WESTPORT, Wash. – One of Washington’s most innovative wineries is taking another step in its evolution by opening a second location in an iconic Oregon coast town.
Westport Winery Garden Resort is announcing this week that it will open a tasting room in downtown Cannon Beach, Ore. Kim Roberts, who owns Westport Winery with her husband, Blain, and their children, Dana and Carrie, said the winery has secured grape contracts with some of Washington’s top vineyards and now is in a position to increase production from its current 5,000 annual cases.
“Cannon Beach has been on our radar for about 30 years as a really desirable place to visit and live,” she told Great Northwest Wine. “We’re not moving there, but we are looking forward to spending more time there. We’re all about being a part of positive, happy memories.”
Westport Winery is about eight miles from the Washington coast in Grays Harbor County and has the western-most vineyard in the state. It produces 38 different wines, including two hard ciders and a nonalcoholic Riesling juice. Nearly all of its wines are sold through its popular tasting room and on-site restaurant. Few wineries in Washington sell such a high percentage of wine direct to its customers as Westport.
The new tasting room will be on North Hemlock Street in the heart of downtown Cannon Beach. It will be next to Cannon Beach Distillery and Seasons Café and a short distance from such favorite businesses as Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, the Cannon Beach Bakery and Insomnia Coffee.
Roberts said her family looked at several options for a second tasting room in Washington, including the increasingly crowded Woodinville, Walla Walla and Leavenworth (where the family lived before getting into the wine business in 2007). But the bottom line is that a winery with a coastal attitude and maritime theme just wouldn’t make sense in any of those communities. So then it looked up and down the coast and landed in Cannon Beach.
The destination town has two wine shops – the Wine Shack and Laurel’s – but no wineries or tasting rooms in or near Cannon Beach. It also has three breweries and the distillery, so Roberts believes Westport will break ground, just as it did when it opened the first winery in Grays Harbor County.
“We’re the first ones, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be the last ones,” she said. “I think a lot of people will look at Cannon Beach and go, ‘Wow, that makes great sense.’ It’s a great community. People are there for the experience and all the fine dining opportunities. It’ll be fun.”
Westport will be Oregon’s newest winery
The path to opening a tasting room in another state is not simple. In Washington, any winery may open up to two satellite tasting rooms with little trouble. But because Westport Winery will be crossing a state line, it actually must launch a new Oregon winery.
The Roberts family must first get another federal bond to launch an Oregon winery. It also will need to produce some of its wine on site in Cannon Beach. Then it will need to get licensed through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and finally obtain business and city licensing in Cannon Beach.
“We’re looking at a six- to eight-month process to get everything lined up,” Roberts said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problems, especially since our tasting room will be next to a distillery. Its application and approval already suggests the area is a reasonable location and there shouldn’t be any big roadblocks.”
At least two other Washington wineries have taken the same path, and Roberts plans to tap into their experiences and expertise as she works her way through the process.
Cascade Cliffs in Wishram, Wash., opened a second tasting room in 2011 in Hood River, Ore., about 40 minutes west through the Columbia Gorge.
And last weekend, Va Piano Vineyards south of Walla Walla opened a tasting room in Bend, Ore. (it also opened a tasting room this spring in Spokane).
While Westport Winery has signed the lease on its new Cannon Beach location, it won’t likely open the tasting room until winter because of the longer process. Once it opens, Roberts said at least one of the family members will travel the two-and-a-half hours from Westport to Cannon Beach every weekend for the foreseeable future.
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “Cannon Beach has really become a year-round destination. It’ll give us some time to learn our way and go through our growing pains. We really want to have our family’s involvement and not just be a place that has the Westport Winery name but also has the Westport Winery attitude and experience.”
Westport Winery’s journey from dream to success
The Roberts were running a successful dive shop and operation in Hawaii until the family decided to return to Washington, where Kim grew up. They lived in Spokane and Central Washington for a few years before purchasing property in Grays Harbor County in 2007. Though the family had no experience in the wine industry, it had run several successful businesses.
So Blain and Kim sent their son, Dana, to Washington State University to learn how to make wine. He also worked at other wineries to gain experience.
The family built its winery to look like a scale model of the nearby Grays Harbor Lighthouse. Many of its labels reflect the coastal location, including Shelter from the Storm, Lighthouse, Going Coastal and Pineapple Express.
Early on, the winery gained a reputation for producing delicious fruit-based wines, including a sparkling cranberry wine using locally grown cranberry juice (an Ocean Spray processing plant is nearby, as are many bogs along the so-called Cranberry Coast).
With more than 40 acres of land, the family planted a vineyard and berries, many of which would go into the wines. Many of the early wines were geared toward introducing residents of the nearby communities of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Westport to wine tasting.
In more recent years, Westport has secured grape contracts with some of the state’s top vineyards, including iconic Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, as well as Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Conner Lee Vineyard in the Columbia Basin and Olsen Brothers in the Yakima Valley.
As a result of high-quality grapes, the grape-based wines have subsequently risen in quality and now regularly earn top medals in regional, national and international competitions. Earlier this month, its 2014 Bordello Blonde – a blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer – won a unanimous double gold medal at Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Along the way, Westport Winery launched an on-site restaurant that now is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, as well as a bakery, a garden nursery, a dog park and a pitch-and-putt golf course.
A focus the past few years has been the development of themed gardens that surround the winery and are a particular passion for Kim Roberts. Also placed throughout the property are more than 40 original sculptures created by local artists. Most are named after Westport’s wines. For example, a sculpture made with driftwood honors Kurt Cobain, the frontman for the ’90s grunge band Nirvana who grew up in nearby Aberdeen. One of Westport’s wines is called Nirvana.
While the new Cannon Beach location won’t have an on-site restaurant, Roberts hopes to provide Northwest-made cheeses, chocolates and charcuterie available for patrons.
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