Kathy Shiels, who co-founded DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville winery in Yakima Valley, passed away on February 9th at her home in Sunnyside, Washington. She was 72.
Over the last 30 years, Shiels and her husband, Hugh, helped make a name for Yakima Valley as a place for growing top-quality wine grapes. The couple planted DuBrul Vineyard in 1992. The site subsequently yielded top-scoring wines for Owen Roe and others.
DuBrul was named ‘Vineyard of the Year’ by Seattle Magazine in 2007 and 2009. Writer Paul Gregutt also listed DuBrul as one of Washington’s ‘Premier Cru’ vineyards in his 2010 book Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide, 2nd Edition.
Kathy played an integral role in launching Côte Bonneville in 2001. The winery prominently put Yakima Valley on its labels, helping raise the growing region’s profile.
“We had pretty lofty goals for a small winery,” Kathy told the Seattle Times in 2010. “We had a particular piece of property that we believed was of the caliber to show itself on a world stage. That’s not why a lot of people start making wine.”
The new winery quickly proved as successful as the vineyard. The 2006 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Sauvignon received a 96 point score from Wine Spectator. That matched the highest rating a red wine had received from the magazine. Only Leonetti Cellar, one of the oldest and most renowned wineries in the state, had previously achieved such heights.
Shiels will be remembered for the critical role she played elevating Yakima Valley as a growing region and for establishing DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville as crown jewels of the Washington wine industry.
Kathleen Ann Bader was born March 7, 1950 in Hennepin, Minnesota, the child of John Parker Bader and Kathleen Bader (née Grams). She was the youngest of five children. Bader graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis, Missouri in 1968 and subsequently attended the University of Missouri, earning a degree in physical therapy.
In 1973, Bader married Hugh Shiels, M.D., a physician she met after moving to Los Angeles. Three years later, once Hugh completed an orthopedic surgery residency in Memphis, Tennessee, the couple moved to Sunnyside, Washington. Kathy worked as a physical therapist and managed Hugh’s medical practice.
At the beginning of the ‘90s, the Washington wine industry was still in its infancy, with less than 50 wineries. (Today there are nearly 1,100.) The Shiels, however, were intrigued by the possibilities. In 1991, the couple purchased 66 acres of land north of Outlook, in what would later become the Rattlesnake Hills appellation, a sub-appellation of Yakima Valley.
Planting a small, family-owned vineyard in Washington at that time was somewhat contrarian. Much of the farming in the state was done by large growers with diversified crops, of which wine grapes – largely planted for Chateau Ste Michelle – were just one of many. Quality was not always necessarily the first concern. Site selection was also often based on where growers were already farming. The Shiels, in contrast, looked specifically for a site in Yakima Valley that had the potential to grow high quality wine grapes.
“If you believe you’re good, if you believe in Washington, and you have the desire to be the best, you have to do it yourself,” Kathy told writer Paul Gregutt of the reasons for planting the vineyard.*
The Shiels hired Wade Wolfe, now of Thurston Wolfe Winery, to help establish the site. Plantings began in 1992 and included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc – 45 acres total. Previously-planted Riesling acreage was retained. The Shiels named their vineyard DuBrul after Hugh’s mother’s maiden name.
DuBrul fruit saw early success. Wineglass Cellars in nearby Zillah is credited with making the first DuBrul Vineyard-designated wine in 1998. However, it was David O’Reilly at Owen Roe who truly brought DuBrul to prominence.
O’Reilly began sourcing fruit from DuBrul Vineyard in 1999, Owen Roe’s first vintage. The winery’s DuBrul-designated Cabernet Sauvignon from that vintage received a 94 point score from Wine Spectator, the DuBrul Merlot a 93.
“That first vintage I made wine from DuBrul Vineyard, I saw that the wines could age for 40 years,” O’Reilly told Good Fruit Grower. “I realized that the Yakima Valley [American Viticultural Area] was a great growing region.”
Over the decades, a who’s who list of wineries has worked with DuBrul fruit, including Quilceda Creek, Woodward Canyon, Long Shadows, Avennia, Pursued by Bear, and Betz Family. Numerous top wineries have also made DuBrul-designated wines, such as DeLille, Tamarack, Rasa, Va Piano, Valdemar, and Kevin White. The latter was even inspired to enter the business after tasting a Côte Bonneville Carriage House bottle from DuBrul Vineyard.
In 2001, the Shiels established Côte Bonneville, with Kathy playing a pivotal role. The winery is named after a mansion in Cincinnati, Ohio built by Hugh’s great grandfather, Napoleon DuBrul. Côte Bonneville became one of the few wineries in Washington working exclusively with estate fruit.
“Our vision was a classic Burgundian model, where small areas of the estate were bottled separately to showcase the terroir,” Kathy told Washington State University in 2016.
The late Stan Clarke and Co Dinn (now of Co Dinn Cellars) made the early wines at Côte Bonneville. In 2009, the Shiels’ daughter, Kerry, took over winemaking responsibilities after receiving a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from University of California, Davis.
Some Washington wineries had eschewed putting Yakima Valley on their labels, instead opting for the larger Columbia Valley designation. Côte Bonneville, however, gave the state’s oldest appellation a full embrace.
In 2015, Kathy and Hugh converted the historic train station they had been using for their medical practice into a tasting room for the winery. The Shiels had moved the building, originally constructed in 1911, to Sunnyside from nearby Grandview in 1982.
“The train station was a place where everyone gathered and met,” Kathy said at that time. “The building is coming full-circle back to its original purpose.”
DuBrul wines had already elevated Yakima Valley’s profile. Now the Côte Bonneville tasting room helped revitalize the area, drawing wine tourists and media to the valley in the ensuing years.
Shiels had been dealing with leukemia and lymphoma the past two years and “fought with strength, dignity, and grace,” the winery said in a remembrance to customers on February 13th.
Kathy Shiels is survived by her husband Hugh, their three children, Katie, Kerry, and Richard, four grandchildren, four siblings, and a number of nieces and nephews.
* Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide, 2nd Edition, Page 164.