Five Star Cellars
by Christina Kelly
Matt Huse didn’t like wine, and certainly never expected to be in the wine business.
The Walla Walla native graduated from a carpentry program at the local community college and started a career of “pounding nails for a living,” working for a general contractor.
It turned out that the general contractor was building many of the new wineries in the region and Huse, nail by nail, began a transformation on his own. The process of winemaking intrigued him, and while learning about that process, he tried many of the new Walla Walla wines.
At right, Matt and his father in the tasting room
“It’s funny—I couldn’t stand the stuff at first,” Huse recalled. “Working at the wineries changed a lot of things for me. I learned to love wine, and while working as a carpenter, I discovered I didn’t want to pound nails the rest of my life.”
As it happened, Huse’s father, David, retired a few years ago from selling farm machinery in the region and decided to make a little wine for himself. The first vintage, in 2000, turned out to be such a lush Cabernet Sauvignon that he choose to commercially produce wine and asked his son if he were interested. The 2000 Cab sold out quickly.
Matt Huse immediately enrolled in Walla Walla Community College’s winemaking and viticulture program and produced his first wine in 2001, released this year.
“We knew Matt had great potential,” said Myles Anderson, co-owner of Walla Walla Vintners and advisor to the community college’s viticulture program. “His parents had just started a winery and Matt showed the passion necessary to succeed in this business.”
The Huses searched for a name that wasn’t already taken in a region with so many new wineries. Matt said he kept noticing words like, “five-start hotel,” and “five-star restaurant,” and checked to see if Five Star Cellars was available.
“We wanted to show that we are dedicated to quality, and five-star is the best,” he said.
In May 2003, the Huses released their first 1,500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. They produce about 3,000 cases a year and plan to stay at that size. Their winery is located at the Walla Walla airport, along with many of the newer wineries. Matt said he’ll stick with red wines for now, and let the fruit dictate his wines.
Although he is happy with the new direction of his life, Huse did not let the carpentry skills go to waste. As a side business, Huse is repairing wine barrels and showing students in the community college winemaking program how to make minor repairs.
“I don’t think I would have believed this a few years ago, but it’s what I want to do now,” Huse said. “I am a Walla Walla native and this is where I want to be.”