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Camaraderie Cellars

Wine and community in Port Angeles

As a whole, wine lovers are communal people, gathering and talking over a good glass of wine. They generally appreciate a sense of the wine community. In a nutshell, that is what Vicki and Don Corson have created with Camaraderie Cellars.

Like their wines, which are award winners, the tasting room is more than the average tasting room. Tasting counter and retail area, yes, but there's also a circular seating area in front of a fireplace that begs you to sit, relax, sip and have a chat. Yet that's just a part of the whole. There's a 7-foot-in-diameter, custom-wrought iron outdoor wood-burning firepit, and a room for wine club gatherings ("We're a winery, not a venue," says Don). Gardens surround the buildings and are filled with art, much of which Don has made himself, along with large pieces of the jade he loves ("Multiple cultures say it means 'abundance,' but I like it because it's green"). Soft music plays throughout the tasting room, barrel room, and gathering room. Water drips and splashes from fountains. Without conscious intent, they hit on all the components you find in sacred gardens around the world: fire, water, music, art. Things that bond us all. "Our purpose was to create a place for wine and food enjoyment; a place that feels great," says Vicki. They've succeeded.

Wine has always been of interest to them. They come from hospitable families who loved friends and good food. When Vicki and Don got together, they discovered food and wine pairings. "When we were young and living in Southern California, we were a mile from the original Trader Joe's. Even on a small salary, we could get Charles Krug for $4," recalls Don. "I'm a studious kind of guy, so I read the three books available on wine at the time, and we went on tours." Vicki adds, "We were very interested in the process." Don made his first vintage in 1981 from 100 pounds of grapes that, interestingly, he bought from Jay Soloff and Chris Upchurch who were brokering grapes from Sagemoor. Jay and Chris went on with others to found DeLille Cellars. Eleven years later, Camaraderie would become the 185 th winery in Washington; DeLille was 186.

They started making wine in the late '80s while living in Redmond. A job change moved them to Port Angeles. In 1992, they started from scratch but, wisely, kept the day job. "We thought this would be a hobby business, making a couple hundred of cases," explains Vicki. "Even at 1000 cases, it was still a hobby. Deciding to ramp up, 2007-2008 was the height of our production in terms of tonnage. Of course, the economy went south, and it took the wind out of our sails, and sales. Rather than pulling back and not making wine for a year, we decided to tough it out. We wanted to have something from every vintage." Don retired from his day job in 2008.

"We continue to live the name Camaraderie," says Don. "The winery took root here and we want to be a significant part of the community. We created a wine for the Olympic Medical Foundation with a special label. The original art for that label was auctioned off, and we auctioned off a spot on the blending team. The wine, Confluence, won a double gold at the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition in Kansas City, Missouri. Half of Confluence sales go to the Foundation; so far approximately $30,000 has been raised from these activities. We also made a wine for the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra and Angel Flight," says Don. "Everyone has a skill and can offer experience and expertise to help others. We do value added things."

They are traditional in their winemaking efforts without too much intervention, and wines are made to go with food. All grapes are sourced from Eastern Washington from multiple vineyards; Don brings most of them over himself. Last year, he drove 5,200 miles bringing them to the winery where they are crushed. All their reds are aged at least 20 months in barrels using a wide variety of oaks. Along with Bordeaux wines and blends, they make Tempranillo, Viognier, Sangiovese, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. "We've learned to stay true to ourselves and not be everything to everyone. We don't want to spread ourselves too thin," explains Vicki.

"Almost anything can grow in Washington, and that's where the fun comes in for our wine club," says Don. "We're able to try out different varietals." They currently make 3,000 cases, although they are getting smaller each year. "We wanted to expand our offerings somewhat for wine club members," says Vicki. "We'll do small lots for them and for sale at the tasting rooms: Port Angeles and The Tasting Room in Pike Place Market." One fun item has been the Storm King Satchel, a 1500 ml satchel you can easily take on a boat or picnic. Beyond making the best wine they can, they wanted to keep them at reasonable prices, and be sustainable. Even their reserve wines are affordable. Drinkable now, they also age well. They use corks and recycle them and used local wood and products for the gathering room. "Whether it's the wine or our buildings, we want to be authentic to place," says Don. "That's why our tasting room isn't a chateau or villa."

"We're in our 26th year, with no end in sight," says Vicki. "We have no interest in selling, and we have a great wine club. People are surprised when they find us, and the other Peninsula wineries, off the beaten path. We're all artisan, family-owned wineries. Besides liking our wine, the best compliment we get is that people feel good here." Don adds, "We can hold our own against really great wines. We've received over 400 medals and awards, starting with our Cabernet Sauvignon." Great wine, sustainable practices, a captivating winery experience, why aren't you there right now?

Camaraderie Cellars
334 Benson Road
Port Angeles, WA 98363
360-417-3564

camaraderiecellars.com

Connie Adams/June 2018


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