Bad economy becomes good plan for new winery

When a Sammamish couple’s 11-acre home wouldn’t sell in the down economy, it seemed close to crushing their dreams of opening a winery in Walla Walla.

Scott and Margaret Fivash have transformed their Sammamish home into a new winery.

When a Sammamish couple’s 11-acre home wouldn’t sell in the down economy, it seemed close to crushing their dreams of opening a winery in Walla Walla.

However, for Scott and Margaret Fivash the dilemma lead to an even better idea, turn their sprawling estate into a winery.

For the excited couple, Fivash Cellars has been a five-year project, and it’s far from complete.

Just a few blocks from Sammamish City Hall, a windy, forested road takes visitors up to their brick home. A large plastic vat of rose´ ages in the driveway. So far, the cool outdoor temperatures have kept the wine sweet and flavorful.

A wood shop was converted into the winery, holding dozens of the iconic oak barrels, and giving Margaret plenty of space for her wine chemistry.

While the wine is priced for executives, the winery is as relaxed as visiting a friend’s home.

Scott hopes the simple beginnings evolve into a larger operation.

The plan is to turn their nostalgic green barn into the winery. Large oak barrels would replace animal stalls, while a rustic and romantic upper room could double as a banquet hall.

While Scott and Margaret plan to make the wine in Sammamish, the grapes are grown and crushed almost exclusively in Walla Walla.

This year’s wines were made in Walla Walla. Fivash Cellars plan to release two 2007 red blends, a 2009 chardonnay and a 2010 rosé. Their premium wine is a hail to all the business “chiefs,” called the C-Star.

They hope to sell about 70 percent of their wine straight from the winery, and the remaining wine will be distributed at local grocers, wine shops and a few restaurants, such as SIP in Issaquah.

The former owner of Washington CEO Magazine, Scott first took an interest in Walla Walla winemaking after he organized a Best of Washington Wines project.

He brought together the area’s top restaurant sommeliers for a blind tasting event. In the first tasting, the group tried 57 different wines. Over half the winners were from Walla Walla.

When the couple traveled to the city to deliver some of the awards, they discovered a friendly community willing to share their business.

The Fivash kids had just moved out on their own, and the empty nesters were looking for a change. They decided to move to Walla Walla and begin researching the trade.

Margaret studied winemaking at the local community college, she said. “I wanted to learn the chemistry of winemaking.”

Scott sold his magazine and took low-paying winery jobs at Walla Walla Vintners and Chateau Rollat, he said. “She’s the science and I’m the art.”

In 2006 Scott made a successful garage wine, and decided the following year to jump into winemaking.

“I’m into starting businesses and jumping off cliffs and stuff like that,” he said.

The decision to start the business in Sammamish came when they learned that most winemakers have to travel to Puget Sound to sell and promote their wines.

That coupled with difficulties selling their home and being closer to their children, they decided to turn their home into something more.

“There is such a huge market in the Puget Sound area,” Margaret said. “I think it can see the growth that Woodinville has had.”

Western Washington winemakers have been supportive.

As Scott was unloading barrels of wine at their home, the forklift slipped and crushed his foot. Half of his wine, 42 barrels, stood exposed in the driveway while Margaret rushed him to the hospital for surgery.

John Patterson, owner of Patterson Cellars, generously hired a tow truck to lift the forklift and took all of the wine to his place while Scott recovered.

Starting the business has been work, but it’s also been fun, Scott said.

“When I got into the wine business, I got into it because of how much fun everyone was having, not realizing how much work it really is and how much time it takes to produce a final product, but all good things take time.”

Celeste Gracey can be reached at 425-391-0363, ext. 5052.

Fivash Cellars

602 234th Ave, SE, Sammamish, 425-785-4978, www.fivashcellars.com