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Devorah Creek Vineyard opens in Auburn's back yard
Don't bother looking for the Devorah Creek waterway on any map of the Enumclaw Plateau.
You won't find it. There is no such creek.
What there is, however, is a winery called Devorah Creek Vineyards.
The recent Enumclaw import is across the street from the Muckleshoot Tribal School on state Route 164, where it produces local wine made from grapes grown on the plateau.
"We named it after my daughter, Devorah, she is 7," owner Joshua Neely said of the winery. "The long-term goal is she eventually takes over the business and sends my wife and I a check while we sit on an island somewhere. So far, it's on track. She said she still wants to be a wine farmer, but last year she said she wanted to be a mermaid. I don't know where her career path is going."
Neely, a native of Susanville, Calif., moved to the Northwest in 1995.
"I was from a small town. It was kind of dead, so I came up here for opportunity," Neely said.
After a short career in the computer software and hardware industry, Neely, at 26, went back to school.
"I got tired and went back to school to get my master's in Middle Eastern studies," he said. "My focus was in international security and nuclear proliferation. Nine-11 had just happened, and there was an intifada (a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation) in Israel. Every day was really interesting."
Having earned his master's in 2008 from the University of Washington, Neely was preparing to go to work for the U.S. State Department, when his life changed.
"I was close to working in the field, and I got married about the same time," he said. "Nine months later, we had a little girl. That kind of delayed that. My wife didn't want to go live in Pakistan or Yemen, so she said I had to go find something else to do."
That something became winemaking.
At the time Neely and his family were living on a 40-acre, former dairy farm in Enumclaw.
"We went to some wineries, and I saw this happy, little old couple with straw hats sipping on wine, and I thought 'I could do that,'" Neely said. "The wine wasn't great, but they were really nice and seemed happy, so we decided to give it a shot. I suggested going back to school for a four-year grape degree, learning about oenology and viticulture. My wife said, 'No, you're smart enough. Get every book you can and read about it.' So I did."
To learn the business, Neely helped out at Woodinville's Hollywood Hills Vineyard. In 2010, he started making his own wine "trial by fire," he said.
While he was growing grapes for future use at his dairy farm, Neely was also making wine with grapes imported from Eastern Washington.
As his wines got better and better, Neely said, his location in Enumclaw began to look worse and worse.
"It was hard to drive through traffic down there," Neely said. "We saw this property up for sale. We'd always driven by and thought it'd be perfect, with pretty white fences and the pastures, the view of (Mount) Rainier. It went for sale, went down in price, and we jumped on it."
Neely turned the stable into a tasting room. Open to the public, it is available to rent and offers local art for sale.
"I don't have to choose the art or what to hang on the walls, and I get to help local artists," Neely said.
Out back he built the production warehouse where he makes the wine before storing it in imported French oak casks, which sell for $1,500 a barrel and last three years.
Four weeks ago, Devorah Creek Vineyards opened for business.
Neely has already planted about three acres of Pinot Noir grapes at his vineyard, though they are not yet in production. By 2015, he expects to plant an additional 12 acres.
His hope is that one day he'll make 100 percent of his wines from grapes grown in the Puget Sound region. Today, about 30 percent of his wine is local.
"It's a challenging area to grow grapes in," he said. "In Eastern Washington and California, they have the heat to ripen the grapes 99 percent of the time, unless there is some freak freeze or something. Here we have nice, long, dry summers, usually three to four months ,with no rain and nice temperatures, which the grapes actually like. They don't like the heat. The only challenge is the rainy season, which comes about mid-October, exactly when the harvest is. That's when the grapes are most susceptible to rot and mildew, when they are the ripest and their skins are the thinnest."
"The determining factor of how good our harvest is is when the rains come," Neely added. "If they comeby the third or fourth week, great. If it's the first or second week, we're in trouble. It's totally a labor of love to grow grapes in the Puget Sound."
Devorah Creek Vineyards produces 1,000 cases of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine annually.
Even if bottles are available for sale at Mosby Farms and the Auburn Wine & Caviar Co., Neely said, he hopes people take advantage of having the vineyard in their back yard.
"We're the small of the small," Neely said. "We're just a small boutique winery. Mostly I want to try and get people to come out here. It's a better experience to get to talk with the winemaker about how the wine is made and see the vineyards."
The Devorah Creek Vineyards tasting room is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information, visit www.devorahcreek.com.