KENNEWICK, Wash. — When Kyle and Amy Johnson were planning to open Muret-Gaston Winery, they wanted a label that reflected their family’s sense of tradition and their joint French heritage. They found it within the beautiful letters their maternal grandfathers wrote home during their military service in World War II.
Both of their grandfathers wrote home nearly every day, signing each letter written in beautiful cursive — ”a lost art,” Amy laments. Their striking signatures grace every bottle of Muret-Gaston wine.
They’ve now launched their distinctive and classic label in a Kennewick tasting room in the Columbia Gardens Wine & Artisan Village, and the Johnsons signed a lease with the Port of Kennewick for the space vacated by Cave B Estate Winery in March.
“Columbia Gardens is a great place to spend a warm, sunny afternoon,” Amy says, noting the view of adjacent Duffy’s Pond, which is frequented by waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds.
The location in a century-old waterfront area of Kennewick appeals to the Johnsons’s sense of tradition. It’s a value that helped them discover, “some 15 generations ago, their ancestors, the Murets and Gastons, were neighbors of sorts, living in adjacent villages in southern France,” the Muret-Gaston website states.
Their neighbors in Columbia Gardens are Bartholomew Winery, Victor Palencia’s Vino la Monarcha and the Gordon Estates tasting room, and Amy Johnson said the aim of Muret-Gaston is to “engage the whole village” — the wineries and the food trucks that share the pavilion in order to create a destination for wine lovers, tourists and anyone looking for an enjoyable afternoon.
The Johnsons also are familiar with the portfolios of the other three brands and believe the collective variety and the styles of winemaking will appeal to almost anyone.
“It’s fantastic wine, and they’re all different and different expressions” Amy said.
Johnsons launch their own brand in 2008
The Johnsons source grapes from the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope American Viticultural Areas, so some of the AVAs and vineyards they source their grapes are the same as their Columbia Gardens neighbors.
They also are showcasing a portion of their Purple Star Wines lineup at Columbia Gardens, bottles that sell for under $20, including a Rosé of Mourvèdre, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec — all labeled as from the Columbia Valley AVA.
Current offerings from Muret-Gaston include a Rhône-inspired white blend made from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne; a Picpoul and a Grenache Blanc, (both white varieties also native to the Rhône Valley in southern France), a Chardonnay, a red blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot, and two Syrahs — one from Red Mountain, the other from the Yakima Valley. Their prices tend to run $10 to $25 higher than Purple Star.
The Johnsons both graduated from Washington State University. Amy earned a degree in animal sciences, aiming to return to her family’s dairy operation near Vancouver, Wash. Kyle’s focus was viticulture, but many of the skills he learned at WSU also had applications on the side of the dairy business that grows hay and other feed for the cattle.
That was not to be. Kyle, a dry-sider from the Tri-Cities at heart, was in essence rained out by the gray days and frequent rain of the wet side. That convinced him he needed to work elsewhere, and he soon landed a job as a viticulturist for Chateau Ste. Michelle, working at the east end of the Columbia Gorge. From there, he became the winemaker at the now-closed Olsen Estates,
After the Olsen family shuttered their acclaimed winery in Prosser, the Johnsons launched the Purple Star brand in 2008. They christened their own vinification facility in Benton City with the 2014 crush and have regularly been producing wines that score from 90 to 94 points, with the 94-pointer under their Native Sun label. It’s a brand focused on Cabernet Sauvignon from Kiona’s Heart of the Hill Vineyard, and the Johnsons don’t produce it each vintage. They scored a gold medal at the 2013 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition with their debut 2009 vintage of Native Sun.
Muret-Gaston accounts for about 25 percent of the 4,000 to 5,000 cases that the Johnsons bottle each year, and their goal for the Columbia Gardens tasting room is to make it a place to sit, sip and savor wines in a relaxed setting. They will align their tasting room hours to fit with the other wine village wineries, which are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Sunday.
The aim is to step back from a harried world full of screen time, slow down a bit and produce a feel more like reading a graceful hand-written letter with swooping, graceful words that transcend time and reach back a couple generations — maybe more.