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Baer Winery

Distinctive blends

Even with a solid dream, it's not always easy to find your voice, your place. Even more so in the wine world where there are many factors that can impact your base ingredient from year to year. Lance Baer's philosophy was to steer clear of the herd and create an unusual blend for Ursa ("bear" in Latin) using more Cabernet Franc than most Bordeaux blends. More blends have appeared from Baer; Ursa is still the signature wine, although the Merlot content increased to match the Cab Franc in the 2011 version.

While working at Boeing, he began volunteering in the wine industry. Eventually he left Boeing and took a job as a cellar rat at DeLille, ultimately becoming the assistant winemaker under Chris Upchurch. He approached his father, Les, who also worked at Boeing, with the idea of starting his own winery. "He thought of it as planning my retirement investment for me," smiles Les. "I supplied the seed money."

By 2000, Baer Winery LLC had been formed, and the first six barrels of wine, 225 cases of Ursa, were released in 2003. In 2005, they offered the 2002 Arctos, a more Cabernet Sauvignon heavy, full-bodied wine. The 2013 Arctos will have more Cab Sav than before, enough to call itself a Cabernet Sauvignon. Those were their only two wines until the 2009 vintage. Callisto appeared as a Cab Sav/Cab Franc blend, which has now morphed to a Cab Sav/Syrah blend, with no Cab Franc. Star was 81% Merlot in the 2011 version, and 75% Merlot in the 2012 version. Maia, 100% Cab Franc, is available only to wine club members. Baer makes one white, a 100% Chardonnay, called Shard. "When you do wine dinners, you really need to have at least one white," explains Les. "That was the driver behind Shard, but Lance wanted the difference to be that it was unoaked. His philosophy was to make wines that people loved or hated, he didn't want to make a wine that made people say 'it's okay, I'll drink it.' He didn't need to please everyone."

Lance had been living in Redmond, but in 2000 purchased property in the Maltby area, creating a garage winery. His first few vintages were made with grapes from a half dozen vineyards, but by 2004, he had zeroed in on Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the Royal City, Washington, area, between Ellensburg and Pullman. "Since that time, we've been a single vineyard producer, including Shard," says Les. "This decision was also about not following the herd. It was kind of an 'anything but Red Mountain' thing-everyone was going there and Lance wanted his wine to be something different. It's a south-facing slope a little higher up and seems to escape most weather extremes. It's a distinctly different microclimate."

Photo courtesy of Wine Spectator, Andrea Johnson: Les and daughter Lisa Baer

In 2007, Lance passed away due to complications from liver disease. Les and Lance's sister Lisa have taken the reins, Les as GM/accountant/supply orderer/shipper, and Lisa as sales and marketing. She also deals with distributors. In addition, Lisa is a full-time contract manager for T-Mobile. They moved the winery into Woodinville's Warehouse District and hired Erica Orr as their consulting winemaker. She has been through 17 harvests in her career and worked in Napa Valley, Burgundy and Australia. Receiving her master's degree in enology from UC Davis, she also has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from UC Berkeley. Her lab analysis and consulting business began in 2006, and she is located at Baer Winery. "She does all our lab testing, and is our winemaker," says Les. "She introduced Star and Callisto to the lineup. All of us participate in blending trials and all points along the way. Erica points the way and Nich, our cellar master, executes."

At the time of Lance's death, they had no one to blend two vintages of wine they had in barrels. Winemaker Derek DesVoigne of Cuillin Hills Winery in Woodinville stepped up at that time of critical need when they moved the winery and rescued most of the wine. "He was great, but blending our wine and making his own was too much. We hired Erica in 2008. She visits Stillwater frequently and works with vineyard manager Ed Kelly. She makes the decisions on the grapes. Ed is big into soil improvement and we've been able to increase production through his work and adding blocks, like the Syrah. We still target 3.6 tons per acre for the reds. You don't want to over-produce. The big thing is consistency. We're also consistent with labeling and our boxes. We still use the plain wood box that has the top and sides pre-printed. We brand the front each year."

Les and Cellar Master Nich Hanson

In 2011, Wine Spectator gave the 2008 Ursa 95 points and the sixth spot in their Top 100 wines, citing its "…suppleness and pure fruit flavors."

Their wine club is limited to 80 members who receive two releases per year at a discount. In fall, they receive Maia, and in spring Shard, as well as new red releases. Members also get free tastings for themselves and one guest. All other wines are made available to members prior to general release.

As for the future, "We ask ourselves these questions all the time," says Les. "You couldn't ask to be part of a better industry. Our customers, suppliers, volunteers, other winemakers-what a great group of people. I really enjoy it. I have an engineering background, so the science and technical aspects appeal to me. We're fortunate in that we can produce to fill demand rather than producing and trying to find buyers. We're doing well in Western Washington, are now in Canada, and distribute in Chicago, Philadelphia, Montana and California. We're just starting in Florida, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. We take part in fundraisers like the Evergreen Health Foundation Gala and Cooking with Class. It really comes down to what I want to be doing in 5-10 years." How many of us have the answer to that question?

Baer Winery
19501 144th Ave NE
Building F-100
Woodinville, WA 98072
425-483-7060

www.baerwinery.com

Connie Adams/January 2015


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