Like many Washington winemakers, Guardian Cellars’ Jerry Riener works another full-time job to help fund his passion for wine. Unlike most of them, his day job is as a police officer.

Riener was driving down the highway in the late 1990s when he saw something suspicious. Stopping for a closer inspection, Riener looked past the barrels and grapes and went straight to the object that drew his attention – the shiny new forklift. Growing up, Reiner had spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the Midwest, and machinery had always held a fascination to him. After interrogating Matthew Loso (then of Matthews Cellars) about the nature of his business, Riener was hooked. He began spending forty hours a week volunteering at the winery, working harvest, crush, and racking barrels. With a degree from the University of Washington in chemistry, it was the science of winemaking that most interested Riener. As payment for his service, Loso let him make a barrel of his own wine at the winery each year.

With Woodinville emerging as a wine area at the beginning of the last decade and wineries popping up all over town, Riener helped out where he could, assisting other wineries with winemaking or construction jobs. In 2001 he met Mark Ryan McNeilly who was starting Mark Ryan Winery. They fast became friends, and Riener began working at the winery as an “electrician, cellar rat, money manager, computer technician, janitor and assistant winemaker.” In 2003, Riener made two barrels of his own wine at Mary Ryan Winery. With these two barrels of 2003 Stillwater Creek Cabernet Sauvignon selling out within forty minutes of being offered, Guardian Cellars was born. McNeilly and Riener continued to work together until 2007 when Riener opened a facility of his own in the warehouse district in Woodinville.

Guardian Cellars uses exceptional fruit sources for its wines including Kiona, Klipsun, Stillwater Creek, Destiny Ridge, and Conner Lee vineyards. Many of the names of Guardian Cellars’ wines call out to Riener’s police work. Riener describes the Chalk Line Red, which is made up of wine from declassified barrels, as his “kitchen sink” wine. This wine is a standout at this price point. The Gun Metal Red Wine is Riener’s Bordeaux-style blend. This wine is 100% Conner Lee Vineyard. Riener not only received the contract for this fruit from mentor McNeilly, he also received the name, which had previously adorned Mark Ryan labels. Riener prefers to give the Gun Metal an extra year of age before release. The results show on this excellent effort that, while drinking extremely well now, promises to lay down well and improve for years to come. Of note, this wine contains Malbec for the first time in the 2006 vintage.

More than ten years in, Riener retains his passion for winemaking – and for driving forklifts. He adds that “making kick-ass wines is also a nice change from the day job of arresting people.”

Guardian Cellars produces 2,700 cases annually.

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Guardian Cellars Gun Metal Red Blend 2006 $35
* (Excellent) A nose that wins you over on the first sniff with earth, pencil lead, brambly fruit, and a bit of funk. Beautifully refined and impeccably balanced on the palate with soft tannins and a long, expressive finish. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec. 100% Conner Lee Vineyard. Aged 22 months in 80% new French oak. 400 cases produced.

Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Red Blend 2007 $25
* (Excellent) A very pretty – although quite locked up – nose with light graphite, high-toned berries, anise, and vanilla. On the taste, an elegantly structured wine marked by red and black fruit, flowers, and a persistent finish. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 19% Merlot. Aged in French oak (90% new). 425 cases produced.