Part of what makes the Washington wine industry such a fascinating place to explore is all of the individual stories. For many, winemaking is a second or even third career. One such example comes from Broadway dancer turned winemaker Leroy Radford of Woodinville’s Flying Dreams Winery.
After studying film at New York University, Radford had pursued a dance career with Twyla Tharp Dance in the early 80s, performing in Broadway shows including Singin’ in the Rain, Rags, and the Mystery of Edwin Drood. He even performed at the White House on one occasion. After subsequently changing careers to multimedia design, life was proceeding normally for Radford with ideas of Washington wine far from his mind.
All that changed after a friend called from Portland asking for Radford’s assistance putting together the audio for a video on a wine festival in Portland. Radford spent a week and a half in the Willamette Valley interviewing young winemakers and seeing all that the valley had to offer. The people he met there and the conversations he had changed him. One person in particular altered the course of his life.
“Jason Lett was very influential to me because of his philosophical approach to winemaking. He talked about wine being part of the rhythm of nature and something you can share with your friends,” Radford says.
Inspired, Radford decided to enroll in a one-year viticulture and enology program in Oregon, traveling down from Washington on weekends to complete the work. He subsequently enrolled in the enology and viticulture program at South Seattle Community College. “I bit the thing hook, line, and sinker,” he recalls.
Radford started out making wine at home in his basement, making a barrel of Malbec in 2006. It was around this time that he started hanging around the bustling Warehouse District in Woodinville. There he met Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery who hired Radford as a harvest intern in 2007.
After harvest was over, nearby Baer Winery was looking for someone to help shepherd its wines after the passing of founder Lance Baer. McNeilly and Erica Orr, who consults for Baer, recommended Radford for the cellarmaster position. Radford continues at the position to this day.
Radford’s work at Baer afforded him the opportunity to start making limited amounts of wine of his own. While early on Radford had experimented with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, he gravitated toward Spanish varieties.
“I like the Iberian varietals. They’re fascinating to me,” Radford says. “I love to cook, and Tempranillo is so versatile. It fits with my creative style.”
Indeed, for Radford – who is simply bursting with enthusiasm and positive energy – it seems almost impossible to talk about wine without talking about food. Scallop ceviche with Flying Dreams Sauvignon Blanc anyone? Radford often goes so far as to give people recipes to go with his wines.
Food has become a central part of the experience at Flying Dreams. When Radford offered a wine on futures, one of his selling points was that he would cook people dinner at the pickup party. Two hundred fifty people came to dinner, and paella parties have subsequently become a signature event for the winery. “I love entertaining people,” Radford says simply. “What I’m really doing is creating community. That’s what Jason Lett taught me.”
Radford explains that the name of his winery gets its inspiration from following your dreams.
“Flying Dreams is a metaphor for overcoming the belief that you cannot do something in your life and just going for it,” he says. “Leap and find your wings on the way down. That’s Flying Dreams.” For Radford, it’s clearly worked.
“I can’t imagine doing much else at this point,” he says.
Flying Dreams produces 800 cases of wine annually.
Flying Dreams Winery Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2010 $19
(Good) Pale lemon green. A moderately aromatic wine with delicate aromas of herbal notes, oak spice, and citrus. The palate is tart in a somewhat austere style with abundant lemon and grapefruit flavors and a creamy finish. The acid is not shy here; pair it with food to bring out its best. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Red Willow and Spring Creek vineyards. Aged in new French oak (45%) and stainless steel. 12.2% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Recommended
Flying Dreams Winery Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2009 $36
(Excellent) Medium ruby. A lightly aromatic but intriguing wine with exotic spices, red fruit, tobacco leaf, and a touch of cocoa. The palate is fresh, on the lighter side of medium bodied with vibrant fruit flavors with a lot of nuance. Uniquely styled for Washington. 85% Tempranillo (StoneTree), 7.5% Merlot (Hedges), and 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon (Stillwater Creek). Aged 19 months in French and American (20%) oak. 13.9% alcohol. 100 cases produced.
Flying Dreams Monastrell Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $36
(Good/Excellent) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with leafy notes, abundant spice, and exotic aromas. The palate is medium bodied with lithe fruit flavors and soft tannins with a light herbal note. 80% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.5% alcohol.
Paella picture courtesy of Leroy Radford, Flying Dreams.
Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here.
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