EDMONDS, Wash. — For the past 20 years, Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson have taken risks as winemakers in Washington, and their gamble on Edmonds is another that’s paid off.
When they started Dusted Valley Vintners in 2003, they were the 52nd winery to join the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Their expansion into Western Washington has been different — as trailblazers.
Dusted Valley became one of the first Walla Walla-based wineries to open a Woodinville tasting room in July 2009. (Mike Berghan of Gifford Hirlinger edged them out by a few days.)
Six months later, their award-winning juice and business savvy prompted the editorial team of Great Northwest Wine to select Dusted Valley Vintners as the 2010 Washington Winery of the Year for Wine Press Northwest magazine.
And in 2021, Dusted Valley became the first winery to open a tasting room in the city of Edmonds, but then Braunel and Johnson are no strangers to setting up shop in uncharted territory.
From Wisconsin to Walla Walla Valley
They grew up in Wisconsin, and they both worked for the same biotech company that in 1998 led Johnson and his wife, Janet, to Portland, Ore. Braunel and his wife, Cindy — Janet’s sister — joined the Johnsons for what Braunel looks back on as “several fateful trips to Napa.”
Those outings prompted Chad’s decision to move to Walla Walla in 2003 and learn more about the wine industry. That summer, the Braunels joined the Johnsons — having visited Eastern Washington only once before — and launched Dusted Valley Vintners.
“I would send Corey a case of Washington wine every once in a while, and hop on the phone chatting about the wine, life and the dream,” Chad remembers. “We wanted to be in the vineyards vs. urban winemaking, and Walla Walla was an easy choice. When Janet and I finally decided to make the move, we called them and told them we didn’t want to do it without them.”
Six years later, the proliferation of wineries in Woodinville, with its proximity to the Seattle market, prompted Dusted Valley to open a satellite tasting room.
“You go where the population is,” Braunel says. “And we found that 80 percent of the people coming through our doors in Woodinville had never been to Walla Walla, which is a destination, a journey with a unique set of variables.”
Woodinville provided Seattle-area wine consumers an opportunity to have a “wine experience” without driving across the state.
“The expansion into Woodinville was phenomenal; it revolutionized our brand,” Braunel says. “We went from less than 500 wine club members in our first five years to over 1,000 within Year One of being in Woodinville. That allowed us to grow through the Great Recession. It allowed us to thrive.”
Charm of Edmonds ‘felt like Walla Walla’
In February 2021, despite the pandemic, the Braunels checked out Edmonds as a possible third location. It came at the recommendation of Billy Farrow, Dusted Valley’s regional sales manager.
“We walked around downtown Edmonds, and it had an amazing feel to it,” Braunel says. “In fact, it felt like Walla Walla.
“It’s got the charm. It’s got the quaintness, the walkability and the personality of that kind of a community,” he continued. “There was something special here, and that was all the convincing we needed to know that this was the next thing we needed to do.”
Although considered a Seattle suburb, Edmonds maintains its small-town vibe. The city lists its population at 41,820 — about 10,000 more than that of Walla Walla. And while just three miles west of Interstate 5, the Snohomish County city still has a bit of a secluded “destination feel” to it, keyed as the eastern hub of the Edmonds/Kingston ferry route to the Kitsap Peninsula.
Dusted Valley’s tasting room is just two blocks from the ferry terminal, and the brand has proved to be a natural fit for what Braunel describes as the “culinary and artsy” atmosphere in Edmonds that caters to locals and travelers.
“People come over from the peninsula. They can walk to the ferry from here,” he explains. “They’ll do a flight; they pick up a couple bottles, and if they become regulars, they’ll ultimately join our wine club.”
That club, the Stained Tooth Society, provides members with special access and discounts. There’s a waiting list for their Cult of Ceres Club.
“The community has been super-supportive and really embraced us, and it’s also been a fantastic way to partner with local restaurants,” Braunel says.
Charcoal and Salt & Iron are among the favorites nearby, and tasting room lead Jennifer Krogstad enjoys a special connection with her consumers that Dusted Valley’s other two locations can’t quite match.
“We get a lot of neighborhood customers who are regulars, because they can walk down here from their homes,” Krogstad says. “It’s a fun environment. Everyone who comes in is normally in a good mood, and everyone leaves
in a good mood,” she said with a laugh.
Even the name — Dusted Valley Edmonds Wine Bar — is intentional.
“As a satellite tasting room, we’re allowed to do the same thing we do in Woodinville and Walla Walla, but we knew that the ‘wine bar’ name would resonate with people as a gathering spot rather than just a wine tasting room,” Braunel says.
In addition to a menu of small plates, they also offer a selection of local craft brews.
“But 99 percent of the people coming in here are still looking for wine,” Braunel says.
Dusted Valley’s arrival has helped downtown Edmonds nurture a wine culture. Nearby is Vinbero, a wine bar that includes a menu of cured meat, cheeses, salads and small plates. There’s also Arista Wine Cellars, a bottle shop that opened in 1997 and still offers complimentary Saturday tastings. Both are a short walk from the Dusted Valley tasting room. And this spring, Virtue Cellars in Shoreline plans to open a tasting room at the planned Main Street Commons development.
Boomtown benefits from Dusted Valley estate vines
Dusted Valley Vintners draws upon more than 50 acres of estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, including The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, for the 5,000-case brand.
Beyond their home valley, they work with three of the Columbia Valley’s most acclaimed sites — Olsen in the Yakima Valley for their Chardonnay and soon-to-be-released, first-ever Sauvignon Blanc; StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah; and Dionysus Vineyard, home to 1980s plantings of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Those collaborations were key to their 2013 selection as Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine.
For their new méthode Champenoise project, Braunel and Johnson stayed in the Walla Walla Valley as Breezy Slope Vineyard provided the Pinot Noir for the 2019 Falx Blanc de Noir.
“I think the Dusted Valley house style has an Old World vibe emphasizing vineyard over ripeness and manipulation,” Johnson says. “We love earth, herbs and all things secondary to complement the beautiful bright fruit and structure of Washington state wines. This has led us to our estate vineyard program and choosing to work with vineyards that naturally express those characteristics.
“In a ‘grasshopper moment,’ the legend Gordy Hill once told me. ‘Make the wines you like to drink, because if you can’t sell them, you can at least enjoy drinking them’ ” Johnson adds.
It would seem that the vast majority of innovative moves and vineyard investments by the Braunel and Johnson families have paid off. That includes the plunge in 2006 to create a second brand — Boomtown by Dusted Valley.
The nicely priced Boomtown label is referred to as “Dusted Valley’s little brother,” according to Braunel, even though it is a 15,000-case brand with distribution across the U.S. Dusted Valley fruit plays a role in the collaborative effort with Four Feathers Wine Services in Prosser, directed by one of the state’s rising star winemakers — Rebecca De Kleine.
“There’s a commonality with Dusted Valley so that the wines show a point of expression that is a signature of Chad’s and my style,” Braunel says.
And it’s an approach that’s earned Dusted Valley growing support in Walla Walla, Woodinville and now in Edmonds.
Dusted Valley Vintners
Edmonds: 201 Main St., Suite 102, (425) 248-9901
Woodinville: 14465 Redmond-Woodinville Road NE, (425) 488-7373
Walla Walla: 1248 Old Milton Highway, (509) 525-1337
Hours vary by location