Archive for the ‘Winemaker Notes’ Category

The Winemaker

January 31st, 2013 by Camaraderie Cellars

Don Corson has been making wine since 1981 when he started with 100 pounds of Eastern Washington grapes and made his first Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the next decade he joined a small but growing number of winemakers in the state with a passion for making wine with the hope of “going commercial”.

In 1992 Don and his wife Vicki formed Camaraderie Cellars with a combination of hope, a small new building, great vineyard connections and a family philosophy that the best things in life are meant to be shared. Only 200 cases of that 1992 vintage was made but it earned a Gold medal at the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest’s annual judging. Since that time Don has increased production to about 3,500 cases of wines, the buildings have grown in number and size, and in critical acclaim locally and nationally.

Don’s passion for winemaking stems from a multigenerational passion for good food. Family enjoyment of fruit and the tradition of canning the harvest’s bounty evolved with Don to preserve the essence of the vineyard’s crop in a different form – the bottle! Don believes that nothing is better than a good meal with good wine and good friends to share it with.

Sharing life’s best is captured in the name of the winery he and Vicki chose, “Camaraderie” and the name of their flagship wine “Grâce.” Camaraderie focuses on friends and sharing that goes deeper than just a good time together. “Grâce,” in the French means thanks and blessing, elegance and charm, concepts that go beyond a label and represent a generous spirit, a way of doing things, and values that should be at the table and in life.

Don retired in 2009 from a challenging “day job” as Vice President of Planning and Development at Merrill & Ring, a timber and land company. He also holds a Ph.D. in Geography and loves working on the winery garden grounds building and planting new things for visitors to the winery to enjoy. He currently serves as a member of the Washington Wine Institute where he brings his enthusiasm for winemaking to help support the industry as a whole.

Don and Vicki have two children: Annie, a Washington State University graduate who is an oncology pharmacist supervisor in Tacoma. She is married to Matt and they are parents to wonderful grandchild, Jacob. Steven, a graduate of Michigan State in Hospitality Business and of the Culinary Institute of America , is employed by Northwest Naturals, a Bothell company which does food product development.

Summer 2009 Winemaker Notes

August 1st, 2012 by Camaraderie Cellars

“Summer” in the Northwest is when you can get it. We have had incredible warm weather, and as I write this in early July, we are now back into a wet pattern. I, along with the garden, am enjoying the damp for awhile. But … we are in full summer swing, wet or not.

This very day (July 8th), we have installed another sculpture! If you look on the back of our labels you will see a line drawing of “hands lifted up”. That has now been carved in stone by our good friend and master sculptor, Maureen Wall. It has been positioned by a new water feature right by the central patio where the fire pit is.

“Camaraderie” is a sense of celebration and sharing and the hands lifted up image is just right for what it is we do and what we share here. Wine, as good and wonderful as it is, is only the vehicle and companion not the end of the journey. Folks that want to focus on just the wine are missing the meaning of the journey with friends.

That all being said, I make wine that, as a vehicle will be as fine as a Rolls, and as approachable as a Chevy. Enjoy the ride.

We bottled 3,700 cases of the 2007’s in May and will begin release of these fine wines in Autumn but mostly next Spring. If you are a part of the wine club you can look forward to some surprises coming up in packaging.

Barrels are ordered, I am now getting together my thoughts on yeasts and fermentation additions so I will be ready for harvest 2009 which is just around the corner – AAAAArrrrggghhh!

Have a great Summer. Come by. You will love the new sculpture and just maybe the new wood-fired pizza oven will be up and running!

Don Corson

Summer 2008 Winemaker Notes

June 10th, 2012 by Camaraderie Cellars

Summer (?) 2008
Winemaker Notes

As I write this on the 10th of June, I see fresh snow on the Olympic peaks behind the winery that fell last night. What a relief to know that Eastern Washington is a world apart in its weather and grapes are growing reasonably well so far despite our wet and cool west side of the state craziness.

I had the privilege of moderating a seminar for the Taste of Washington earlier this year that focused on the “Next Great Washington Red”. We tasted Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Malbec, and Tempranillo. The “take home” messages were that Cabernet Franc will continue to emerge as a mainline Washington State red wine of importance, and watch out for Tempranillo. Tempranillo is the great grape of Spain ’s Rioja region. While no wine will take away the status of Cabernet Sauvignon, another message was that Washington State is producing much more than head-turning Cabernet and Merlot. These “new” varieties are rising stars in the Washington wine constellation.

I am pleased to report that we will be releasing our own Tempranillo this Fall and it is a lovely wine that combines some of the best attributes of Syrah, Malbec and Merlot. Rich, mouthfilling and with good acid and tannins, this wine is going to be a winner.

On the Solstice, our daughter Annie will be getting married to Matt. The reception will be at the winery and we are looking to have a great day regardless of the weather. (We are bringing in tents and heaters just in case!) The gardens are in fine form. Except for that day you are welcome to visit. We look forward to seeing you.

Don Corson


Harvest 2010 Winemaker Notes

October 1st, 2010 by Camaraderie Cellars

Almost every grape grower and winemaker I have talked with this Fall has commented on the strangeness of this year’s growing season and harvest. Not only has harvest been late by weeks but all the “usualness” that I could count on was clobbered. The usually early vineyards came in later, grape varieties that usually come in a nice manageable sequence got collapsed into days instead of weeks, acid and sugar ratios had to be scrutinized carefully, and the list could go boringly long. This was our nineteenth commercial vintage and I have never experienced anything quite like it.

But what does all this oddness mean for wine quality this year? Early in September some folks were expressing grave concerns. What I am actually finding is that most wines have deep and rich balanced flavors. All in all, I’m more than pleased with the wines we have made.

I made at least 15 trips (I’ve lost count) to Eastern Washington to get grapes. Some vineyards were too small or too remote for a commercial truck to get into and sometimes the grapes were picked on a weekend and it was up to me to get them. I usually dropped bins off at the next vineyard to be picked on my way over. We got grapes from eight different vineyards this year so you can imagine the logistics. Me and “Big Red”, the one ton diesel truck, became fast, no, make that slow, friends.

At one time we had eight separate fermentations going on, each with its own daily management requirements. We had 20 separate lots. Each had to be stemmed and crushed, fermented and pressed, then barreled. Volunteer work parties were many and we are especially grateful for the enthusiasm everyone brought to the work. We could not have gotten through harvest without their help.

We have updated our website to include a harvest photo gallery so you can get a sense of what we have been doing around here.

At this time of the year we are open by appointment and we look forward to your calls to make a time to visit.

Right now, I’m going to go and take a nap.

Don Corson

Mid-Year At Camaraderie

June 1st, 2010 by Camaraderie Cellars

Mid-Year At Camaraderie

The year is flying by! The first half has included marketing trips to Texas cities, winery work, construction of another 1,000 square feet of covered and insulated space, and the list could go on and on. In another two weeks we bottle the 2008 vintage wines and I am in the final stages of blending trials. The wines have never tasted so good at this stage and I am really looking forward to their release early next year.

I have worked especially hard on the marketing side of the business over the last few months. And I’m glad to report we are making solid inroads into new markets and re-invigorating some others. The Texas trip was especially exciting as our wines were very well received for their quality, the ability to complement a wide range of fare, and the fact they over deliver for the price. This seems to be a wining combination in Manhattan and Vancouver BC too.

Another highlight for the first part of the year was doing a tasting for Seattle’s prestigious Rainier Club. Organized by their wine director, Christopher Chan, the previous winemakers included such luminaries as Bob Betz, Leonetti, and Andrew Will. To be in the same breath as these legends is very complimentary to the winery and I am grateful to Christopher for the opportunity.

Still another recent event was participating in the first annual “Merlot Gone Mad” event organized by the Jamie Peha. This came out of an idea I shared with her about the fact that Washington State Merlot is the best in the world and we should have an event that showcases this versatile noble grape. Over fifty wineries participated and 300+ were in attendance.

At nearly mid-year, the garden is just coming out of its Winter-cold Spring blahs. Rose buds are forming, leaves on the Japanese maples are unfurling, and rhododendrons are coloring the landscape. And, of course the vineyards are past bud break and growing for the sky.

All of this bodes well for the rest of the year. Cold weather root growth, like the hard work in the winery that few see, is what’s needed for success during the rest of the year.

We are now into our summer hours for visits (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 11-5, or by appointment). Come see us!

Don Corson

Spring 2010 Winemaker Thoughts

May 1st, 2010 by Camaraderie Cellars

Spring 2010
Winemaker Thoughts

It is actually still “winter”, but here on the north Olympic Peninsula, I can see brave bulbs poking their heads up and the crazy Autumnalis Cherry tree is blushing with pink buds and brave blooms.

Soon it will be time to begin spring racking of all the fresh 2009 wines that are done with malolactic fermentation. This is always a time to be dreaded but sort of exciting too. I dread it because it is just flat out work in pumping out wine barrels stacked four and five high then washing the barrels of who knows what at the bottom – bee wings and dead yeast lie in clay-like sediments that do not wash easily. Once the barrels are freshened the wine goes back in and I will start checking out the 2008 vintage wines as I prepare for bottling in May.

Spring cleaning, though, is also an opportunity to check out the winery’s “library” of past vintages and see how they are coming along. I did this recently and found some prizes. Not so much “surprises” because we all know Washington State fruit is packed with great tannin and acid and these attributes allow the wines to age beautifully. I expected our wines to be fine, but there is always the “I wonder…” factor.

I am pleased to report that after tasting through a range of past vintages that were at least five years old and many eight and nine years old, I didn’t find any that were clearly going over the hill. Colors were bright, fruit aromas were fresh, tannins were smoothing out, and major “yum” factors abounded. Wines like the 2002 Cabernet Franc were crazy good and the 2003 Merlot was rich lovely.

Let the excuse of “Spring house cleaning” be an invitation for you to take a peek in your cellar. Don’t wait for just the “perfect” time for “that” bottle. If you don’t have a special stash, then start one. There is nothing like a well aged red wine – there really isn’t. And, of course, Camaraderie can help you with this resolution.

I also invite you to slow down a bit this year. The national statistic is that 85% of wine is bought and consumed within 90 minutes! In this age of wine “appreciation” tools that promise “instant breathing” and gratification, I say get some nice big wine glasses that don’t cost all that much and let the wine breathe in there while you also take some big deep breaths and savor. Why be in a rush? You will both benefit.

Don Corson, winemaker