The Proper Wines Story

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, 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.

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Old Fashioned Oatmeal Scones

We are going on over a week of rainy days, which I am not at all complaining about. Colorado will have so many blue skied, sunny days in just a matter of time. I’m really savoring this UK-style Spring weather, and the cool rain puts me in the mood for a cozy kitchen with scones baking in the oven. With warm scones and a pot of  my favorite Yorkshire Gold tea steeping, I know that my long to-do list can just wait.

This is a favorite recipe that isn’t your typical scone. For one, it’s loaded with oatmeal, along with whole wheat flour, and buttermilk. It’s a very rustic scone with a wet dough, and therefore very moist once baked. Friends and family have been delighted with these and the beauty of their simplicity is that you need nothing, other than a cup of tea, to go with them.



Old Fashioned Oatmeal Scones

recipe slightly adjusted from Breads for Breakfast by Beth Hensperger


  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 12 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 and 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup currants
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the regular flour and whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low-ish speed, cut in the butter until it has the texture of soft crumbs. Add the oatmeal and currants, and mix to combine.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk on low speed until the dough forms a soft, shaggy ball. If at all needed, add more buttermilk one tablespoon at a time.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and knead gently about 10 times, or just until the dough holds together. Roll or pat out the dough into a large 12 inch circle, about 1.5 inches thick, and cut the round into about 8-12 slices (like a slice of pie). OR, if you’d rather, shape the dough into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle and cut out 12 squares (3 cuts across and 4 down).
  5. Using a spatula, place the pieces 1/2 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until just golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and cool to desired temperature on the baking sheet. Serve hot, warm, or at room temp.


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Baked Eggs with Chorizo and Potatoes

Oh lucky me… My Renaissance Man has been busy in the kitchen this past weekend (he made such a delicious breakfast), and I even convinced him to write a post for me. This might resonate with a few guys out there, so pass this on to the men in your life. Enjoy!

Mother’s Day — easily the most challenging holiday for the American male.  You have a mother, your wife has a mother, and she is a mother.  That’s three chances for you to screw things up.  And if your kids are young, it’s all on you, buddy.

As if I need extra pressure, Spanish pop singer Enrique Iglesias just liked the photo of French cheese my food-blogging wife posted on Instagram (I am not making this up).  But I am prepared.  Armed with a recipe from Food and Wine, I braved Whole Foods the day before a national holiday, and everything I need for the best Mother’s Day brunch ever is stocked in the fridge.

Amazingly, Food and Wine suggests serving this with toast.  Dry toast, those people are dry toast.  Even a huero like me knows this dish calls for tortillas, warmed for 30 seconds on the griddle.  It also calls for some really good salsa, a drop of sour cream / plain yogurt and a side of fresh mango.  That’s how you turn Mother’s Day into mamacita day!  Enrique would really like that.


A bonus Mother’s Day tip.  Let’s be honest, on days like this, you’re under some pressure to pull off the breakfast-in-bed thing, and it can be a little daunting.  How are you supposed to serve a decent breakfast in someone’s bed?  There’s never enough room, and the potential for catastrophic mess is high.  And truth be told, the whole thing makes your wife a little nervous too.  So instead, I just brought a tray of tea, yogurt and fresh juice to kick things off.  This being Mother’s Day, she also got a new Ottolenghi cookbook, which won me an hour (at least) to set up a proper brunch while mamma sipped her tea and read in peace.  Probably her best gift of the day.

Baked Eggs with Chorizo and Potatoes

recipe adapted by David Kunstle from Food & Wine


  • 2 lbs. medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
  • 1 and 1/2 lbs. fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6-8 large eggs (Dave used 6)
  • Fresh tortillas, fresh cilantro leaves, a good salsa (we love a nice adobo), and some sour cream or plain yogurt, and fresh lime wedges — “the accoutrements,” as Dave says.


  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Quarter the potatoes, put them in a large pot, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 20 minutes or so. Drain and let cool. Cut the quartered potatoes into 3/4 inch pieces.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (or heavy stainless steel will do). Add the chorizo, break it into chunks with a wooden spoon and cook over moderate heat, turning until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Scrape the chorizo mixture into a bowl.
  3. Heat the oil in the skillet (leave those chorizo bits that may have stuck to the pan and any fat rendered in the skillet). Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until golden and crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the chorizo mixture. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  4. Using a large spoon or a ladle, make 6 to 8 indentations in the potato-chorizo mixture about 1 inch apart; crack an egg into each one. Bake the skillet in the middle of the oven for about 12 minutes, or until the egg whites are just set but the yolks are still runny. Serve at once with warmed tortillas, and cilantro, salsa, sour cream, and lime wedges.

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