It all started in 2003 with just two barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Well let me back up...
I was driving a boring stretch of a two-lane highway in the late 1990s when I saw something strange, and, of course, things that are peculiar make me stop and ask a lot of questions. I walked into what I would soon learn was a winery, but the grapes, the smell of fermentation and rows of toasty French oak barrels were of no concern, at least from the start.
I was stopped in my tracks by the big shiny equipment and, most importantly, the forklift.
I grew up spending summers on my uncle's wheat farms in the Midwest so agricultural machinery always left me full of questions and wanting desperately to turn a key, press a button and hit a gas pedal.
Seeing that he had an eager volunteer on his hands, longtime Woodinville winemaker Matt Loso put me to work. I was soon volunteering 40 hours a week, learning the intricacies of harvest, fermentation, racking and cleaning lots and lots of tanks. I put my University of Washington chemistry degree to use and worked on the scientific components of winemaking. My annual payment was permission to make a barrel of my own wine inside the winery.
Soon I started making the rounds at other Woodinville wineries, doing everything from helping make wine to assisting winemakers with their construction projects.
In 2001, I met Mark Ryan McNeilly and before I knew it we were expanding his winery from warehouse to warehouse and into the well-regarded business it is today. In 2003, I had no intention to venture out on my own, when I made two barrels of Cabernet inside Mark Ryan Winery.
But, when 2004 rolled around, Mark wanted to give something back for the years I spent helping him. After several conversations over beer and garlic fries, he encouraged me to start my own winery and offered me his contract at Conner Lee Vineyard - the fruit source for his Gun Metal blend. He even let me take the wine name as well, a name perfect for me - a cop-turned winemaker.
Mark and I continued working together on both projects until the fall of 2007 when Guardian Cellars opened its doors for the first time. Our first release party was truly memorable, packed with help from longtime friends and fellow winemakers.
In the summer of 2009, me and my girlfriend, Jennifer Sullivan, moved the winery out of our original tasting room next to Mark Ryan Winery into a larger space in the same warehouse complex. With the jump from 2,200 to 5,500 square-feet, we had plenty of space to grow. In 2009, we produced seven different wines, about 2,700 cases in total.
For the 2010 harvest our focus remains centered on maintaining what we started last year. We plan to keep our production size the same and will continue pulling the bulk of our fruit from spectacular sites in Red Mountain, as well as from Stillwater Creek Vineyard and Conner Lee Vineyard.
In the meantime, I'm still working fulltime as a police officer and Jennifer still works as a journalist. Come on out to the tasting room sometime, between our day jobs and the winery we have lots of stories to share.
- Jerry Riener and Jennifer Sullivan