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DeLille Cellars

Triple Crown Winners

Sixteen years ago, no one involved in DeLille Cellars was thinking "our wines will take the world by storm." It was more about gaining an income stream from an increasingly expensive piece of property, honoring the family heritage and creating a business that would be fun. As it turns out, they've managed the triple crown�honored by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and the prestigious Robb Report. As far as we know, no other winery has received all three honors in the same year. On top of that, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast honored different wines�DeLille is no one-wine wonder.

Photo: Courtesy of DeLille Cellars

Charles Lill's great grandfather made wine and beer in Czechoslovakia, but Charles made his living from insurance and real estate in the U.S. His son Greg worked with him at his insurance firm, staying on after Charles sold the company. In 1981, Charles bought property in Woodinville, including a small house, thinking of it as a getaway and hobby spot. As renovation money began to flow, the family started wondering if there was a way to create an income stream from the 10-acre property. Family history made them think about making wine and beer, and they also considered starting a bed and breakfast.

Elsewhere in 1985, Jay Soloff, an independent wine broker, and Chris Upchurch, a wine buyer for Larry's Markets, decided to try their hand at making champagne. Once they'd bottled 200 cases, they realized marketing it was more than they were prepared for, plus it cost money to store. Greg and Jay knew each others as members of Emerald City Rotary Club. Greg heard about the champagne and said "I'll come get it" and stored it in the basement at the Woodinville property.

DeLille Cellars
14208 Woodinville-
Redmond Rd NE
Redmond, WA 98052

Private tastings by appointment only. Contact:

Triple Crown Awards!
Wine Spectator
2004 D2 chosen as one of the Top 100 Wines of the World

Wine Enthusiast
2005 Chaleur Estate Blanc chosen as one of the Top Rated 100 Wines of 2007

Robb Report
Chosen as one of the Top 100 Wineries of the World

Seattle Times Wine Writer Paul GreguttChose the 2006 Chaleur Estate Blanc as one of his top 100 state wines for 2007

DeLille Chateau

On a golf tournament in 1990, Greg shared with Jay that the family was thinking about starting a winery on the property. Along with Chris, they pooled their ideas and Greg wrote a business proposal. He presented it to the family in 1991 while they were vacationing in Hawaii over Thanksgiving. "My parents were very conservative," recalls Greg. "They were from fairly wealthy families who lost everything in the war. I wasn't sure how my dad would take it." After a few days of thought, Charles decided he liked the idea. "Everyone in the family voted yes, so I voted no," laughs Greg. "They accepted my proposal, but if it didn't work out, I could say I always knew it wouldn't."

Charles, Greg, Jay and Chris became the founders and co-owners of DeLille Cellars. Their consultant was David Lake, M.W. (Master of Wine). In 2004, Greg's sister, Pat Lill-Jorgenson became a partner in DeLille Cellars. "We moved my father's ownership out of DeLille Cellars to Pat and myself for estate tax purposes," explains Greg. "It turned out to be very fortunate, since he passed away last January."

"We were the start of the second wave of wineries in the state," recalls Greg. "It was made up mostly of families who were well funded. We promised ourselves that our answer to questions would never be �we'd like to do it, but it's too expensive.' There's a saying that compromise is the guarantee of mediocrity. We don't compromise." Grapes are hand picked to ensure the stems aren't pulled and skin ripped, causing the grape to rot. At crush, grapes are double-hand-sorted. This attention to detail is shown throughout the process. Wine is aged in 100% new French oak barrels each year and is never filtered.

"Our grapes all come from the Yakima Valley, primarily the Red Mountain AVA, and we pick earlier," explains Greg. Ultimately, they'd like to own all their own vineyards to have complete control. Right now, they own one 20-acre vineyard, Grand Ciel, and source from others. They are all about the blend and were the first to do Bordeaux-style blends in Washington. In the beginning, they made 1200 cases of wine total, 800 cases of Chaleur Estate and 400 of D2. In those days, Chaleur Estate went for $24 and D2 for $11. They are now $75 and $36, respectively. "It's a tough business to experiment with," says Greg. "We've only had 15 vintages." That's another reason the honors they've received are so noteworthy.

As Greg points out, many Washington grapes are grown by farmers who grow other crops as well. As knowledge and experience grow in this state and farmers focus on grapes, there's no telling what we can do. "If we do this well with a lack of experience in growing grapes, what will we be able to do in the future?" he wonders. Their Grand Ciel Vineyard is a "state-of-the-art, no-expense-spared" vineyard. The first harvest was the 2004 vintage.

For all the awards, the most gratifying part of the business for Greg and his wife Stacy are the relationships. "We have friends all over the world now," he says. "It is really fun. We connect with people in a social environment. Even when someone is known as a tough business person, we know them on a more casual, fun basis." They make the most of marketing opportunities and have met amazing people in unusual ways. "You never know where the next great relationship is coming from." Greg has even had dinner (twice!) with Sophia Loren. The hardest part for them is knowing when to take some down time. Opportunities abound and it's hard to pick and choose.

Photo: Stacy and Greg Lill with DeLille wines

From a small, hopeful startup to an established, award-winery winery, DeLille Cellars has made quite the mark in the world of wine. And it's only going to get better.

Connie Adams/July 2008

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