THIS is a post I’ve been meaning to do for more than two years! The only excuse I can offer for taking this long to sit down and write is that I wanted to make sure it was done…properly. And what I’m beginning to understand is that this particular story doesn’t have an end. In fact, it appears to be warming up with so much to look forward to. If you are in the wine business, you know it’s all about patience. This post will be the first of many over time… So, let me tell you a little story about Proper Wines.
Enter David Houle…
…and Conor McCluskey.
Two friends who love each other like brothers, and like many brothers are, they couldn’t be more opposite. The perfect recipe for successful ventures. David is co-founder of Seasons Investments, a boutique investment firm in Colorado Springs. The man does details and he does them well, and with such a genuine heart that makes him the guy to trust with advice and management of your money. Conor is founder and CEO of BombBomb.com, an email marketing machine headquartered in Colorado Springs. Need marketing? Look no further because the team at BombBomb is…ummm…THE bomb. Needless to say, Conor does big picture really well. Conor has a heart for helping and empowering families in the slums of Kitale, Kenya, “humanizing” the internet, and for BombBomb to be an indispensable asset in connecting businesses with their clients across the USA.
Back in the summer of 2006, David and Conor were in their twenties, and enjoying the freedom life offers when you’re a whippersnapper. They knew the Colorado Springs founders of Waters Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and the two had some great trips together jetting north to experience this up and coming wine region. They began to explore investment opportunities together and they zeroed in on a sub-region in the Walla Walla Valley, known as “the Rocks.” A few vineyards and wineries had sprouted up in this particular area beginning in the late 90s with the famed Cayuse Vineyards, and into the early 2000s with Reynvaan Family Vineyards, Delmas and Saviah Cellars. Christophe Baron, “the Rocks” pioneer, winemaker, and founder of Cayuse, found the terroir to be strikingly similar to the Rhône Valley. An old riverbed, rocky and dry. Sound like a nice place to plant and tend to your vines? Actually, it is. The soil is full of cobblestones which create good drainage and encourages the vines to root deep into the soil and the stones also radiate heat which aides in ripening later in the growing season. Wines from “the Rocks” tend to be more earthy and savory.
David and Conor were intrigued by this distinctive Rhône-like setting called “the Rocks.” As they tell it, in October of 2006, they “bought a cherry orchard.” Chelan cherries, to be exact. Though they didn’t initially intend to plant a vineyard, they both loved good wine, and it was an intriguing project. The Rhône region of France is the epicenter for Syrah, and so after what I imagine was much deliberation and running of numbers by David and tons of enthusiasm from Conor, they took out the cherry trees and planted Syrah grapes in “the Rocks” during the Spring of 2007.
The project of the vineyard began with the help of the most fabulous vineyard managers, Stephanie Briggs and Frank Jimenez . From the beginning, David and Conor wanted to have a proper Syrah. No cutting corners or costs. They wanted it done well and in the Old World tradition of the Rhône valley. Through the previous years during trips to Walla Walla, Conor had become friends with Sean Boyd, cellar master at Waters Winery who then became assistant winemaker.
Sean was a “Rhône freak” and the same year the Proper vineyard was planted had started his own label of Rhône-style blends called Rôtie Cellars. David and Conor formed a professional relationship with Sean who became the winemaker for Proper Wines while still creating beautiful wines for his own label. Sean is an artist who could care less for the fuss common to much of the wine world, and is therefore, the perfect guy for Proper. He’s all about letting the grapes tell their story.
And so with all things being done in the most proper way, Proper Wines was born with it’s first vintage from 2009. Just a few cases which were mostly for the “library.” During the formative years (a.k.a. money guzzling years), David and Conor added three friends as partners to their Proper mission. Kevin Dibble, a brilliant engineer and wine geek, Billy Adams, businessman and sommelier, and David Kunstle, attorney and wine geek.
These guys from Colorado Springs are the Proper Five and are a fantastic blend of passion for people, passion for good wine, and all bring their talents to the table. You will hear Conor say, at the end of the day, Proper is about bringing people together. It’s about relationships. Beautiful wine is meant to be enjoyed and shared in the company of family and friends.
Proper’s estate Syrah became widely available to the public in 2012 with it’s Fall Release of the 2010 vintage. It was a success and a hit with everyone, from people new to the Washington wine scene to landing 92 points with the guys out in Napa (Wine Spectator), 94 points from Wine Advocate, and so many critics and wine enthusiasts in between. The 2011 “Stone’s Throw Syrah” was another favorite and a great example of Proper’s determination to create a beautiful wine off “the Rocks” even when frost derails the crop earning 92 points from Wine Advocate, and on to the 2012 vintage, just released this past Fall, earning 93 points from Spectator, 94 points from Wine Advocate and making the list in “WA Best 100 Wines” in Seattle Met Magazine, and adding many more fans and devotees of Proper Wines. The 2013 vintage will release this Fall and we are so excited. Of course, we’ve been sampling to watch it grow over time, and this is going to be a good one. Once you’ve tried it, let’s talk about “Rocks Funk.”
Speaking of “the Rocks,” in February of 2015, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater became it’s own AVA (cue a little victory dance and raise a glass!), and this small, special area in the Walla Walla Valley is now officially recognized. We, the people, at Proper Wines are thrilled to be a part of this unique area.
Dave and I were just up in Walla Walla (which is also known as W2) a couple of weeks ago to pour Proper for Spring Release weekend. There’s something so thrilling about being in the vineyard, surrounded by baby clusters of Syrah, and knowing what kind of deep magic is working from the roots entrenched in the rocky soil up to the sturdy vines, delicate clusters and velvety leaves. We learn SO much every time we go, and this time, I was even dreaming about wine. Sort of like that study abroad experience when you finally go so deep into it that you start dreaming in the native language… Just awesome. All this to say, I have lots more to share with you as we learn what it is to produce and market Proper Wines Estate Syrah. So far, it’s been such an interesting ride, and one we enjoy even more with each passing vintage.