Long gone are the days when vineyards and winemakers in Washington state were seen as scrappy underdogs, producing an underappreciated product – especially when compared to a certain large state to the south. These days, Washington wine creates its own gravity. According to data from the Washington State Wine Commission, there’s more than 1,000 wineries and 400-plus grape growers working to produce more than 17 million cases of wine annually. From Candy Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills to Red Mountain and the Royal Slope, there’s 16 unique AVAs in the state, and the people working hard in the Washington wine industry are making a huge impact as the second largest premium wine producer in the United States. And while many of those wineries are front and center with big-name operations, there’s one powerhouse in Washington that flies just under the radar – Gård Vintners. But with some big moves in 2021, that might not be the case for much longer.
A History in the Vineyards
A 100 percent estate winery, Gård has deep roots in Royal City, Wash. According to Josh Lawrence, who owns Gård Vintners with his wife Lisa, the family farm was founded by Josh’s father and uncle in 1965 with no objective of growing grapes. But years later, that all changed.
The first vineyard planting was in 2005, with both Riesling and Cabernet grapes, and the viticultural program went on from there. “We knew if we were going to get our name out, making our own wine would help,” says Josh. “It was a sales tool for selling grapes.” The first vintage was made in 2006, and they never looked back.
In the 15 years from Gård’s first vintage, the Lawrences have only continued to expand. They tend to hundreds of acres of vineyards, while also supplying grapes to countless wineries. Along with that, they have opened four tasting rooms, with the first location in Woodinville established in 2008. “For the second, we wanted something close to home, and that ended up being in Ellensburg,” says Lisa. Next up was the opening of the Walla Walla tasting room in 2017.
But their biggest year might just be 2021, where they have made some bold acquisitions across Washington’s wine country, starting with their new Royal City location – the Gård Public House.
Gård Public House
While each tasting room offers a great experience, they still weren’t offering an estate experience as the Lawrences wanted. “We thought we needed something local in Royal City,” says Lisa. Conveniently, the space they found downtown had already been a restaurant equipped with a commercial kitchen, and it was primed for taking advantage of. They brought in chef Chris Selfridge to set the menu for the Gård Public House, with a focus on sourcing local and making as much as possible from scratch. “It feeds into our philosophy of being an estate winery,” says Josh. “We had wine club members that wanted to visit, to see the vineyards and try some wine. We knew we needed something to tie the vineyards to the fans.” Now, guests can make Royal City a destination, as they’re able to visit the vineyard, try the wines and enjoy a great meal all paired into one experience.
Expanding in Ellensburg
Of course, opening a new tasting room and restaurant is just the beginning of what the Lawrences have been up to in 2021. In Ellensburg, the space next to the tasting room came available, and they jumped at the opportunity to expand. “Ellensburg is our most successful tasting room, and we have such great community support there,” says Lisa. “It ends up being a place where people want to host their private events, so it was a natural fit to make an event space.” Now, there’s plenty of room for retirement parties, baby showers, wedding showers and more, with extra overflow seating on busy days.
Acquiring Desert Wind Winery
Perhaps the most significant change for Gård this year is the acquisition of the ever-popular Desert Wind Winery in Prosser, which was purchased in partnership with second-generation grape grower and owner of Wautoma Springs Winery, Tom Merkle and his wife Tami. “We bought the Desert Wind Vineyard last spring,” says Josh, referencing the 2020 purchase. “We had been looking for space to do more bulk wine and realized what a great opportunity the winery was and what a great building it was. We fell for it.”
Now, Gård will move production from Walla Walla to the Desert Wind facility, allowing winemaking to be closer to home. At the helm is Matías Kúsulas, recently appointed as head winemaker for both Gård and Desert Wind. Desert Wind will remain the same, continuing to operate under its label with an established customer base, but the much larger production facility will be put to good use across all of the Lawrence’s properties and labels.. “We recognize the value of the wine label and its potential, with a good following, distribution base and wine club members,” says Josh. “We felt fortunate we had the opportunity.
“The fact of the matter is, right now there’s a lot of opportunity in the wine industry,” Josh continues. “We believe Washington wine is only moving upwards and has such great potential. We’re lucky to be in Washington because the sky’s the limit.”