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Upchurch Vineyard

When worlds merge, part 1

As often happens in our lives, outcomes are a product of many things coming together at a certain time and place. This seems especially true for Upchurch Vineyard: the family, the vineyard, the wine.

Upchurch Winery, Red Mountain

For Chris Upchurch, his interest in wine dates to his world-traveling father, a chemical engineer in nuclear fission who worked on the Manhattan Project and held a white card at Los Alamos, the security level just below Robert Oppenheimer. After the war, he got a Master's Degree from Columbia and spent his career buying and selling uranium. Through his travels, he began appreciating wine and drank it at home, allowing Chris to taste in his teens.

Chris was raised in New Jersey, graduating from Princeton High School. "I was the black sheep in the family," he says. "My grandfather, father, and brother all graduated from Columbia. I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, studying environmental sciences and animal behavior. I enjoyed studying, but never thought of it leading to a career." He later took a few courses at University of California, Davis, to fill in some viticultural holes in his knowledge. He mentored under David Lake at Columbia Winery who taught him to "get into the vineyard, stay in the vineyard, and if you come out of the vineyard, go back in."

To earn extra money in college, he worked in restaurants. At one, he was the employee with the most wine knowledge, so he wrote the wine menu, but was told "don't forget the Lancer's." Worlds merging: family wine history and making money. In 1970, he moved to Seattle working at 13 Coins for a few years as the wine buyer, the becoming the wine buyer for Larry's Markets for years.

Jay Soloff was an independent wine broker who knew Chris from Larry's Markets. Jay also knew Greg Lill. Jay and Chris made champagne together, storing it at the Lill family's Woodinville property. Worlds merging. Greg, his father Charles, Jay, and Chris became founders and co-owners of DeLille Cellars in 1992 ( click here for more detail ). In 2013, Bacchus Capital joined the partnership, enabling DeLille to expand to where they are today.

"DeLille was a total dream for me," says Chris. "I can't say how proud I am of what we've done in 26 years. I have partners who wanted to pursue what I thought was the greatest wine in Washington state; not just making Cabernet and Chardonnay. I wanted to do better. Like our White Bordeaux. I thought Semillon and Sauvignon would grow better here than Chardonnay. Washington White Bordeaux is now considered outstanding and the reason is the Semillon. Marty Clubb at L'Ecole was making Semillon 10 years before I did . I knew it would be a first-rate white wine, unique in the world. It ages well. We did a 20-year vertical last summer. We were the first to make a main line Roussanne and we do it every year. I can't think of anyone else who does." From the beginning, the partner's plan was to make Bordeaux-style wines, but they needed to educate the public. It worked: there are now over 200 Bordeaux blends made in Washington. "Ours has been poured at Per Se and 11 Madison in New York, The French Laundry in Napa, and the White House."

In 1995, DeLille threw a party at the just-opened Chateau in Woodinville. A Seattle restaurant owner, Thea Van den Beld was invited. She had Theoz with Chef Emily Moore, Baci in Mario's (lunch and catering), and the Yakima Grill in the Vance Hotel in downtown Seattle. "It was my day off and I didn't want to go," she recalls. "A friend talked me into it. I wore white shorts and felt under-dressed; I hid in the gazebo. Chris came out and we started talking. We haven't stopped since. We'd both been married before and it felt amazing to find someone you feel that way about." Chris agrees. "Since that day, we've never dated anyone else." They moved in together quickly, but didn't marry until 2001. "We got married in that exact spot, at the gazebo," says Thea. Worlds merging.

Chris is clearly proud of Thea. "She has a Master's Degree, a culinary degree, and an interpreter degree; she speaks four languages." She sold Baci to Gary Bocz, and sold Yakima Grill after she and Chris got together. "The Vance Hotel (now Hotel Max) was remodeled and it was a good time to sell. It was too hard. I had 90 employees at one time." She had also been the Catering Director at the Four Seasons Hotel. In the beginning, she catered at DeLille, and even catered their own wedding. Chris made the wine. "We didn't want something ordinary," says Thea. "We did it Latin American style, had a band, and even learned to salsa. Chris is good at most things; he plays the guitar also. He's totally into the arts and we go to all the museums when we travel. Art we've collected is in both our home in Kirkland and at the barn at Red Mountain. And he's taken classes at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park."

Photos courtesy of Upchurch Vineyard

Watch for Part 2 of this story in our December issue.

Connie Adams/November 2017

Upchurch Vineyard
32901 Vineyard View PR NE
Benton City, WA 99320

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