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Partnership keeps Barili going strong

The owners of Barili Cellars, from left, Sue and Gary Hustad and Russ and Marlene Feist, pose in their tasting room. (Jesse Tinsley)

Serendipity and a grape delivery helped launch Barili Cellars, and that same combination is helping usher the boutique Spokane winery into its fifth year.

Marlene and Russ Feist opened the winery with Steve and Dana Trabun in 2008. They had met a few years before, when a Prosser vineyard owner asked if they could deliver some grapes to another home winemaker in Spokane.

More than a year ago, the Trabuns decided to sell their half of the winery business. This time it was a business advertisement that brought Sue and Gary Hustad to Barili Cellars. The Hustads were also home winemakers looking for an opportunity to try their skills at a commercial winery.

We sat down with the Feists and Hustads recently to talk about the new faces behind Barili Cellars and their winemaking partnership.

SR: How did the winery start? Tell me about the beginning of Barili Cellars.

Marlene Feist: We officially incorporated in 2008 and we had our first vintage in 2007 that we did that under a different (winery’s) bonding and then got our own. We opened the tasting room in the spring of 2009.

We started out with a different couple, Steve and Dana Trabun. A little over a year ago, they had different life circumstances and decided that they wanted to sell their half of the business. And we were very fortunate to find Sue and Gary Hustad, who have been winemakers at home as we had done for years, and we’ve hooked them up with more labor than they probably ever imagined. But it’s just about love of wine for all of us and just sharing that with customers. The tasting room will be open five years next year, so we’re kind of excited about that. It seems like just yesterday.

Steve (Trabun) was actually just down bottling with us last weekend, so we still have a connection with our original partners.

Russ Feist: This is really a family winery and I know people say that a lot but it truly is. We have our boys down here working. The (Hustads’) grandkids come. We put everyone to work.

SR: Sue and Gary, when did you start making wine at home?

Sue Hustad: We started in the late ’90s. We made it with friends. We just made red, and we had four barrels at home. … But we wanted to be able to make some white wines, and we wanted to be able to sell it commercially and it had to be very small. We have a lot of friends in Spokane in the restaurant business who wanted to buy our wines, so we had to get legal. We have a huge connection to Gonzaga University and Eastern Washington University.

We just accidentally fell into seeing that this half ownership was for sale, and we couldn’t believe it.

SR: How did you find out about it?

Sue Hustad: It was in a business advertisement.

Russ Feist: We didn’t know each other at all. We interviewed a lot of people.

Sue Hustad: It was meant to be, that’s for sure.

SR: When you first met, did you trade wines so you could get to know each other and your winemaking style?

Russ Feist: Well, that’s a funny story.

Sue Hustad: First, we met with Steve and Dana and then Russ and Marlene. We kicked it around and they kicked it around to try to decide if we liked each other. We got pretty excited about everything. We finally arrived at a figure and we were really excited. We had pretty much signed the papers and Gary said, “Do you think we ought to taste the wine?”

When we did, we just looked at each other. We make this blend at home that is just really similar.

Since then, we’ve had a lot of their wines and we’ve given them some of ours.

SR: Do you have day jobs then, Sue and Gary?

Sue Hustad: Gary owns a body shop, Custom Body Company. I was the administrative assistant there but I’m off work right now for an injury.

SR: What are your day jobs Russ and Marlene?

Russ Feist: I’m still with Avista.

Marlene Feist: I’m with the city of Spokane, but now I’m working with utilities, the utilities communication manager.

SR: Do you all help with the winemaking? How does that process work? Who is the winemaker?

Russ Feist: We all work together but Gary and I usually do the winemaking. We typically sit down and go over what kind of grapes we want to bring in …

We already have an established couple of growers that we go to … vineyards that we contract with every year, same rows and same grapes so that we can get some consistency. And we talk a little bit about what we want to make.

I think Gary and I’s style is pretty closely matched. We both like the big reds. When we make our whites we like them more toward the lighter style, fruit forward.

SR: Where are most of the grapes coming from for Barili Cellars wines?

Russ Feist: Probably 95 percent are coming from the Yakima Valley area – so from Benton City, Red Mountain all the way down through to Zillah, Rattlesnake Hills. We pulled some chardonnay from Horse Heaven Hills.

SR: Where is the other 5 percent coming from?

Russ Feist: Well, we pulled some from the Walla Walla area, originally. But we really haven’t had any Walla Walla wines for a little while. We play around with it.

SR: What is available from the winery right now?

Sue Hustad: We have a 2010 cabernet and a 2010 Double Barrel Red.

Marlene Feist: The Double Barrel Red was our first red wine and the only red wine that we had available in our initial release of wines. We had a barrel of syrah and a barrel of cab and we blended them together, and they became the Double Barrel Red. And they were better together than they were apart. This is now the third vintage of the Double Barrel Red ($20) that we’ve done. It’s not quite 50-50, but pretty close. The current release is 55 percent syrah, 45 percent cabernet.

Sue Hustad: We have those and we have the 2011 viognier ($19) that we really love because it is just fun to listen to people try to pronounce it. We just bottled the 2011 Syrah ($24) and Wily White ($16), it’s a white blend. Those last two will be released for the Mother’s Day Spring Release Weekend event.

SR: What does the future hold for Barili Cellars?

Sue Hustad: It’s a passion. It’s a hobby. We don’t have big expansion plans, but we’re always refining things.

SR: What is the annual production of the winery?

Russ Feist: We have ramped it up. It was sitting probably around 400 (cases) and we’re sitting now at about 500 or 550 (cases). We initially started at 150 to 200 cases, but then in the last year we started making more. We’re maxed out in terms of equipment and space. As Sue was saying, we’re probably right where we need to be.