The Unbroken Circle
Back in the late 70’s, Gene Neuharth, a grape grower from California, retired and moved to Sequim. He immediately planted a vineyard and started a winery, the first on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The winery’s home was an old dairy barn.
While the vineyard didn’t thrive, Neuharth Winery did. Gene’s best known creation, his Dungeness Red and Dungeness White wine series, was one of the early “fanciful” brands in the industry.
At Gene’s death in 1992, assistant winemaker, Dan Caudil, took the winery reigns, eventually changing its name to Olympic Cellars. Forced to move because of a highway bypass around Sequim, Dan chose a century old dairy barn, originally known as Wayside Farm just east of Port Angeles.
In 1999 I purchased the winery, taking over operations in 2001. Joined by partners, Molly Rivard and Libby Sweetser, the three of us took the winery in a new direction, always careful to preserve its heritage.
We released Working Girl Wines in 2003. With “fanciful” labels depicting the personality of each owner, the wines struck an emotional cord with Olympic Cellars customers. “Created by women, in support of women,” the wines underwrote our commitment to philanthropic giving.
I began fundraising in late 2005 to commission a micro-climate study designed to identify areas on the Olympic Peninsula warm enough to grow cool weather varieties of grapes. If climate and soils prove suitable for cool weather grape growing, the establishment of vineyards will help preserve the Peninsula’s historically rich agricultural heritage.
Last year we removed plywood covering the cupolas towering above the barn, replacing it with playful stained glass. As we lit the cupolas for the first time in 2006, I guess we can call it “barn nouveau.” I like to think it is smiling!
Harvest 2006 was a year of celebration. Libby and I picked the first local grapes ever used in an Olympic Cellars’ wine! Dungeness Bay Vineyard (owned by Tom Miller of Sequim) was the source and our winemaker, Benoit Murat, created from them our first local Le Vin Nouveau wine.
Dungeness Bay Vineyard is located across the road from the Dungeness Cemetery where Gene Neuharth is buried. I know Gene is proud, a “smiling” papa, as he looks down on his dream come true… vineyards in the Dungeness Valley.
Benoit planted Olympic Cellars’ first “La Petite” vineyard in March. Continuing with the original farm’s heritage, we will dedicate it in May… “Wayside Vineyard.” Future vintages from each of our local wines will be labeled under our heritage Dungeness series label.
Looking back now on the history of the winery, the community and the owners, there does seem a plan for us all to carry out: shortly after Benoit planted the vineyard… a mother Killdeer laid her eggs in row #3.
Life starts again!
The Circle Is Unbroken.