dreamed of having a place there. In 2001 I was looking at Lake Chelan properties with Vin du Lac co-founder Michaela Markusson when we came across the dusty old orchard that would become the Vin du Lac Estate. It was early winter, and the trees were bare. But I could see the bluff line, and the magnificent views of the lake that the property commanded. I turned to Michaela and said "I'm going to build a winery right here." I made an offer on the property, bought it, and in the spring of 2002, began planting seven initial acres of vineyard and remodeling two old orchard sheds into winemaking facilities.
My father, mother, sister and brother sooner or later all came to help out, and I recruited some friends who were as crazy about wine as me to come help with those first couple crushes. My dad and brother did most of the remodeling work for the bistro, outdoor arbor and patio that now define our Tasting Room and Bistro experience. Mom loved flowers, and she immediately began planting numerous gardens and beds around the tasting room grounds. My sister, Stephanie, joined in and took over accounting and general manager duties.
Travels to Paris and Provence were the inspiration for our remodel of the property's old farmhouse into a tasting room that captured all the charm of a French Country Bistro. Michaela stocked a little deli in the tasting room with imported and local artisan meats, breads and cheeses to accompany our wines. In the meantime, I was bringing all my winemaking knowledge to bear to try to create distinctive, high-quality wines from day one.
I still remember the first wine event I ever attended: "The Capitol Food and Wine Festival" in Olympia, in March of 2004. I walked in to set up our booth, and there, hanging in the Vin du Lac booth was a certificate: "Vin du Lac 2002 Barrel Select Syrah: Best in Show". The life of a winemaker is so full of toil and fretful anticipation. You can't imagine how wonderful it felt to have such early validation of our hard work!
In 2010, WinePress Northwest honored Vin du Lac as "Northwest Winery of the Year" !!! Early validation, followed by more years of hard work, had culminated in our recognition as being among the best in the Northwest.
As our winemaking and commercial successes mounted, I have become more and more convinced of the promise of Lake Chelan as one of the most distinctive wine growing regions on the West Coast. We launched our "LEHM" label in 2005, made exclusively with fruit from the Lake Chelan Valley. I am now devoted to bringing Lake Chelan wines to the world and establishing Lake Chelan as a renowned center of ultra-premium winemaking.
In 2009, I built a new state-of-the-art production facility, and moved most of our wine production out of the old orchard sheds. Our little family winery has grown into a real wine company with full-time, professional winemaking, sales and restaurant managers and staff. But we're still devoted to boutique, small-scale winemaking. We will always provide the friendly, slap-on-the back atmosphere that only a family run place can capture.
Mom passed away in 2004, but her flower beds are still here - in fact we expand them a little every year. Michaela has left the winery business and is pursuing her own passions in Seattle now. Some things change, but the spirit and passions that drove my dreams remain the essence of what Vin du Lac will always be: A place for family, friends, love, inspiration, and great wine.