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Walla Walla’s Corliss family buys San Juan Vineyard

By  on January 29, 2018

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. — Yvonne Swanberg was thrilled to have Michael and Lauri Corliss as her wine club members at San Juan Vineyards.

On Thursday, the tables officially will be turned. Great Northwest Wine has learned that the owners of Corliss EstateTranche Estate and Secret Squirrel have purchased San Juan Vineyards from Swanberg. News of the sale is expected to be announced later today and become effective Feb. 1.

“Mike and Lauri actually belong to the wine club and have been members for four or five years,” Swanberg told Great Northwest Wine last week. “It was around Labor Day that I got the offer and a personal letter from Mike Corliss. It was pretty amazing when I saw ‘Corliss’ on the letterhead. I thought, ‘OH MY GOD!’ ”

The couple owns three large plantings totaling 455 acres in Eastern Washington — Red Mountain Vineyards (350 acres), Blackrock Vineyard (50 acres) in the Yakima Valley and Blue Mountain Vineyard (54 acres planted) in the Walla Walla Valley. In 2015, the Corlisses bought acclaimed Celilo Vineyard (53 acres planted) on Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge near Mount Hood, Ore.

Swanberg, 72, co-founded San Juan Vineyards in 1996 with her husband, Steve, who died in 2006 after a two-year battle with cancer. Operating the 5-acre vineyard and 4,000-case winery on San Juan Island were labors of love for Yvonne, who has been looking to sell to someone with the talent, wherewithal and vision to take her vineyard and her brand to the next level.

“This is a good deal, and I’m happy with it,” Swanberg said.

Terms of the sale were not available, but both Swanberg and Washington Vintners in Walla Walla, the parent company of the three Corliss-owned brands and vineyards, said the SJV team will remain in place and sale of the wines will continue to be focused on the tasting room. It will be fascinating for fans of Swanberg’s estate white wines to see how Washington Vintners’ experience of farming cool-climate Celilo Vineyard, a site with varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner and Müller-Thurgau, translates to Puget Sound viticulture.

“The winery is an integral part of the community on the island,” Lauri Corliss said in a news release. “When Yvonne decided to retire and sell the property, we became excited about the prospect of working with Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. We admire the pioneering vision of the Swanbergs and look forward to contributing to the success of their wine business.”

Aromatic whites thrive in Puget Sound

The Swanbergs moved to San Juan Island in 1979 and quickly established one of the region’s most successful insurance companies. The chapel at San Juan Vineyards is near the entrance to the winery and the vineyards.Along the way, they purchased a parcel of land along Roche Harbor Road that included a one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. They turned Sportsman Lake Schoolhouse No. 22 into a quaint tasting room and devoted 5 acres of the gentle-sloping hillside to vines.

A year prior, in 1995, the federal government established the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, and the Swanbergs’ research led them to plant 2.9 acres of Madeleine Angevine — a Loire Valley cross of Madeleine Royale with Précoce de Malingre — and 2.2 acres of Siegerrebe, which is a cross of Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer. Both varieties often thrive in the maritime climate, and those estate wines garnered a series of gold medals at West Coast competitions for a decade under the winemaking of Chris Primus and most recently by Chris Lawler.

“My largest vintage was 2008 at about 4,100 cases,” Swanberg said. “We’ve tapered down since then, but things will be changing here and ramping up. One of the big concentrations is going to be on the estate wines.”

Grape growing in the San Juans is far from bullet proof, as the 2017 vintage proved.

“It was a tough year with the Madeleine, but the Siegerrebe is beautiful,” Swanberg said. “We’ll only have 100 cases of the Madeleine Angevine and 420 of the Siegerrebe.

“I’ve got to get out of the habit of ‘we,’ ” she added with a chuckle. “It’s now, ‘them.’ ”

The Corlisses have a devotion to the area, both by land and by sea as property owners who spend their summer months on the island when they are not sailing the San Juans.

“They do come to the island a lot,” Swanberg said.

 Swanberg to retire on island after sale to Corliss

There were other suitors for San Juan Vineyards this summer, but Swanberg said Mike and Lauri Corliss were the ideal fit.

“It’s a very attractive property and a beautiful vineyard,” Swanberg said. “I have my feet on this dirt every day. Everybody knew that this was going to come sooner than later.”

For a time after Steve’s passing, Yvonne tried living in Spokane to be closer to family. She grew up in the Columbia River town of Northport, 10 miles down stream from British Columbia, but the call of Friday Harbor and the San Juans won out.

“I bought a home and I’m going to be on the island the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ll be doing some traveling, and I look forward to figuring out what I’m going to do, but I’m sure boredom will set in. I’ll be here at some of the events, and I will be readily available for whatever they need. I am retiring, but I’ll be just a phone call away.”

On Saturday, Swanberg toasted the sale at her vineyard near Roche Harbor with longtime friends, some of them traveling from as far away as Ohio and Texas.

“I’m just going to miss being here at the vineyard, and I’ll miss the customer base,” she said. “So many of my customers have become good friends.”

And owners, in this case. Swanberg said she and the Corlisses recently shared a lighthearted moment during the final phases of a transaction that took five months to complete.

“I had Mike’s wine club card in my desk folder, and I told him, ‘Here, you can have this,’ ” Swanberg said with a chuckle.

Corlisses purchase San Juan Vineyards

Corlisses purchase San Juan Vineyards

The award-winning, estate-grown winery is in the coolest-climate growing region in the state, in Friday Harbor.

Michael and Lauri Corliss are extending their wine industry footprint to their home-away-from-home on San Juan Island.

Through Washington Vintners, their Walla Walla company that owns Corliss Estate, Tranche Estate and Secret Squirrel wineries, the pair have announced the purchase of San Juan Vineyards in Friday Harbor, Wash.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed in the announcement. The winery is owned by Yvonne Swanberg, who started the business in 1996 with her late husband, Steve, building it into an award-winning, estate-grown winery from the coolest-climate growing region in the state. It is known for its white varietals, Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine.

The Corlisses have sampled the wines of San Juan Vineyards as residents of the island during the summer months.

“The winery is an integral part of the community on the island,” Lauri Corliss said in the announcement. “We admire the pioneering vision of the Swanbergs, and we look forward to building on their legacy.”

San Juan Vineyards is the only commercial operating vineyard and winery on San Juan Island, according to the their website. The tasting room operates in a renovated 1895 schoolhouse in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area.

 The ownership change is effective Feb. 1.

The Corlisses started in the wine business in Eastern Washington in 1999. Grapes for their three existing brands are sourced in the Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Columbia Gorge American Viticultural Areas.

Wine Press Northwest – 2016 Siegerrebe (Estate)

San Juan Vineyards 2016 Estate Siegerrebe

January 27, 2018 

Appellation: Puget Sound

Siegerrebe, pronounced zee-geh-RAY-buh, translates to “victory vine” in German, and it shines in the hands of Puget Sound winemakers and thrives in their vineyards. This release signals the last bottling of Siegerrebe at San Juan Vineyards under the ownership of co-founder Yvonne Swanberg, who sold her property and brand to the owners of Corliss Estate in Walla Walla. Some of these grapes come off the first parcel Swanberg and her late husband planted in 1996. And since the 2016 vintage marked the debut of winemaker Chris Lawler, the cellar seems to be in skillful hands. Siegerrebe was developed in 1929 as a cross of Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer, and the Mad Ange component seems to lead the aromas here with hints of honeysuckle, jicama, lime zest and Granny Smith apple peel. The influence of the Gewürz and the Oct. 1 harvest are better revealed between the lips as the drink is bright, delicious and luscious as tropical fruit flavors include kiwi and yellow grapefruit. Touches of anise and the lemon curd finish sweep clean the 1.4% residual sugar for a bone-dry finish.

Rating: Outstanding! by Great Northwest Wine. (13% alc.)

Price: $22

Production: 160 cases

Food pairings: It is an ideal match with Thai dishes and Puget Sound shellfish.

San Juan Vineyards, 3136 Roche Harbor Road, Friday Harbor, 360-378-9463,

The Seattle Times’ 50 best wines of 2015


TWO ISSUES that come up with year-end wine lists: Wines are too expensive or unavailable.

These are problems I try to address each year with The Seattle Times’ top 50. It isn’t easy.

For example, the No. 1 wine this year rings it at nearly $100. The fact is, many great wines come from meticulously farmed grapes and are, quite simply, expensive to make. I try to temper the higher-priced wines with those that are affordable and readily available. On this year’s list, 14 of the wines retail for $20 or less — not a bad price for a great bottle of wine.

Accessibility is an even harder issue. I begin tasting for this list in January, so some wines inevitably are going to be sold out by the time this comes out nearly 11 months later. Additionally, while some wines might be sold out at the winery, they could be available in some retail outlets or on wine lists for a year or more.

This is my third year compiling The Seattle Times’ top 50 wines and, as has become tradition, I choose the wines from 50 different wineries.

You might notice some prominent wineries missing from this list. All wines I include are tasted blind, meaning I know neither the producer nor the price until I’ve finished evaluating them. Not all wineries submit their wines, so it isn’t fair to include them here. We already know they produce terrific wines, so that leaves room to explore other producers.

1. Woodward Canyon Winery 2012 Old Vines cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $99: A couple of years ago, owner Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott chose not to make the 2010 version of this wine because it didn’t meet their standards. That’s integrity. My wine of the year is from one of the best vintages in Washington history. It is glorious, a wine to drink now or in 20 years. Buy it, cherish it.

2. Owen Roe 2012 Red Willow Vineyard Chapel Block syrah, Yakima Valley, $55: David O’Reilly moved to Washington to live amid the vineyards he loves, and we are the beneficiaries. This is a stunning red from one of the finest grape growers in the state.

3. Seven Hills Winery 2013 McClellan Estate Vineyard malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Casey McClellan has quietly crafted great wines for nearly 30 years. This is a classic Washington malbec with rich fruit and bright acidity.

4. Palencia Wine Company 2014 albariño, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: Victor Palencia makes dozens of wines under four labels, making him perhaps the busiest young winemaker in Washington. This white Spanish variety is simply stunning.

5. DeLille Cellars 2012 D2, Columbia Valley, $45: The DeLille gang continues to impress with all of its wines. This Bordeaux-style red is the Woodinville winery’s most broadly available wine. It’s big, rich and approachable.

6. Barnard Griffin 2014 rosé of sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $12: Owner Rob Griffin’s ability to make one of the best West Coast rosés year after year is remarkable. This is a beautiful wine with aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry and cranberry.

7. Thurston Wolfe 2012 Zephyr Ridge petite sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: Wade Wolfe is an expert at taming petite sirah’s assertive tannins. This big red is bold and luscious. Drink now or hold for a decade.

8. Obelisco Estate 2012 Electrum cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $70: This Woodinville producer uses estate Red Mountain grapes for its lineup of superb reds. This was easily among the best cabs I tasted this year.

9. Passing Time 2012 cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $75: NFL great Dan Marino and Husky legend Damon Huard teamed up with Woodinville winemaker Chris Peterson and Discovery Vineyard to craft an amazing debut.

10. Panther Creek Cellars 2012 Lazy River Vineyard pinot noir, Yamhill-Carlton, $45: This longtime Oregon winery has gone through hard times in recent years because of ownership changes. Thanks to winemaker Tony Rynders, Panther Creek is back on the prowl.

11. Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2014 classic riesling, Okanagan Valley, $15: Walter Gehringer crafts some of the finest wines in the Northwest in relative obscurity because his wines are never for sale outside of Canada.

12. Saviah Cellars 2012 tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, $38: The only question with Rich Funk’s wines is which to choose, because he doesn’t miss. I’m falling in love with Northwest tempranillos, and this is delicious with lasagna or grilled meats.

13. Walla Walla Vintners 2012 cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $38: William vonMetzger crafts the wines for this longtime Walla Walla producer, and this cab is one of the finest from the valley this year.

14. Jones of Washington 2014 sauvignon blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $15: Looking for a perfect seafood wine? This is it. Palencia captures his second wine in my top 15. It is bright, crisp, lean and complex.

15. Maloney Wine 2012 Elephant Mountain Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $65: Josh Maloney’s day job is director of winemaking for Milbrandt Vineyards. His side gig is vineyard-designated cabs, and his inaugural release is filled with robust fruit and assertive tannins.

16. Elk Cove Vineyards 2014 pinot gris, Willamette Valley, $19: Yamhill County winemaker Adam Campbell continues to prove he is the finest pinot gris producer in the Northwest.

17. Mercer Estates 2012 Dead Canyon Vineyard reserve syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: Jessica Munnell’s first vintage as Mercer’s winemaker proves her prowess with this powerful syrah from estate grapes.

18. Amavi Cellars 2014 Estate sémillon, Walla Walla Valley, $24: Swiss-born winemaker Jean-François Pellet is known for his suave reds, but he also deserves acclaim for his luscious whites, particularly this sémillon.

19. Grantwood Winery 2012 petit verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $22: Joe Grant and Doris Wood work quietly on the outskirts of Walla Walla and remain focused on delicious, affordable reds in tiny amounts.

20. Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery 2013 Stoney Slope riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: The Kruger clan crafts stupendous white wines, and this stunning riesling comes from three-decade-old estate vines. It’s bright, steely and perfect with shellfish.

21. Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2013 barbera, Columbia Valley, $60: This red Italian grape is rare in the Northwest, but owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski has it dialed in at his small Wishram, Wash., winery.

22. L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Alder Ridge Vineyard grenache rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: Marty Clubb and his team at this iconic Walla Walla Valley winery in the century-old schoolhouse are best known for suave reds, but their bright, luscious rosé is perfect with prosciutto-wrapped shrimp.

23. Mosquito Fleet Winery 2011 Reserve 34 cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $65: Owner/winemaker Brian Petersen is based near the southern tip of Hood Canal in Belfair, and this is his finest wine. He just couldn’t blend away his two best barrels, so he made a separate, yet complete, cab.

24. Côtes de Ciel 2012 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard cabernet franc, Red Mountain, $39: Winemaker Charlie Hoppes crafts the estate wines for legendary grape grower Jim Holmes and his son, Richard. The results are predictable: delicious and opulent.

25. Mt. Hood Winery 2014 dry riesling, Columbia Gorge, $20: A number of small producers in and around Hood River, Ore., are turning heads with stunning wines. This winery owned by a multigeneration farming family is remarkably versatile, and this is its finest effort.

26. Auclair Winery 2012 Artz Vineyard Right Blend, Red Mountain, $39: Woodinville winemaker Charlie Auclair leads with merlot and cabernet franc for this rich, bold red blend. He made just four barrels, so you might hurry.

27. Dusted Valley Vintners 2012 StoneTree Vineyard petite sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42: The Dusted Valley boys continue to produce some of the biggest, richest and most elegant reds in the Northwest.

28. Long Shadows Vintners 2014 Poet’s Leap riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: Germany’s famed Armin Diel teams up with former Ste. Michelle boss Allen Shoup and Walla Walla winemaker Gilles Nicault on this superb riesling.

29. William Church Winery 2012 Gamache Vineyards malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: Woodinville winemaker Noah Reed used grapes from acclaimed Gamache Vineyards to craft this luscious, balanced and rich malbec.

30. Coiled Wines 2014 Rizza, Snake River Valley, $28: Former Napa Valley winemaker Leslie Preston is helping to lead the Idaho wine industry into new directions. This is a remarkable, spine-tingling sparkling riesling.

31. Bunnell Family Cellar 2010 Discovery Vineyard syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $44: Since leaving Chateau Ste. Michelle more than a decade ago, Ron Bunnell has produced some of the most delicious and expressive Rhône-style reds in Washington at his Prosser winery.

32. Chehalem Wines 2012 Ian’s Reserve chardonnay, Dundee Hills, $40: Owner Harry Peterson-Nedry honors his late son with this superb chardonnay made by Ian’s sister, Wynne, who took over as head winemaker with this vintage.

33. Pondera Winery 2012 cabernet franc, Columbia Valley, $32: This is a classic Washington cabernet franc from Woodinville winemaker Shane Howard. Rich, ripe berries mingle with fresh oregano to create a complex and approachable red.

34. Ross Andrew Winery 2010 Boushey Vineyard syrah, Columbia Valley, $40: Ross Mickel got his start at Betz before launching his own Woodinville winery in 1999. This syrah comes from arguably the best grape grower in the state.

35. Tamarack Cellars 2010 Tapteil Vineyard Reserve, Red Mountain, $50: Walla Walla winemaker Ron Coleman and his team blended cab, merlot and cab franc to craft one of the great red blends I tasted this year.

36. Cave B Estate Winery 2012 sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $33: Chef-turned-winemaker Freddy Arredondo used estate grapes grown next to the Gorge Amphitheatre to produce one of North Central Washington’s finest wines.

37. Plain Cellars 2012 cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $35: This tiny winery north of Leavenworth got on my radar this year in a big way. This cab emphasizes elegance and complexity over richness and power.

38. Maryhill Winery 2013 Winemaker’s red, Columbia Valley, $12: Winemaker Richard Batchelor makes more than 60 wines for this Columbia Gorge producer, and its biggest hit is this affordable blend that combines delicious depth with youthful approachability.

39. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Mimi chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: Vineyard manager Mimi Nye helped establish Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard in the early 1990s, and it’s the source for this deliciously fruit-forward chardonnay.

40. Cinder Wines 2013 syrah, Snake River Valley, $28: Ste. Michelle alum Melanie Krause returned to her native Idaho to raise the profile of the Snake River Valley wine industry. This luscious syrah is a great example of what is possible.

41. San Juan Vineyards 2014 siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $22: Fewer than 100 acres of grapes are grown in the far-flung Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, and this sleek white from a Friday Harbor winery is one of the best. It’s perfect with shellfish.

42. Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Gloria’s syrah, Umpqua Valley, $42: Stephen Reustle has been establishing himself as one of Southern Oregon’s top winemakers. He named this gorgeous syrah after his wife.

43. Tenet Wines 2013 GSM, Columbia Valley, $70: Ste. Michelle’s new international collaboration is off to a heady start. This Southern Rhône-style red blend is produced with two renowned French winemakers.

44. Van Duzer Vineyards 2014 riesling, Willamette Valley, $20: Florent-Pierre Merlier is on quite a run for this Salem, Ore., showpiece. Here is one of the year’s most complex whites, a combination of tropical and orchard-fruit flavors that finishes dry with minerally notes.

45. HAT Ranch Winery 2014 estate dry moscato, Snake River Valley, $18: Tim and Helen Harless moved to Idaho’s Sunnyslope Wine District from Texas to make wine. Four years in, they’ve released one of the nation’s most remarkable dry muscats.

46. Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2013 carménère, Washington, $28: Lewiston, Idaho, winemaker Coco Umiker has crafted a head-turning carménère from Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. It is a spicy red loaded with ripe plum and blackberry flavors.

47. Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: Owner/winemaker/grower Jarrod Boyle’s signature white is this Rhône-style blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.

48. Willamette Valley Vineyards 2012 O’Brien pinot noir, Eola-Amity Hills, $100: A lot of great pinot noirs came out of the 2012 vintage, and this is among the finest.

49. Karma Vineyards 2011 brut, Columbia Valley, $50: This Lake Chelan winery focuses on bubbly, and it has produced a bone-dry sparkler with aromas of tropical fruit and flavors of lemon, brioche and pineapple.

50. Bainbridge Vineyards 2013 Müller-Thurgau, Puget Sound, $18: Under the leadership of winemaker Betsey Wittick, this longtime Kitsap County winery is showing new energy, as exemplified by this bright German white. It’s a short ferry ride away.

Bellingham Alive – San Juan Vineyards

San Juan Vineyards


Established in 1996, San Juan Vineyards is a Puget Sound American Viticultural Area winery destination for locals and tourists alike. The wine room, a renovated schoolhouse that was built in 1896, is an easy 10-minute drive from downtown Friday Harbor. The pastoral setting makes this winery a popular destination for oenophiles, tourists, weekend adventurers and party planners alike. San Juan Vineyards’ owner, Yvonne Swanberg, and winemaker Chris Primus also source warm climate grapes from several premier Central and Eastern Washington vineyards. Tucked within the rain shadow of the nearby Olympic Mountains, San Juan’s growing season of about 180 days is perfect for grapes common to Germany’s Rhine River Valley.

The 30-acre property includes a seven-acre vineyard of carefully cultivated and pampered Siegerrebe, a German varietal. Siegerrebe is a white grape developed in 1929 by viticulturist George Scheu. Rich creamy sauces will completely obliterate the delicate features of this exceptional low acid wine — so don’t even go there.
Riesling is a variety with an allure all its own. Few are blasé about Riesling: one is either a fan or not. The 2013 Riesling will convince the blasé and convert the nonfan from their charlatan ways. Stone fruit and honey wash over the palate in a cascade of flavors one after the other: apricot, nectarine, raw honey and finally a lingering finish that loiters long after the first sip. At $14 the 2013 Riesling is an exceptional value.

The judicious use, or not, of oak is a difficult secret to hide. This is most apparent in the 2013 Chardonnay, which is well priced at $20 a bottle. This wine is a lighter and brighter interpretation — due in large part to the complete absence of oak. Personally, I am a huge oaked Chardonnay fan, and yet, I find myself drawn to this fantastic wine like ants to a picnic basket. The convention is that oak is compulsory in production of a solid chardonnay; however, San Juan Vineyard is successfully challenging that notion.

On a sweltering summer day few libations are more satisfying than Rosé. The 2013 Afterglow is a lovely dry wine that absolutely hits the mark. And at $17 a bottle it is an exceptional value. Fermented in neutral oak barrels, this Rosé is a mélange of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Afterglow is quite possibly the perfect sipping wine for those long hot summer afternoons.

Cabernet Franc is an indulgence one ought never to grow accustomed to. Of course there are those who may find it a tad too pretentious, but those folks are simply wine snobs. After 20 months in French Oak barrels,the 2010 Cabernet Franc is an exceptional treat. And critics agree, awarding this wine a Double Gold Medal at the Seattle Wine Awards. Modestly priced at $25, the 297 cases won’t last long!

It doesn’t matter how you get to San Juan Island: fly, swim, sail boat, yacht or ferry. Once there, make sure that your excursions include a relaxing stop at San Juan Vineyards to sample a few wines, enjoy a glass of Afterglow on the deck, and buy a few bottles to remind you of your island holiday. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to observe how the carefully groomed vines thread along the horizontal trellis. Understanding the labor involved in creating exceptional wines often stimulates an appreciation for each luxurious sip. If you can’t make it to San Juan, you can always order your wines online by visiting