John Caudill and Jerry Gibson connected over fine wines, so it seems right that they’re now making them together.
The self-taught winemakers are the cabernet drinkers behind the wines at Overbluff Cellars. A chance meeting brought the two California natives together, but it was their love of the bold wines of the Napa Valley that sparked their interest in Washington winemaking. The men wanted to use the state’s fruit to replicate their favorite style of wine.
They started with four barrels of cabernet sauvignon grown in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley and the resulting wines were good enough to convince them that they should start Overbluff Cellars. Caudill owns the winery with his wife Lynnelle Caudill and shares winemaking duties with Gibson. They released their first wines to the public in spring 2010.
The winery and tasting room are in the building that was once Cobblestone Bakery, 620 S. Washington St.
Caudill said some new work opportunities have taken too much time away from the winery in recent months and that is why it is for sale. They don’t want to hand the bottles over to just anyone. They hope they can sell it to an oenophile who will keep Overbluff going.
Rain in the Walla Walla vineyards delayed a recent cabernet delivery for crush, which gave Caudill a chance to sit down and talk about the winery.
S-R: How did this all start? What was your dream for the winery?
Caudill: (Laughing) I don’t think we ever had a dream. We just wanted to make wine and then decided that it was time to take it to the next level when we opened Overbluff Cellars. Jerry Gibson and I started together. We’re still making wine together and he runs the tasting room for us on Fridays and Saturdays.
S-R: How are things going?
Caudill: Sales have been really good, probably our best months have been in the last two months. I’m not sure why.
S-R: When you opened, you had a real commitment to Walla Walla fruit. Has that changed?
Caudill: No. It is the same story. We think the fruit is superior. Jerry and I are both fans of California cabernet and Walla Walla fruit gives us the best opportunity to make the kinds of wines that we love to drink.
S-R: Have you tried grapes from other areas?
Caudill: We’ve tried smaller batches just to see if we could incorporate fruit from other parts of the state, but we just didn’t find anything that we ever got excited about.
S-R: When Overbluff Cellars first opened, you said you wanted to build some big wines, reminiscent of Napa Valley in California. Have you been able to reach that goal?
Caudill: Yes, we’ve definitely achieved it. The wines have just progressively gotten bigger, almost to the point where we need to back off a little bit, especially our syrahs. They are really big.
S-R: How much wine are you making these days?
Caudill: This year, we are not making a whole bunch. We made so much in 2009 and 2010, that this year we are only doing about 200 cases. We haven’t even bottled our 2010 yet. We made 700 cases.
S-R: How much wine did you make in 2009?
Caudill: We made a little over 700 cases.
S-R: There has been uncertainty in the economy. How has that affected you?
Caudill: That has been a main factor to us dialing back to some degree. It is a big expense. It is one of the most capital intensive businesses you can be in. You’re throwing $40,000 to $50,000 dollars at fruit and then you’re storing it for three years. You’re not getting your money back for a long time.
S-R: What is your favorite part about the business?
Caudill: For me it is actually making the wine.
S-R: How would you say you have grown as a winemaker in the past couple of years?
Caudill: Patience, more than anything. I think we’re better at identifying the structure and the qualities in the fruit, so we know when we want to harvest. I think when we first started we were more heavily reliant on the grower’s opinion. I think we’ve kind of grown to a point to where we understand the vineyard side of it a little better and we can make our own decisions on that based on the wines that we want to produce.
S-R: One of your wines is called LSD? Does it stand for something?
Caudill: Yes. It is the names of the three vineyards: LaTour, Spofford and Dineen. It’s 100 percent cabernet. The story behind that is that you have to identify everything in the winery for labeling, so you keep track of everything from cradle to grave, as far as what vineyard it came from and how much is in there… So, on every barrel that we filled I was writing La Tour, Spofford and Dineen after we blended it out. I got tired of writing that and pretty soon I was just writing LSD. I really wasn’t paying attention to it until a friend of mine came in and said, “What is LSD?” So, we decided we need to run with that and get it onto a label somehow.
S-R: Why is the winery for sale?
Caudill: Just not enough time. We’ve had the opportunity where our family has bought some apartment buildings and remodeled those, and we’re actually going to build some more. That is what I have been doing. Unfortunately, it has just limited my time. But we’ve gotten the winery to this point and rather than just let it go we’d like to sell it to someone who can keep it going.