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Owners of V du V talk winery’s history, future

The owners of V du V Wines in Spokane, John Morrow, left, and Kirk Phillips. They are making mostly red wines and the Meritage blend, a Bordeaux blend, is one of the most popular.

V du V Wines was formally uncorked at a grand opening in October, which makes it one of Spokane’s newest wineries.

Yet the winery’s roots go all the way back to 1981 – and those particular roots were embedded in the soil of an Adams County vineyard.

We sat down with the two guiding forces behind V du V, John Morrow and Kirk Phillips, and asked them to tell us the story behind the winery, beginning with the obvious question:

SR: How did V du V Wines gets its name?

Morrow: At one point in the process, we were actually fermenting our grapes in the back of a semi van. A few of us spoke French, so we immediately saw the play on words: Vin du Van. We thought, “Wow, that’s clever.” So our first label, back in the day, had that brand and had a little truck on the logo. But as time went by, many of the partners either lost interest or moved, so we were down to eventually three (from the original five), and we kind of restructured the whole company and we shortened the name to V du V, really to just kind of divorce ourselves from the older entity.

SR: What is your background in wine?

Morrow: I always really enjoyed drinking it (laughs). It’s always been something that interested me. And my father was interested in it. He was active in the wine and food society here in town, and I guess I just developed a taste for it.

Phillips: I actually started out with a vineyard. I grew up on a farm out in the Columbia Basin (near Othello), and I planted an acre of grapes back in 1981. We planted about eight different varieties, as a test, of the current favorite varieties. We expanded that vineyard from the 1 acre to almost 10 acres. It kind of came to pass that some thrived and some didn’t. So we kind of stuck with merlot. And we had some pinot noir and some semillon. We later planted some syrah.

SR: How did the idea of the winery first come about?

Morrow: I met Kirk when we both had kids at St. George’s and we were asked to put together an alumni fundraiser. We had a wine tasting and wine auction, about three years in a row, and that’s how I met Kirk. He was on the committee to help select the wines and I got to taste some of his home-based wines and I said, “Wow, you’re pretty good.”

I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur at heart, in various businesses, and I thought that might be a fun little business opportunity. Why don’t we explore that?

Phillips: As soon as we could make wine, in 1983, I made wine from that vineyard, and one thing led to another, and so, many years later, we have a regular, full-on commercial winery, from that humble beginning out there, in Adams County.

SR: What kinds of wines are you making?

Phillips: We’re making (mostly) red wines. We’re concentrating on syrah, a heavy-bodied red wine, and cabernet sauvignon and merlot. We made malbec this year, we’re making pinot noir – I think we’re probably the only winery in town that makes pinot noir. The grapes are from the Wahluke Slope and another vineyard in the Frenchman Hills. We made a white wine for the first time this year, a white Bordeaux-style.

SR: What are your most popular wines so far?

Phillips: Our Meritage blend, a Bordeaux blend.

Morrow: That seems to be the best-seller out of the tasting room. We have a 2007 cab that has a lot of structure to it and really has some aging capability. We’ve had a lot of people identify that structure and want to lay it down for a while.

Our syrahs right now are from 2004 through 2010 and those wines have a wide diverse palate. We have some syrahs that are very smoky and jammy and earthy and coarse like a lot of big Walla Walla syrahs, and a couple of syrahs that are a little more delicate.

SR: Where do your grapes come from?

Phillips: Wahluke Slope and Columbia Valley are the two official appellations.

Morrow: Most of our grape purchases are relationship-driven. Kirk has known them for years. … We do still get grapes from the vineyard that Kirk established and sold to a neighbor. We’ve made wine from those grapes for the last two years. We’re going to start a whole new wine trade out of Lind, Wash. (He laughs.) That’s the next Napa Valley.

Phillips: There’s a lot of really good fruit out there that’s under the radar. Some places got a lot of press and made very good wines. But there’s a lot to learn about grape growing in Eastern Washington: the sites, the varieties. We’ve only been at it for about 30 years. It’s still in its nascence. There’s plenty of territory out there.

SR: What’s your day job?

Morrow: I’m a shopping center developer, and I own a reclaimed lumber company, ReHistoric Wood Products. I have various partnerships and we have shopping centers around the Northwest.

Phillips: I’m a building contractor.

SR: Tell us about your tasting room.

Morrow: This was the retread facility for Morlan Tire Co. They ran this building for years and years. This part of the building was the shop where they actually re-capped tires. Kirk has a construction background and I, in my development world, have a lot of construction background as well. So the two of us essentially built this place ourselves. We used reclaimed materials, most of which came from ReHistoric, and Kirk had a lot of odds and ends from the farm. So that’s how we ended up looking kind of rustic.

Right now, our tasting hours are 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. We’re trying to feel our way around. We haven’t been around long enough to know what our optimum hours are. We’ve got the little fireplace and when we get a few people in here, it’s pretty cozy, a fun place to hang out.

SR: What is in the future for V du V?

Morrow: If we can get to 2,000 cases a years (up from the current 700 to 800) we’d have enough revenue to – well, I’m not going to speak for Kirk, but I think he’d like to quit his day job and become a full-time winemaker. I’d like to see that.

We made 11 varietals this year. We’re really trying to diversify our varietals so we have a lot to blend with. We want to focus on some Rhone blends. As an example this year, we have grenache, syrah and mourvedre. So we’ll be able to make some Southern Rhone-style blends in various combinations.

People are always looking for new niche, and we have a capability in this region to grow a lot of those Rhone varietals and make good blends that rival some of the French blends. I enjoy Rhone wines, personally. They have always been the stepchild to Bordeaux and the Burgundy regions.