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Townshend Cellar

 
 

“Huckleberries Open the Door
For Townshend Cellars”
“ Lush Grape Wines to Follow”

By Christina Kelly
Avalon Editor/Writer

Making wine was not on Don Townshend’s radar when he moved to a small farming community just north of Spokane in 1979.

A sales representative for Trane, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment manufacturer, Townshend spent most of his time traveling Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and parts of Oregon selling and troubleshooting the equipment.

The wine bug bit him when he stopped by Preston Cellars, near Pasco, in the early 1980s to fix a problem on an air condition chilling unit. With a degree in civil engineering, Townshend was intrigued with the process of winemaking—the mechanics of grape to bottle.

His interest turned to passion once he developed the left-brain, right-brain process that included the method as well as the artistic endeavor.

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“I spent quite a bit of time with them and became very interested in the winemaking operation—from barrels to bottling,” Townshend recalled. “Pretty soon, we became friends, so I would always stop over when I was in their area. Preston has great fruit, and that’s where my learning curve began.”

Townshend and his wife Michelle lived on five acres in Colbert, a fertile farming area near the Idaho border. His neighbors in Greenbluff were growing fruit and vegetables for sale in the local markets.

With a desire to join his farming community, Townshend planted Christmas trees. But the pull towards winemaking was too strong by the early 1990s. His first attempt was to turn some of the local fruit into wine, hoping that his experiences at Preston Cellars would provide some guidance.

The couple planted strawberries and made wine. They purchased fruit from their neighbors and made more wine from raspberries, peaches, apricots, pears, rhubarb, sweet cherries, elderberries, apples and huckleberries. Although they enjoyed the fruit wines, and Townshend believed his wines to be of great quality, both agreed that the venture would not become a commercial operation, due to high costs and little return.

“It’s a hard process to get many of those fruits into juice form,” Townshend said. “It didn’t make any sense, from a commercial point of view.”

Five years of anything but grape winemaking was enough to convince Townshend to make the kind of wine that fueled his passion—lush Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In 1995, he purchased fruit from Preston Cellars and made his first Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine was stored for three years in barrels before bottling. In a recent tasting of those wines, it was easy to see how Townshend Cellars evolved—the wine was terrific.

“It was as good as anything out there,” said Townshend as a grin spread across his face. “It was then that I realized that this is what I wanted to do—this was what I was meant to do. I didn’t know if we could make a living from it, but I was determined to try. We began purchasing grapes and getting ready to go commercial.”

The one fruit he refused to give up was huckleberries, although it remains one of the most expensive fruits in his portfolio. His Cabernets and Merlots are gaining great scores, but one of his most popular items is his Huckleberry Port.

The huckleberries come from Northern Idaho, a stone’s throw away from Spokane. He doesn’t use a splash—he uses 75 percent huckleberry juice. Huckleberries sell for about $30 per gallon retail, and Townshend buys for his port, and two blush wines—one sweet and one semi-dry.


View from the Winery

Townshend Cellars also produced a Syrah recently and will release a 2000 Cabernet Franc next year. He has a Meritage is in barrel from 2000 (to be released next year) consisting of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 percent Cab Franc and 15 percent Merlot. The future also holds a huckleberry blush champagne, albeit small, very limited production.

Del Long, winemaker for Preston Cellars said Townshend became friends with Bill Preston in the late 1980s and has been a fixture at the winery for more than 10 years.

“He would come down and work harvest and learn everything he could about making wine,” Long said. “It was easy to see that he would go out on his own and make wine.”

Long helps Townshend with the wines, and stores much of the product at the Pasco winery. Townshend said he purchases most of his grapes from Preston and he trusts the folks in the vineyard to make growing decisions for him.

“I still have the day job,” he said. “Starting a winery is not an inexpensive operation.”


Don Townshend looking rather stern - wine is serious stuff!

Both Townshend and Long experiment with barrels, although Long says he wishes he could leave his wines in barrels as long as Townshend.

“One of the best things about his wine is the length he can keep the fruit in barrel,” Long said. “That time shows in his wine. His 1998 and 1999 Cabernets are fantastic. With our wines, we would run out of product before then. His small size affords him that opportunity.”

The Townshends built a tasting room recently and have opened the small winery to the public on weekends. Most of his advertising has been word of mouth and acclaimed notice in wine magazines.

Life for the family is good. Michelle is working as a substitute teacher while raising two sons, Brendon, 15, and Michael, 12. The winery and house overlooks the Spokane Valley, facing the west, offering beautiful sunsets in the early evening. Townshend hopes someday to share that view with a small musical venue and perhaps hold winemaker dinners in the spring and summer.

“Everything I want is right here,” said the sandy-haired winemaker. “I could not have found a better place—for my family, for me and for the winery.”

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Author Christina Kelly worked as a newspaper reporter on the West Coast for more than 20 years covering education, public safety, government, business, environmental issues, entertainment and minority affairs. During the same time, the Washington native began her lifelong interest in wine. After two decades in the news reporting business, Christina decided it was time to concentrate on her passion – the wine industry. She is our indispensable staff writer and columnist.

 
 
 

About the Winery

Townshend Cellar is located in the far Eastern part of Washington State, above Spokane. A tiny winery whose first vintage was released last year, their Cabernet 98 received the top rating from Wine Press NW magazine in June 2003. They also make succulent and richly flavored Syrah, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Townshend Cellar's proximity to Idaho and the area where wild huckleberries are harvested gave them a unique chance to make a number of huckleberry wines. Their Huckleberry Port and Huckleberry Blush are hits with fans of this hard to find berry.

From the winery: "Townshend Cellar is a family owned and operated business. Our family consists of Don and Michelle Townshend and sons, Brendon and Michael. We became a bonded winery in 1998, but have been producing small amounts of personal use wines since the early 1990's.

Living in the Greenbluff area of Eastern Washington gave us access to many varieties of fresh fruit. Our business began initially as an interest in possibly starting a small winery which would produce small custom lots of fruit wines from the Greenbluff area

.

After many batches of cherry, raspberry, peach, pear, strawberry and other fruit wines, it was determined (although good) that fruit wines would not be marketable for prices high enough to cover the costs of small lot production. In 1996 (a good huckleberry year) a small batch of Huckleberry wine (port-style) was made as a joint venture with Preston Premium Wines. At this point it was unknown to what extent the Townshend's would be involved.

Beginning in 1998 Townshend Cellar became an official bonded winery producing small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Custom crushing and pressing was done for us in the Tri-Cities, WA. area and barrel storage took place at our residence in the Greenbluff area. In 1999 port was added to our wine varieties. The year 2000 we added Chardonnay to our portfolio, our first white wine produced. Another batch of Huckleberry port-style wine was also produced in 2000. Adding to our portfolio in 2001, is our first vintage of Syrah."

 
 

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