According to Don Wood, making great wine is not an exact science. And Wood should know. Because before he was the winemaker for Icicle Ridge Winery, he was a high-tech research chemist.
"Winemaking is largely 90 percent art, 10 percent science," says Wood. In fact, for him, his line of wines started with inspiration from a different fruit altogether.
In 2000, he got a phone call from his in-laws, Louie and Judy Wagoner, asking him if he would like to work on their small pear farm near Leavenworth. The appeal of a mountain lifestyle was strong, so he soon left his job at Lockheed Martin in Idaho and made the move to Washington to start farming the land, where there also happened to be a few grapevines.
"Soon into that first year, we started making wine for fun, a few gallons for something to do," Wood says. That’s when the family was encouraged to create something—just a little—bigger.
"Within two years, we decided to open our little family winery for business. At that point, we only had two barrels of wine. In September 2002, when we opened, we started hosting our friends inside my father-in-law’s home, which is a 5,000-square-foot hand-carved Douglas fir log cabin," Wood says.
At that time, all the wine came from the grapes on their own vineyard, which is perfectly positioned on the lush foothills of the Cascade Mountains. But like most artists, Wood began to experiment with different tools, and now, on top of using their own grapes, he sources some of what he says are the best grapes in the state.
"You have to get grapes from the right places," Wood says. "Our high-end reds come from the Wahluke Slope AVA (American Viticultural Area) vineyards."
With this willingness to try different vineyards, flavors and fruits, he’s created a full range of products that includes everything from their unusual Huckleberry Riesling to their most popular variety, The Blondes Gewurztraminer (named after the Wagoners’ three blonde daughters, one of whom is Wood’s wife), to a cabernet sauvignon that boasts notes of pie cherries, cranberries and anise.
And his array of flavors seems to have struck a chord with wine lovers from all corners of the country. "Eleven years in the business, we are doing 6,000 cases—that’s 72,000 bottles of wine, a year," Wood says. "It’s been a really great, wild family adventure, and we’ve made many good friends through the business."
But according to the Washington Wine Commission, there are over 750 wineries in the state that distribute a combined 12 million cases of wine. So how does Wood make sure his artistic vision stands out above the rest?
"The biggest way that we provide a unique experience is that we don’t have a bar where people stand and drink wine. Every customer is invited to sit at hand-carved tables, and we serve them many different kinds of wine and tell them stories about how those wines came to be," Wood says.
The winery also hosts special events, parties and concerts throughout the year. One of Wood’s favorites is the winter snowshoe walk. "We take our guests on a torch-lit walk through the vineyard. We give them a good pair of snowshoes, and go for a nighttime tour that lasts about an hour, and we end the evening around log tables and a fireplace."
There’s also an annual white party on the last Saturday in June. Festivities include a concert and all-white decorations. "That’s one of our greatest events," Wood says.
But don’t take it from Wood alone. He says former governor of Washington Christine Gregoire is a big fan and served the wine at the governor’s mansion three years in a row for her birthday.
For more information about the winery, visit icicleridgewinery.com or call 509-548-7019.