The United States is the fourth-largest wine producing country in the world behind France, Italy and Spain. Each year, more than 806 million gallons of wine are produced, with more than 40 million gallons coming from the state of Washington alone. In Lyle, Washington, where the Klickitat river meets the Columbia river, known as the Columbia Gorge, one will find a small group of exceptional winemakers. The region, noted for its diverse topography, is home to microclimates: a winemakers dream. These microclimates include vast differences between precipitation and temperature across regions resulting in a beautifully unique setting to create world class wines. In 2004, Luke Bradford recognized the potential in the region and founded COR Cellars, a unique winery that embraces its location and a hefty dose of creativity.
What was the impetus that launched your career in winemaking?
I worked for two years in Tuscany and Sicily for a relative of mine in 2 beautiful wineries. I always
wanted to be involved in agriculture and to me wine was the perfect combination of farming and creating a product that enhanced the quality of life of our customers. It was the perfect pairing, to be in touch with the seasonal nature of agriculture while simultaneously playing a role in the hospitality industry which I find so rewarding.
Your tasting room is extraordinarily beautiful. How important is environment when it comes to fully experiencing COR Cellar’s wines?
Environment is extremely important. We designed the new tasting room to feel like a modern, comfortable living room. A space where you can pony up to the bar and learn all about the stories behind the wines, walk through the vineyards and gardens to relax, or just sit in the window or by the fire with a book or a good friend and enjoy your wine in peace.
We’ve read that you work closely with other winemakers in Lyle to help further the community and improve the quality of your wine. Why is it important to connect with those that could be seen as your competitors?
We don’t see each other as competitors, but rather as elements of a larger picture. If someone comes to visit me, we always send them down the road to visit our neighbors. It’s kind of a “high tide rises all boats” kind of situation. We are all working to develop this AVA into the world class wine destination that it can be, and it takes all of us making the best wine possible, and offering the best hospitality we can, in order to attract people to our slice of the world.
How important are awards like the ‘Winery of the Year’ award you received from The Seattle Pi to the brand awareness and, ultimately, sales of COR Cellars?
They are very important, and we appreciate all the press and attention we get, as with a minuscule marketing budget, we rely mostly on word of mouth and customer references to gain new customers. So, we don’t exactly “court” the press but are always flattered and humbled when they take note of us.
Winemaking sounds incredibly romantic to those of us who aren’t winemakers. What might surprise an outsider about the rigors of your profession?
As with all agriculture, it is an extremely demanding and physical job. Not only is the vineyard work and winemaking exhausting, that accounts for only 50% of your time. The other 50% is sales. Constant travel, sharing your story with dozens of restaurants and retailers a day, or many hundreds of people at one time at large tastings, which can also be very draining. I’m a very social person, and I love to meet new people and share wine with strangers, but it can be tiring! It is a romantic pursuit, one of the oldest professions, but the romance is often outweighed by the workload!
Finally, if you had to recommend a bottle for those who are experiencing COR Cellar’s wines for the first time, what might you suggest?
We produce many varieties that Washington is known for, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, among other, that we strive to produce with elegance and balance. Hopefully they stand out as amongst the best in the state, but where we are different is in our white wines. We produce cold climate whites from the Columbia Gorge AVA including: Alba, a Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer blend fermented in concrete, Old Hwy white, which is our estate vineyard of Riesling and Sauvignon blanc, a new wine called AGO, which is a blend of Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay and our estate Tocai Friulano, which is a delicious and refreshing N. Italian white of which we are the only producer in the state.
Visit COR Cellars online to shop a curated selection of their wines at www.corcellars.com