Dave Butner of Kaella Winery is a Social Media success story. A native of Los Angeles, Butner moved to Washington in 1984. He started out as a home brewer around this time and didn’t turn his attention to wine until later, though he says he has loved wine “for as long as he has been old enough to drink it.”
Butner, who works in the information technology sector, was employed at Boeing from 2001 to 2004. Boeing Employees Wine and Beermaker Club has been the starting point for numerous Washington winemakers. Add Butner’s name to that list, although, ironically, he didn’t join the wine club until 2005, after he had left the company.
Butner started making wine at home in the 1990s using kits. As time went on, he assisted at numerous wineries in the Seattle-area to learn more about the process. He also enrolled in classes at the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College. Tim Narby of :Nota Bene Cellars – also a Boeing graduate – encouraged Butner to join the wine club to get access to better fruit for his wines. Butner started off making thirty gallons of wine using club fruit in 2006. One of these wines received a double gold medal at the club’s annual competition. Butner continued slowly, increasing his production to sixty gallons in 2007.
It was around this time that Butner joined the Wine Library TV bulletin board. Since then, he has established a strong on-line presence there with over 5,500 posts using the moniker “winestein.” Butner is also active in other on-line discussion forums.
In 2008, he received enough fruit to make two barrels of wine. Jeff Jones at Senoj Estates encouraged him to go commercial. Butner originally planned to use the name Paragon Winery, but after learning there was a Paragon Vineyard in California, he decided that he needed a new name. Kaella Winery was born.
Kaella, pronounced ‘Kay- el-la,’ is named after the Butners’ two youngest daughters, Katelyn (Junior Punchdown Assistant and Grape Stomper) and Ellen (Senior Punchdown Assistant and Grape Stomper). Kaella’s website states, “Our wish is that Kaella’s wines will bring the same joy and pleasure to those who drink it as Katie and Ellie have brought to ours.”
Kaella came to my attention after Butner started his Twitter page where he gave regular updates on his progress starting the winery. However, it was an extended thread on ordering his wines on the Wine Library TV forum – the type I typically see for the likes of highly sought after producers – that piqued my interest. With people all over the country sending in order requests, I found myself wondering, who is this guy?
It turns out that over the years Butner has established strong relationships and friendships with people on the Wine Library TV board. Many of these people have visited him in the Northwest for off-line events. These people are extremely excited to see Butner release his first wines. And they are ordering them.
There is, however, not very much to sell. For his initial releases, Butner made a mere fifty cases – half Merlot and half Meritage. Butner sold over fifteen cases of wine in the first few days after his offer letter went out, “Without anyone tasting a sip,” Butner marvels. The winery will officially release its wines, which are not even labeled, in the next several months.
The initial releases from Kaella Winery warrant the on-line excitement. Both are rich, intensely fruit-driven wines aged in second fill oak. Grapes for the wines came from Arianses (Wahluke Slope), Chandler Reach, Red Mountain, Kestrel View, and Stillwater Creek vineyards. As Butner is starting out, he is still settling in on fruit sources, so there will be some changes in subsequent vintages. For 2009, Butner made five barrels of wine, mostly from Conner Lee Vineyard. He also received some Sangiovese from Ciel du Cheval. While Butner didn’t initially envision making a Sangiovese, when Ciel du Cheval vineyard manager Ryan Johnson came calling, Butner answered. He is, however, excited with the results. “If don’t screw this up it’s going to be a perfect wine,” Butner jokes.
Kaella is located in the warehouse district in Woodinville. The 2008 wines were crushed and pressed at Patterson Cellars. Kaella currently shares a space with Brad Sherman (who recently purchased Michael Florentino Cellars) and Scott Greenberg (Convergence Zone Cellars). Due to the winery’s extremely limited production, Butner does not envision pouring the wines at the tasting room. He does, however, intend to have a release party in the fall – if there’s anything left to pour.
Will Butner’s initial success using Social Media lead to long-term success for the winery, especially as he grows production? Only time will tell. But for now, it’s a good start.
Kaella Winery Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) Light pepper, black fruit, and dust on an appealing nose. Intense, rich black fruit on the palate along with licorice and chocolate. Lingers on a long, long, finish. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Arianses (Wahluke Slope),Chandler Reach, Red Mountain, and Stillwater Creek vineyards. Aged in 16 months second fill French oak. 14.2% alcohol. 25 cases produced.
Kaella Winery Meritage Columbia Valley 2008 $30
Rating: * (Excellent) Nose is pretty closed up right now but shows black fruit and dust. Beautifully rich and intense black fruit and licorice on a very clean palate. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Arianses, Chandler Reach, and Kestrel View vineyards. Aged 16 months in second fill French oak. 14.4% alcohol. 25 cases produced.