The Gratitude Post
Our grand opening for Spring Release 2019 has come and gone (and another three weekends to boot), and I think I almost feel human again. The incredible surge of effort over the final push to opening was quite unlike anything I’ve done in my life, but the rewards have already been fantastic. We’ve had such great reception for the wine and for the space, and it’s all a bit overwhelming.
So I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the journey that got us to this huge milestone, and to say a few thank yous.
Before I get started, a structural note. When writing these blog posts, sometimes I (Jay) stumble over the “I” vs. “we” of it all. And gratitude can be such an individual thing — some of my thanks in this post are unique to my path and my experiences in getting to this point. But I don’t want that to cloud the fact that Prospice is indubitably a “we” venture — Matt & I are partners in all of it, so there’s also a great deal of gratitude in this post that comes from both of us collectively, regardless of my pronoun selection. I’ll probably stick mostly to first person singular for the ease of drafting, but please keep that point in mind as you read. I expect Matt may want to add some of his own thanks as well.
First, I want to thank Tim & Paige Stevens of Stevens Winery in Woodinville. It was through my friendship with them that I began to transition from being an avid consumer of wine to being curious about the craftsmanship of winemaking. Time I spent with Tim in his cellar really planted the first seed of what has blossomed into Prospice.
Second, I want to thank Ryan Crane of Kerloo Cellars. Kerloo was the one winery I knew much about when I came to Walla Walla, so it was the first tasting room I tracked down when I got here (literally while my wife was interviewing for jobs). It was there I met Richard Wylie (more on him later), and I continued my early days as a cellar rat helping Ryan and Richard however I could — bottling, stirring, cleaning, whatever. Ryan has been incredibly supportive every single step of the way since, and I’m forever grateful. (Plus, he makes some killer wines.)
Next, I want to thank a whole bunch of folks connected to the Enology & Viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College, who enabled me to take that seed and help it germinate and grow into a set of skills that made this crazy dream possible. From the visionaries like Myles Anderson and Stan Clarke who saw the need for the kind of training the EV program brings, to Danielle Swan-Froese and Sabrina Lueck, who work tirelessly to keep it running day in and day out, with hours in the office, classroom, cellar, and tasting room, my thanks to all of them. And huge thanks to Tim Donahue, whose energy and passion for the industry is utterly infectious (to say the least), and whose counsel I still rely upon regularly. A special thanks to Matt Williams, because great teachers deserve thanks — and in the ~24 years of my life I’ve spent in formal educational settings, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better teacher than Matt.
Last but certainly not least in this category, my thanks and love to El Jefe himself, Mr. Jeff Popick. I am grateful beyond words that my time in the EV program preceded his retirement, because we just clicked. I never anticipated connecting with the vineyard side of winemaking the way I did, but Jeff’s unabashed and contagious love for his vines (and the weather!) changed that completely. Even though we aren’t growing any of our own grapes (yet) for Prospice, I am thankful that I can knowledgeably assess vineyards, talk with growers, and make completely informed choices about site selection, viticultural practices, or harvest decisions, all thanks to Jeff. Nobody I’ve met in the industry has a bigger heart than Jeff. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every second I’ve spent in his company, and I miss him now that he’s growing grapes all the way out in the hills of east Tennessee.
I want to thank everyone at Tranche and Corliss for the experiences I had there, and for all the great, meticulous winemaking practices I learned. It was thanks to the aforementioned Richard Wylie that I landed at Tranche, and whether working as his harvest intern or disrupting every single team meeting he ever had once he moved over to the sales side, I’ve shared a lot of fantastic times with Richard, and I’m grateful to him for his friendship and guidance. And to Andrew, George, Adam, and especially Spencer, my thanks for letting me be part of such a phenomenal winemaking team. The thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and uncompromising focus on quality are all lessons I carry forward gratefully into the rest of my career. Plus, Spencer taught me two more very important things: how cleaning harvest equipment pairs perfectly with the dulcet tones of Rammstein, and the glory of the bagel dog.
My thanks to everyone I’ve had the opportunity to work with in connection with Vinea — time spent getting to know some of the legends of the valley while working together toward a truly laudable goal has been fantastic, and I look forward to continuing those efforts in the years to come. So my thanks to JF, Sadie, Rick, Marty, Jason, Chris, “Grower W”, Norm, Kevin, and I’m sure some names I’m forgetting at the moment.
The next bit of gratitude goes to two special husband/wife winemaker pairs here in the valley. First, to J.J. and Kelly Menozzi of Aluvé Winery, who are not only dear friends, but also have shared information and learnings from their own experience of starting their winery. Christy and I were particularly honored to help them pour their wines for last year’s fall release weekend — being asked to represent someone’s brand is a special kind of trust. Next, thanks to the dynamic duo of Ashley Trout and Brian Rudin — both of whom have been generous in providing advice, information, guidance, support, and both of whom are phenomenal role models as both winemakers and human beings. I can only aspire to Ashley’s noble spirit and determination to do good…and to Brian’s charm, energy, and blue-steel gaze.
I could take pages to thank an exhaustive list of other industry folks, but I’ll just give a blanket thank you to the Walla Walla wine industry. People outside our little world find it difficult to understand just how collegial and collaborative our valley is. In developing and pitching a business plan, it is entertaining to see the audience try to comprehend (and believe) the claim that a Walla Walla winery’s best initial marketing channel is all the other tasting rooms who refer customers. And yet I’ve now lived it — in our first four weekends open, I’ve heard at least 25 different wineries mentioned when I’ve asked customers, “How did you hear about Prospice?” I’m truly humbled by and grateful to everyone in our industry who embraces our collective success.
Turning to the specifics of getting Prospice up and running, a huge thanks to the team at Bergevin Lane. Annette Bergevin and Sean Smith (and Dave Harvey during the 2017 harvest) have been fantastic partners in our efforts. Our ability to share their space, equipment and resources has made it possible for us to do what we have done so far. The relative ease with which we’ve all worked together in the controlled chaos of two harvests is a testament to the power of good communication and collaboration.
Thank you to all of our growers. We refuse to compromise on fruit, and we’ve been fortunate to have so many fantastic grower relationships. Our wines seek to be first and foremost a tribute to the grapes from which they’re made, and our growers have made that possible by delivering consistently amazing fruit.
My thanks to our “harvest interns.” Both my dad and my college roommate Brian did stints at the winery during 2018’s harvest, learning about vineyard sampling, processing fruit, punchdowns, pressing, barreling down, and all of the glorious, glorious cleaning that goes along with winemaking. Getting to share a little bit of the winemaking experience and the joy that I’ve found in it has been a great deal of fun. But the double-gold-star for interns has to go to Matt’s dad John, who has been tirelessly present for huge swaths of both the 2017 and 2018 harvests. He’s been my company for innumerable long vineyard drives (not always awake, but present), has become adept with ratchet straps, is a punchdown machine, and is just generally willing to do everything and anything that needs to be done.
There’s a long, long list of friends and family who have supported us in one way or another — financially, cheerleading, bottling, tasting room remodeling, washing glasses for spring release weekend, and everything in between. My thanks to all of them, and all who have supported us along the way. To Mike & Mendy, John & Judy, Steve, JP, George & Kay, Amy & Andy, Lorin, Milo, Peter, Tim & Mary, Jon & Shari, Bob & Mary Sue, and Mike & Cindy…thank you for all the love & support. Extra thanks (once more) to George Smith, without whom the the gorgeous tasting room remodel would not have happened.
A very special thank you to my parents, who have supported me in every single thing I’ve done over the last 46+ years. I know they’d be every bit as proud if I’d pursued my first childhood dream of being a garbageman (riding on the back of the truck seemed cool at the time) as if I’d become an astronaut. And they’ve been proud of everything I actually have done (or almost everything; I’m sure there are a few things here or there…), but I get a different feel in their reactions to Prospice. I think they sense the passion and the satisfaction that I’ve found in this career, and it makes them just that little bit more proud (if that were even possible). I could never have asked for better parents, and I could never, ever have made it to where I am without their endless love and support.
I’ll close with the most important thank you, and that is to my wife Christy — my #1 fan, my best friend, my one and only, and my everything. I have embraced change and adventure my whole life — moving from Indiana to Georgia to Virginia to DC to Seattle to Walla Walla; leaving grad school to go to law school; leaving Amazon to start my own law practice, and then leaving law altogether to chase this winery dream. I’m not sure that has always been Christy’s preferred M.O., but since we’ve been together, she’s been more than willing to take my hand and jump off whatever cliff I’ve managed to find for us. There aren’t many spouses who would say, “Sure, quit your job, go back to school for two years, and make literally zero dollars for another two-plus years while spending exorbitantly to start a winery,” but that’s exactly what she did. She has unhesitatingly and unflinchingly supported and been part of this dream, and no words can ever express my gratitude. Everyone should be as lucky to find the kind of partner for his/her life that I found in my beautiful bride, and I love her to the edge of forever and beyond.
With that, it’s back into the cellar, as the task list gets no shorter — and with the reaction to our inaugural release so overwhelmingly positive, I have got to make sure Act 2 lives up to the precedent we’ve set!