Bits 'n' Pieces: Area winery looks back on 110 years

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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The English Estate Winery is celebrating 110 years of tending the earth and its evolution into one of Clark County's oldest wineries with an anniversary event on Saturday, April 20.

"When you grow up here, you don't really think about it in (historic) terms," said Carl S. English, fifth-generation co-owner of the east Vancouver estate, along with his sister Jennifer English Wallenberg. The English family moved to Clark County in 1903 from Michigan to develop a potato farm.

The red barn that houses the winery, tasting room and storage was built in 1915.

"There's a strong sense of history here, both in terms of the family, and in terms of the county," English said. "It's kind of incredible to see what's changed."

The estate also grew grain and prunes, and eventually became a dairy farm, which continued into the early 1970s. There will be around 400 photos from the beginning of the farm to about 1930 on a slide show at the event.

"Every time we dig around here, it's like an archaeology project," English said.

Pinot noir wine grapes were first planted in 1980 by his father and winery founder, Carl D. English. It was a way to continue the estate's agricultural heritage during a time the county was shifting from farmland to suburban development. The estate didn't become a commercial winery until 2000.

"(The estate) used to be a dairy farm, and for many years people used to come here to get your milk. And now they come to get their wine," English said.

The winery is combining the estate's anniversary with its 10th annual BiBBFest, said Andee Mowrey, winery manager. BiBB is short for Bag in a Beautiful Box, which has become the winery's signature way of packaging.

"(Carl D. English) decided that there's a lot of waste in the tasting room," Mowrey said. "Usually you walk in and they have five different wines open."

Since wine in open bottles has a short expiration date, tasting rooms often have to throw out unused wine. The estate's artfully designed wooden boxes hold a replaceable cardboard container with the equivalent of four bottles of red or white wine. The wooden boxes are $15 for wine club members, $30 for nonmembers. The containers of wine range from $50 to $109, depending on the variety of wine.

"With a box you don't have waste as the bag will keep air out, and it will still be good wine after several weeks," Mowrey said.

What began as a utilitarian invention for the tasting room became a sought-after item. "The customers started saying, 'we want that,'" Mowrey said of the box. "They're now 80 percent of our sales."

The winery will debut its new rosé wine Saturday. It still sells its original pinot noir, along with cabernet sauvigon, Gewürztraminer, and more. They also develop eight fortified dessert wines.

"People always comment how nicely decorated the tasting room is. But I always visualize it full of cows, manure and hay," English said, recalling his childhood spent in the barn.

In addition to Saturday's tasting, there will be live music and tours.

"So much of the area around here has gone and changed," he said. "We have this oasis here for the public, to enjoy the world the way it is outside the suburbs."

The celebration runs from noon to 6 p.m. at the winery, 17806 S.E. First St. For details, call 360-772-5141 or visit http://englishestatewinery.com.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.