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Winery wisdom

Members of the Atkins family share their areas of expertise to grow an award-winning wine business.
To maintain uniformity and good air flow through the vineyard canopy, Kimiko Atkins continually hedges wines from June through August. This process helps plants develop vertical shoot positions. Other critical production steps include checking for insects, wind damage, mildew and fruit maturity.

Switching crops

A livestock and crop farmer since 1977, Terrence worked more than 2,000 acres and raised cattle. But when his wife Diana became ill, he cut back on acres to spend more time with her. Reducing acres also reduced his profit margin.

"It was a struggle, but since I was always interested in the stock market I made a living in that venture from 1997 to 2001," he says. "But daily activities were slow so I thought more about the prospects of starting a winery. Diana's family owned property near Maryhill, Washington, by the Columbia River. It had been in grapes from 1910 until her brother Gary pulled them out and planted peaches in 1978. There had been too much competition and small contracts were cancelled."

After Diana passed away, Terrence began to study viticulture and enology. He also read a variety of wine magazines and learned the property appeared to be a world-class vineyard, which featured prime vineyard type soil.

"I was very apprehensive because I thought the venture was too costly," he says. "In 2000 from January to August I went to a local winery in Cascades Cliffs and worked with Bob Lorkowski who had 20 years experience."

He learned everything from tasting grapes to picking yeast. He asked questions about every phase of production and even helped with bottling.

In 2001, Terrence applied for a license, bought equipment and took it to Yakima Cellars and winemaker, Mark Wysling, who made wine for him. During this process he learned valuable hands-on training with wine making machinery.

That same year, with help from his son Takashi, he planted six acres of grapes. This included 2.4 acres of Syrah (a red dark, soft French variety) and 3.6 acres of Sangiovese, (a light, flavorful Italian red), which fit their soil profile and climate perfectly.

A year later he purchased more equipment and completed his first vintage. However, he would not be able to sell the 2002 harvest until 2004.

As progress became apparent in the vineyard, Terrence made some introductory stops in several shops.

"Now I deliver and distribute to several of these places. The wine is moving quite well and I enjoy my contacts with all the outlets. It's a treat to deliver a product that people enjoy. I'll admit getting this business off the ground resulted in lots of hard work with very little free time," he says.

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