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Apex Cellars Winery

Apex Cellars Winery

From Apex Cellars Winery:

The story of Apex Cellars and its sister winery, Bridgman, begins in the late 1980s, when one of the state's most knowledgeable wine retailers and distributors and one of the Northwest's best winemakers combined their talents and experience in a new business venture. Harry D. Alhadeff, who had owned a chain of wine shops and restaurants and who then was the owner of Alhadeff Distributing Company, and Brian Carter, a winemaker of extraordinary depth and experience, decided that creating a new winery together would allow each of them to do what they loved best-for Brian, making the best wines possible; for Harry, making them available to an increasingly wine-savvy public. And they could have fun doing it.

Harry Alhadeff became President of Washington Hills Winery and Apex Cellars and Brian Carter became Vice President of Winemaking Operations and full-time winemaker. In 2004, they sold the Washington Hills brand, and kept the Apex and Bridgman wineries.


During the 1988 grape harvest, Brian had come across some extraordinary cabernet grapes with exceptional potential. Using the knowledge he had gained at the School of Enology at U.C. Davis and the experience he brought from years as winemaker at some of California and Washington's finest wineries, Brian made just 100 cases of a very special wine - a super ultra premium Cabernet Sauvignon. It was released under the winery's new brand for top-of-the-line wines, Apex. Subsequent vintages included a full line of award-winning Apex varietals.

The 1989 vintage had been made by Brian at an historic 40,000sf complex in Sunnyside. Originally built as a creamery, it had been converted to a winery in the 1980s. By 1991, they had acquired the facility and launched an ongoing program of modernization and improvement that included installing state of the art equipment and adding a tasting room, retail store and gift shop, and gardens for picnics and special events.

In October 1993 Harry and Brian introduced a brand of superpremium varietal wines, Bridgman, which was named for the man who in 1917 first introduced European wine grapes to the Yakima Valley. The brand became an immediate success. True to the vision and foresight of its namesake, Bridgman wines include some of the more innovative and unusual varietals, such as Lemberger, Syrah and Viognier.

Winemaker Brian Carter

For more than two decades, Brian Carter has been recognized as one of the top winemakers in Washington state.

When he arrived in Washington in 1980, only 16 wineries were in existence in the state. As The Wine News observed in 1998, "Perhaps more than anyone else, Carter, both as consultant and as winemaker for his own Washington Hills Cellars, is responsible for the tremendous recognition Washington has received for its wines and for the current status the region holds in the international wine community."

Wine News' opinion echoed that of the Washington wine industry as a whole, as evidenced in 1996 when Brian was named winner of the prestigious Alec Bayless Award "in recognition of the many contributions he has made to the growth and development of the state's wine industry." The handful of industry leaders who have received the Bayless Award comprise the patriarchs of the Washington wine industry—individuals who have played a pivotal role in helping Washington achieve its current status as a world-class wine-producing area.

Brian grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, and started making wine at age 14. An inveterate forager, he also was fascinated by the fermentation process. At an age when other kids were building model airplanes, Brian was experimenting with blackberry, rose hip, and dandelion wines.

While working on his bachelor's degree in microbiology at Oregon State University, Brian decided to take a wine appreciation class, which included visits to several Oregon wineries. His most important lesson from the class may have been that a career in winemaking was a viable option for him, one that would draw on his longstanding interests as well as on his microbiology studies—and one that could be a lot of fun.

After graduation from OSU, Brian moved to California to study at UC Davis' School of Enology. He then honed his winemaking skills at two high-quality California wineries, Mount Eden Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Chateau Montelena in Calistoga. It was at Chateau Montelena that he worked with the legendary winemaker Jerry Luper.

In 1980, Brian was enticed to leave California and move to Seattle to work with Paul Thomas, who was just starting the Paul Thomas Winery. With Brian as winemaker, it became one of the state's most successful wineries, producing award-winning vinifera, crimson rhubarb, dry Bartlett pear, and Bing cherry wines. Under Brian's direction, winery production expanded quickly to 18,000 cases of vinifera and fruit wines per year. Awards and honors came quickly, as well.

Then Brian's 1983 Paul Thomas Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen to compete with classic Bordeaux and US wines at a tasting held at New York's Windows of the World restaurant, the judges were stunned when it outscored most of the wines entered, including a Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.

Tmong the scores of medals and awards his wines won for Paul Thomas, one best marked the winery's arrival as a producer of fine varietals: Brian's 1986 Chardonnay received Grand Prize at the Pacific Northwest Enological Society judging, representing a unanimous opinion from the judges that this wine alone was deserving of this highest award. The Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots that Brian made at Paul Thomas were considered among Washington's best wines at the time. While there, Brian became the only two-time winner of Washington magazine's "Winemaker of the Year" award.

In 1988, Brian left Paul Thomas and became a consulting winemaker for a number of wineries. His list of client wineries was long, and it included many that would become the region's most successful and respected. Among them were McCrea Cellars, Hedges, Randall Harris, Silver Lake, and Worden. The wines he created for Hedges Cellars were awarded "Best Buy" status by Wine Spectator five years running. Wine & Spirits named another of Brian's client wineries "Winery of the Year" in only its third year of operation. He is largely responsible for inventing Cabernet-Merlot for Hedges Cellars, which exported it all to Europe. In 1989 when Hedges Cab-Merlot won a gold medal at the Pacific Northwest Wine Festival, a star was born.

While a full-time consultant, Brian forged a friendship and business relationship with Harry Alhadeff, who was launching Washington Hills, a new winery that would produce two brands: Washington Hills and Reserve-caliber Apex. Brian's Midas touch in winemaking was soon evident: The first year's release of 50,000 gallons of Washington Hills wines sold out in less than 10 months and met with both critical and consumer acclaim. The first releases of Apex wines, a couple of years later, were equally successful. In 1994, the Washington Hills and Apex brands were joined by midpriced Bridgman wines, rounding out the winery's complement of offerings. Each brand has its own style, and each has won bushels of awards.

Brian became full-time winemaker and a partner in Washington Hills Cellars winery in 1990. In the succeeding decade, he has propelled Washington Hills Cellars into its current position as one of the top producers of wine in the state.

At Washington Hills, Brian's winemaking style has evolved while his unbroken record of accomplishments has continued.

In 1993, Apex 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded a platinum medal by Wine & Spirits magazine, and was listed as one of the top two Cabernet Sauvignons in the US.

In 1993, three Washington Hills and Bridgman wines were among the top 10 "Oyster Award" wines, singled out from an impressive field of Pacific Northwest wines.

In 1994, Brian's Washington Hills 1992 Chardonnay received a gold medal and "Best in Class" award from the Pacific Rim International Wine competition.

In 1995, Apex was chosen by Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of nine "Great Chardonnay Producers."

In 1996, Washington Hills 1995 Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc and Bridgman 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon received gold medals and State Champion designation (for highest-scoring red and white wines from Washington state) in the International Eastern Wine Competition.

In 1998, Washington Hills Semillon was awarded the "Grand Prize" at the Pacific Northwest Enological Society judging. In 2000, Apex Syrah received the same honor. These awards, combined with a Grand Prize received in 1988 for his Paul Thomas 1986 Reserve Chardonnay, make Brian the only three-time winner of this most prestigious Northwest award.

Brian's talent for making wines is nearly matched by his talent in designing wineries. Among those he has designed from scratch: Hedges' Red Mountain Winery and Kestral Vineyards Winery. He also has been the driving force behind converting Washington Hills Cellars' building, originally constructed as a creamery in the early 1940s, into a modern winery capable of producing upward of 100,000 cases a year.

Brian has held leadership positions in numerous professional organizations, including:
Past chairman, Pacific Northwest Chapter, American Society of Enology and Viticulture
Past chairman, Central Washington Wine Technical Group
Member, Washington Wine Advisory Board
Member, Washington Wine Commission Research & Education Committee
Brian lives with his two sons in Newcastle, Washington. He enjoys skiing and mountain climbing with them in his spare time, and is a gourmet cook.

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