Open the Door
For Townshend Cellars”
“ Lush Grape Wines to Follow”
By Christina Kelly
Making wine was not on Don Townshend’s
radar when he moved to a small farming community just north of Spokane
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 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.
“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
“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
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
“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.”
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.