Kevin White’s path to becoming a winemaker had a most unusual starting point – a koosh ball. White was majoring in computer science at the University of Connecticut when he stopped by the Microsoft booth at a campus career fair.
“They were giving away koosh balls and I wanted one,” White says simply of that first, fateful interaction with the company. What started as a koosh ball soon led to a summer internship in Redmond – and we all know how summer in the Pacific Northwest goes.
“I have yet to meet a person who comes out here in the summer and doesn’t want to stay,” White says (readers outside of the Northwest please note, it always rains here). Soon he had a job offer in hand and returned to Seattle in the midst of winter with buyer’s remorse.
“I came back in February and realized I’d come to a different planet!” White says with a chuckle. However, he soon came to love the drizzly gray area he calls home as well as his job as a program manager in Microsoft’s product development group where he remains today.
Life as a 20-something software nerd was going along normally until one day, in 2005, White had a bottle of wine that would alter the course of his life. “It was a 2003 Côte Bonneville Carriage House Red Wine,” White recalls. “That’s where I found out what wine was supposed to taste like.”
Inspired, White called up Côte Bonneville owner Hugh Shiels and asked if he could come visit the vineyard. He wanted to see the place where this wine had come from. White, who hadn’t yet been to eastern Washington laughs at the idea now, saying, “Here you have this 25 year old kid who says, ‘Can I come out and see where the grapes are grown?’”
Together White and Shiels walked DuBrul Vineyard and talked about rocks, soil, and Washington wine. “There were a lot of things he talked about that completely went over my head,” White says looking back. He was, however, transfixed.
White soon began taking classes at South Seattle Community College to learn more about viticulture and enology. He also began attending wine events around town. At one event, the Auction of Washington Wines, Shiels introduced him to winemaker Chris Sparkman of Woodinville’s Sparkman Cellars. White quickly inquired about volunteering at the winery and Sparkman just as quickly said yes.
Volunteering at Sparkman, White met Leroy Radford, who works as cellarmaster at nearby Baer Winery and also has his own winery, Flying Dreams. White picked Radford’s brain about cellar techniques and would subsequently make and store his wines at Baer’s facility. Through a contact, he also met Maison Bleue winemaker Jon Martinez and the two fast became friends. White credits both men with helping him learn the tools of the trade.
White has several goals with his eponymous winery. One is to grow a community. “I’ve always had this desire to connect with people and feel like I have something that I can share with them,” he explains. Another is to make wines that fit in at the dinner table. Finally, he aims to keep his prices low, saying, “I want my brother with four kids and limited disposable income to be able to have my wine.”
Indeed, the Kevin White Winery 2010 Syrah provides great value and is an impressive first release, full of fresh fruit aromas and flavors. White named the wine, a 100% Syrah from Olsen Vineyard, ‘En Hommage’ in tribute to the people who helped him get his start. “This wine is the culmination of all of their dedication to helping me,” he says.
White, who produced 100 cases of his inaugural wine, plans to slowly grow the winery to 1,000 cases annually. A release party is slated for June 15th at Flying Dreams Winery, after which tastings will be by appointment.
For the time being, the winery remains a hobby while White focuses on his work at Microsoft and raising two four-year-old twin boys. Still, there is no doubt that White is passionate about making wine. “It’s been an interest that grows every day and an education that will never complete,” White says. “If you didn’t have the passion you wouldn’t do it because it’s worse than owning a boat!”
Kevin White Winery ‘En Hommage’ Syrah Olsen Estates Vineyard Yakima Valley 2010 $25
(Excellent) An aromatically complex wine with violets, blueberry, boysenberry, white pepper, crushed gravel, and tar with a light meaty streak after the wine opens up. The palate is soft and subtle, on the lighter side of medium bodied with a velvety feel with pure red and blue fruit flavors that draw out and lingers on a cranberry filled finish. An intriguing and thoroughly delicious bottle of wine that straddles the Old World and the New. Give six months. 100% Syrah. Olsen Vineyard. Aged 15 months in neutral French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 100 cases produced.
Picture courtesy of Kevin White.
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