David O’Reilly and his wife Angelica, who founded Owen Roe in Yakima Valley, have launched a new winery called Rocks of Bawn. The winery’s name was inspired by a popular Irish folk song and “pays homage to the determination of those who faced hardship on the rocky west coast of Ireland” according to the winery’s website.
For O’Reilly, who was born in Belfast, Ireland, the new winery is all about the relationships he’s developed over the last 30+ years in the wine business.
“I love doing production. I love being in vineyards,” O’Reilly says. “But it’s the relationships that I have with key buyers and distributors that are really important to me.”
O’Reilly and his wife founded Owen Roe in 1999. The winery has a production facility in Wapato, Washington in Yakima Valley. The couple sold the winery to Vintage Wine Estates in 2019, in large part to buy out a partner in the winery. O’Reilly has remained on at Owen Roe but was looking for something the couple could call their own.
“We knew there had to be another chapter,” O’Reilly says. “This is getting back to our roots again, back to the distributors that we’ve worked with for years.”
As O’Reilly has done throughout his career, the wines at Rocks of Bawn will include offerings from Oregon and Washington. They will also come largely from higher elevation sites.
Rocks of Bawn currently produces five wines. The first is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. O’Reilly hopes for it to be one of the winery’s flagship wines.
“I think that we make some really amazing white wines in the Pacific Northwest,” he says. “I don’t think we’re staking our reputations on the whites the way that we should.”
The Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard near Konnowac Pass called Nightingale Mountain Vineyard. The site sits at 1,400-feet in elevation, and the Sauvignon Blanc is north-facing, keeping it cooler.
“I want [the wine] to be something uniquely Pacific Northwest, but it’s going to be New Zealand kisses white Bordeaux,” O’Reilly says.
The red blend, meanwhile, is mostly Merlot. Much of the fruit comes from Frenchman Hills Vineyard, a high elevation site on the Royal Slope. Some of the Merlot also comes from Southwind Vineyard, a ridgeline site in Walla Walla Valley.
“I wanted to make it as un-Cabernet as possible,” O’Reilly says. “It’s very pretty, very textural.”
The Rocks of Bawn Chardonnay, meanwhile, comes from a small site called Reger Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains appellation in Willamette Valley. The Pinot Noir hails from Sylvanus Estate Vineyard on the very west end of the Yamhill-Carlton appellation.
“The pH is relatively low, so you’ve segmented anthocyanins,” O’Reilly says. “It tends to be dark but pretty.”
Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignon comes largely from Frenchman Hills Vineyard. It also includes some fruit from Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills.
The red and white blends are both called ‘Shafts and Furrow.’ The name comes from a poem titled ‘The Follower’ by Seamus Heaney.
“It’s really the theme behind the entire brand,” O’Reilly says. “The idea [of the poem] is that the old man is a farmer and his kids are following in his footsteps. Then in the last stanza, the old, plodding farmer is following in his kids’ footsteps. This is what we want to do.”
Simply put, O’Reilly envisions Rocks of Bawn as a family project. It will involve, to varying degrees, the couple and their eight children. Their oldest son, Dominic, is a winemaker and is involved in various businesses in California’s Central Coast. Their daughters, Brigid, Roísìn, Moira, and Marie-Therese, have a winery called DiStaff in Willamette Valley in which their mother is also involved. The daughters also have Nomen, a brand that sells wine in PET bottles.
“They’ve all grown up in the business,” says O’Reilly. “Eventually we want to be marketing and branding the wines all the way from the Central Coast up to the Pacific Northwest.”
As always with O’Reilly’s wines, the Rocks of Bawn labels are distinctive and eye-catching. They were designed and sketched by O’Reilly’s wife and their daughters Brigid and Marie-Therese.
Single vineyard wines will be added to the Rocks of Bawn lineup in the future, but O’Reilly-intends for the five wines released in the inaugural vintage to be the core SKUs. All of the wines are well-priced, ranging from the high teens to the low 20-dollar range. The wines remain true to the style that O’Reilly has become well-known for over the decades.
“I’m definitely more of that brighter, fruit-forward style [of winemaker], but really clean,” O’Reilly says.
O’Reilly plans to focus Rocks of Bawn’s efforts in 14 markets. These will include places in the southeast, northeast, and west coast. The winery produced 7,000 cases in its first vintage. O’Reilly believes the brand will have a natural advantage.
“The market still respects small, proprietor-owned companies and people that really care in them,” he says.
O’Reilly says the long-term goal is to build a facility for Rocks of Bawn in Walla Walla Valley’s Rocks District.
Images courtesy of Rocks of Bawn. Read reviews of the Rocks of Bawn Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shafts and Furrow Red and White Wines. The Rocks of Bawn Pinot Noir will be reviewed later this month.
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