Brennon Leighton, vice president of winemaking and vineyards at House of Smith, has left the winery as of April 30th. Leighton spent 12 years at House of Smith and helped grow it into one of Washington’s largest wine companies.

“I feel very grateful to have been part of it,” Leighton says. “Charles and I made many groundbreaking, incredible wines in Washington. I look forward to taking those skills with me.”

Leighton plans to start his own business, B.happy Wine Company. It will be an umbrella company for B. Leighton Wines (which he started with Charles Smith in 2012), a new wine brand, and a consulting company, B. Leighton Enterprise.

The new wine brand will be called B.happy Wines. The portfolio will include a Chardonnay, a Riesling, a red blend, and other wines. The wines will be priced between $15-$25.

“There’s no one in the world that can make better wines than Washington at that price range,” Leighton says. “No one, period.”

Details are still being finalized on the offerings and production. Leighton anticipates starting with approximately 5,000 cases. “I’d like to be fairly aggressive,” he says.

Leighton’s consulting company will focus on helping winemakers create and grow brands in the middle price tier. The goal will be to offer wines that have broader reach into the national marketplace.

“I’ve had a lot of success doing that, and I think it’s something Washington needs,” Leighton says.

Leighton started consulting for Charles Smith in 2010. By that time, Smith had already created a wine empire that included the K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, ViNo, and Secco brands. Leighton joined the winery full-time in 2012 and took over winemaking responsibilities after the 2014 harvest.

During his 12 years at House of Smith, Leighton had a long list of accomplishments. He helped grow the Charles Smith Wines brand, most notably the winery’s Kung Fu Girl Riesling. The brand was sold to Constellation in 2016 for $120M.

Leighton worked with Smith to launch several new brands, including Sixto, Casa Smith, and B. Leighton. Smith purchased Wines of Substance, and he and Leighton grew that brand from 15,000 cases to several hundred thousand cases per year.

Leighton oversaw the planting of 400 acres of Pinot Noir and the launch of the associated Golden West brand. Golden West produces approximately 35,000 cases of Pinot Noir annually. Leighton also was involved with the development of House of Smith’s Powerline Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley.

Critically, Leighton helped move production from Walla Walla to Georgetown, a neighborhood near downtown Seattle. The facility was formerly used as a Dr. Pepper bottling plant. House of Smith Jet City is said to be the largest urban winery in the United States.

Overall at House of Smith, Leighton oversaw production of more than 60 wines per year. This included nearly 400,000 cases annually when taking into account the wines made in partnership with Charles Bieler (Charles & Charles, Daisy).

During Leighton’s time at the winery, the wines received hundreds of ratings of 90 points or above as well numerous scores of 95 points or higher. Perhaps most impressively, the accolades came whether the wines were micro-produced or produced at scale.

“I feel like one of the things that I’ve brought the [Washington wine] industry is making wines from 15 to $25 at such a high level,” Leighton says.

Before joining House of Smith, Leighton spent six years at Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s largest winery. He worked his way up to head white winemaker, where he oversaw the company’s massive white wine program. Several of Leighton’s wines subsequently appeared in Wine Spectator Top 100 lists.

Leighton subsequently worked as winemaker at Woodinville’s EFESTE when it was a young, startup winery. Between 2006 to 2011, Leighton grew EFESTE from 1,800 cases annually to 12,000.

Throughout his career, Leighton has focused on making wines using native yeast fermentation with no additives. Now, at B.happy Wine Company, Leighton will work to grow his own brand and the brands of the wineries he consults with.

“I’m excited to get out there. I’m also scared shitless, but I’m extremely optimistic,” Leighton says. “I think that there’s a place for what I want to do.”

Leighton plans to offer the B.happy wines through distribution. The B. Leighton wines, which have an 1,800 case annual production, will be sold via occasional pop ups.

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