“O’Reilly Expands into Washington
with More Vineyards, New Winery”
Owen Roe’s Winemaker Discovers Yakima Valley’s Hidden Gems Via Tiny Vineyards
Author: Christina Kelly
Co-Author Jean Yates
It’s not an unfamiliar sight to see Oregon winemaker David O’Reilly driving around the hills surrounding the Yakima Valley in his high-mileage Ford Explorer, scouting out vineyards and vineyard locations for possible fruit sources. O’Reilly is expanding his winery operations in Washington State, and his number one goal is to locate the best vineyards for wine production.
The winemaker who co-founded Sineann Winery and is the co-owner and winemaker for Owen Roe Winery in Newberg, Ore, will be introducing new wines and bringing a new Washington winery to the market.
O’Reilly is outwardly ever-changing—an idea man with a keen sense of marketing and a knack for making something work by making it the best he can. He does little advertising for his winery, Owen Roe, or his value-oriented offshoot labels, O’Reilly and Sharecropper wines, but he rarely has any inventory left by the vintage’s end. Driven, but not manically so, he continues to look for new possibilities and new challenges that push the wine envelope—balanced soils, better canopy, lower crop yields and where possible, organic viticulture. O’Reilly thinks and re-thinks, garners opinions, and most of all scours the landscape to keep up with his growing efforts in the wine industry.
Inwardly, his drives are still the same—family (he and wife Angelica have eight home-schooled children), a constant desire to learn and be challenged, and a quality of life that that focuses less on accumulating wealth and more on comfort and basic desires. He is meticulous and uncompromising in the winery and in the vineyard and has no problem selling off juice to someone else if it doesn’t meet his expectations.
Owen Roe wines are highly sought-after, using grapes from Oregon (with Pinot Noir as the flagship) and Washington (the high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). Rather than expand his winery and produce more of the same thing, O’Reilly and business partner Jerry Owen purchased an old Carnation dairy facility in Sunnyside, Wash., and a vineyard dubbed Outlook, west of Sunnyside with about 105 planted acres. O’Reilly will be introducing new wines, new packaging and ultimately, years down the road, a new destination in the Yakima wine country.
Above, David O'Reilly in Washington State Vineyard
The New Winery and Wines
O’Reilly’s new winery location is not a pretty sight at first, but the potential to restore the old dairy office and five acres of storage tanks and outbuildings is huge. Prior to the purchase, the location was the site for Apex Cellars and Washington Hills winery. O’Reilly is restoring and cleaning up the compound to build a high-end, custom crush facility and a new winery, temporarily named Cream Winery of Yakima.
The winery will produce quart-sized milk containers, filled with wine and only for sale at the winery and in limited restaurants. The containers will be recyclable—a constant thread throughout all of O’Reilly’s endeavors. He is also creating several new labels for value-priced wines—Mirth (Chardonnay) and Lenore (Syrah, named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem) and another red wine blend, all produced at the Sunnyside facility with Yakima Valley grapes. O’Reilly created a new company, Corvidae, which will sell the value-priced wines, made with fruit not used in Owen Roe wines, or with fruit from the Yakima Valley that passes the O’Reilly litmus test.
Above, David O'Reilly with Red WIllow Vineyard owner
“What defines this area is beautiful fruit, shallow soils and hillsides,” said O’Reilly while driving around the hills surrounding Yakima. “The acids in the fruit are great. We found green growers who don’t manipulate the fruit.”
Although a designated appellation, the Yakima Valley has been under the radar for many years, with the likes of Walla Walla and the Columbia Valley appellations garnering most of the attention. O’Reilly says the region is still being explored, “There is something really wild west about this area—there are so many places to discover.”
The Ireland-born winemaker isn’t pulling up his Oregon Pinot Noir roots, but rather planting new ones in the Sunnyside area. Many of the high-end red wines produced under the Owen Roe label are now made at the Sunnyside winery. These wines receive killer high scores with wine critics and are difficult to find the moment they are released.
By purchasing the Outlook Vineyard, O’Reilly is expanding his wine offerings to include wines at all price points, but adding much more in the value wines category. The more exclusive Owen Roe wines will also have some new sources, but O’Reilly gave himself more options with the new vineyard and new vineyard sources.
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Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley