Prospice Wines’ origin story sounds much like the beginning of a joke. A lawyer and an architect walk into a vineyard. The winery’s website even notes as such.
If so, the punchline is that together they find kinship and ultimately decide to join forces and start a winery. Though a simple story, it is one that was years in the making.
From lawyer to winemaker
Jay Krutulis grew up in Indiana and attended Indiana University Bloomington, earning a B.A./B.S. in history and biology with a minor mathematics. He subsequently started a graduate program in neuroscience but quickly decided it wasn’t for him.
“I thought I wanted to be a lab scientist and professor, and I realized as I got into academic science how reductionist it is,” Krutulis says. “I’m more of a big picture guy.”
Instead, he decided to pursue a dream of attending law school and enrolled at the University of Virginia. After graduating, Krutulis started at a law firm in Washington, D.C., working with big banks and large insurance companies.
It was at this time that he became interested in wine, tasting an inexpensive Bordeaux in a bar on a business trip to London. “It wasn’t some fancy-schmancy wine,” Krutulis says. “There was just something about it, like ‘Holy shit! This is really good.’”
In 2005, he was recruited by Amazon. Krutulis relocated to Seattle to join the company.
He had already started visiting wineries in Napa and Sonoma and quickly found his way to Woodinville. There, he spent increasing amounts of time with the area’s winemakers.
“I resonated with them. I resonated with their wines,” Krutulis says.
Soon Krutulis made a seemingly innocuous but ultimately fateful decision. He offered to help Stevens Winery both during bottling and pouring at events. It stirred something in him.
“There’s this craftsmanship,” he says of winemaking. “You’re making this tangible product. You’re not making piles of paper.” From there, there was no going back. Wine had captured him.
Four years after he moved to Seattle, Krutulis had left Amazon and started his own legal consulting company. With his wife, Christy, a graduate of Walla Walla’s Whitman College, the couple quickly made the decision to move to Walla Walla as Krutulis’ interest in wine grew.
“We were thinking about it in February. We were here in March,” Krutulis says. The next year, in 2014, he enrolled in Walla Walla Community College’s viticulture and enology program. (Full disclosure: I am an adjunct instructor at Walla Walla Community College.)
From architect to winemaker
Matt Reilly was born in Louisville, Kentucky – “Not exactly the home of wine,” he notes. His parents, however, had a strong love of wine. It was always on the dinner table and the family traveled to wine country together.
As a child, Reilly and his brother even decided to “make dinner” for their parents one night. Of course, the dinner needed to include a bottle of wine. Their mother dutifully took them to the store where the children picked out a bottle of Chardonnay.
“My parents at that time rarely drank white wine, but even at that point it was like, ‘No. You drink white wine with chicken,’” Reilly says.
Reilly attended the University of Kentucky and studied architecture. After graduating, he accepted a job at a company in Spokane, Washington, having previously fallen in love with the Northwest during a trip to Mount Rainier. Within a week, he was visiting the area’s wineries, including Barrister.
His friends owned a rental house in Walla Walla, and Reilly began to visit the valley regularly to go to wineries. The visits left him inspired.
“After that, I just started chasing it. I couldn’t get enough,” Reilly says of his interest in wine.
On his way to work, Reilly would pass by the alleyway that leads to Barrister. One day, he saw a grape sorter outside the building and a steamer running.
When he inquired what the activity was, owner Greg Lipsker encouraged him to sign up to volunteer during harvest. When he received an email from Lipsker a few days later, Reilly took a half day off work to help process fruit.
“That was my first real exposure to winemaking,” Reilly says. “It started to change my frame of reference and made me realize that ‘Wait. Maybe there’s something else out there besides sitting behind a desk.’”
In 2011, he was accepted into the viticulture and enology program at Walla Walla Community College, but the timing wasn’t quite right. He wouldn’t enroll in the program until 2014, the same year as Krutulis.
Finding kinship in the vineyards
Reilly and Krutulis met almost immediately as students, working in Stan Clarke Vineyard hanging bird netting in preparation for harvest. Although coming from different career paths, in some respects, they had much in common.
“We were two people that had had some life experience and didn’t have overly romanticized visions of what it was going to take to start a winery,” Krutulis says. Even more importantly, their palates eerily aligned.
“We’d be tasting wines, and the teacher would say ‘Jay, what did you think of wine number four?’ I would say ‘It’s exploding with raspberry and really red fruit and some cranberry, but the finish is chopped.’ Matt would chuckle and pass his notes over, and it would say ‘Tons of raspberry, cranberry, short finish.’”
During the program, Reilly spent the first two years working in the Isenhower tasting room. He also did a harvest internship at the winery. For his next harvest internship, Reilly worked at Mark Ryan Winery. Krutulis meanwhile assisted at Kerloo Cellars and then interned at Tranche.
As Krutulis and Reilly went through the program, they also discovered that they wanted to make a similar style of wine, ones with “energy” and “intensity” but that were not over-extracted or over-oaked. They soon came upon an idea. Why not start a winery together?
“We had really well-aligned palates and also a shared vision for the style of wine we wanted to make,” says Krutulis. “I was thinking ‘We’ve got to do this together.’”
Starting a winery from scratch
Once the decision was made, there were two immediate challenges to surmount. First, graduation was fast approaching. Perhaps more urgently, however, so was harvest.
“We thought ‘Shit. It’s June. By the time we get this [program] done, can we even do a harvest this year?” Krutulis recalls. The answer would be ‘Yes.’
Things started to happen very quickly. By July, the duo had a building lined up, taking over the space formerly used by Ensemble Cellars, which they affectionately refer to as the “little pink winery” in Walla Walla’s airport region.
They used relationships they had built in their internships to help secure fruit contracts for top sites. Sources include Quintessence on Red Mountain, Phinny Hill in the Horse Heaven Hills, and Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley, among others.
In the fall of 2017, mere months after they had graduated, Prospice had its first crush. The winery’s name comes from a Latin expression “Respice, Adspice, Prospice” that translates to “Learn from the past; live in the present; look to the future.”
After graduation, Reilly accepted a full-time job as cellarmaster at Gramercy. Krutulis, meanwhile, worked part-time at Tranche, but largely devoted himself to getting Prospice up and running.
Looking to the future at Prospice
Today, with both fully focused on the winery, the two share responsibilities. They’ve leveraged Reilly’s architecture background to help with project management for logistics and supplies. Krutulis uses his experience to manage the winery’s affairs and bookkeeping. Both share responsibilities in the winemaking, where having similar palates helps.
“There’s no pride of ownership,” Krutulis says. “When we’re blending, we both have very different starting ideas. Inevitably, we always find ourselves honing down to the same one or two wines.”
Late last year, the winery took over the lease for Buty’s former facility in the Airport region of Walla Walla. (Buty closed in 2022.) The building, which they refer to as the “big beige winery,” has undergone an extensive remodel that will make production much easier. For the time being, the original building will continue as a tasting room.
Krutulis, Reilly, and their Prospice wines show the full potential of Washington. Someone can decide to start a winery in June and by September be making wine. Better still, Prospice is one of the most exciting wineries to open in Washington in the last decade, with a thrilling set of whites and reds. (See recent reviews here, here, and here.)
Make no mistake though. While it’s a simple story, starting the winery has not been easy.
“It has essentially been seven days a week for most of the year between running the tasting room and running the production side,” Krutulis says.
Now almost six years in, the two are happy that they took the leap and joined forces. As the winery begins to get its legs under it, they are, however, looking forward to some time away from the winery – and from each other.
“It’s safe to say by the end of harvest, we’re like, ‘Okay, love you, man. Glad we’re in business together. I don’t want to talk to you for a couple weeks,’” Krutulis says with a laugh.
Photographs of Jay Krutulis (left) and Matt Reilly by Richard Duval. Bottle image by Colby Kuschatka.
I’m Currently in Italy with my wife of 50 years.
First point…I’m missing Walla Walla wine (I live in Lake Oswego OR.
Try as I might. From $8 to $80 I believe that the best fruit and skills from those in Walla Walla and the Willamette Valley are making the best wine.
Try as I might I’m sure it’s just me, but nothing says drink me as NW wines.
Been gone for 3 weeks sampling Tuscany wines and those north and south.
First thing next week I’m pulling corks on my beloved wines.
Wish you guys all the luck and hope to work my way out west from Louisville to taste your fine wines.
Wonderful narrative of how one becomes part of something that has always been there but begs discovery. We should all be so lucky. KM