MILTON-FREEWATER — The wrong shipment of glass bottles is what almost sent the bottling schedule for Ducleaux Cellars off the rails.
The bottles Toby Turlay and Chris Dukelow received were green, not clear. What initially appeared as a minor inconvenience quickly became significant when the blushing pink liquid was poured into a bottle.
Pouring such a rosy-hued liquid into green glass bottles seemed absurd. It was no wonder the winemakers chose to delay the process until the correct shipment arrived.
“The bottles won’t affect the taste,” Turlay said as she inverted one to check the cap seal. “But it would be a shame not to showcase the color until it’s in the glass.”
Established by Turlay and Dukelow, Ducleaux Cellars has its roots in a chance meeting between two Pacific Northwest residents who first crossed paths on match.com more than a decade ago. Together they have six children and call themselves “the modern-day Brady Bunch.”
Turlay said her husband was the one who started the love of winemaking. Ducleaux Cellars started in a one-bay garage, but now the family has a tasting room and 10 acres of vines planted next to their home in Milton-Freewater. The winery is situated within the Rocks District AVA. Turlay is now the head winemaker, and one of the few female winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley.
Ducleaux Cellars specializes in the cultivation of Rhône grape varieties, including Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne and Mourvèdre. They produce an annual output of 1,500 cases, sourced from the grapes grown on their Belle Roche Vineyard. Turlay said 95% of the grapes used in their winemaking are estate grown.
The couple are in the middle of grape harvest and are working to bottle up their Pét-nat.
Pét-nat, short for Pétillant Naturel, is a sparkling wine made a simpler way than champagne. It almost takes winemaking back to its roots.
Turlay said she loves to make wines that are an ode to the traditional methods of fermentation. In the case of the Pét-nat she has created, the wine is only fermented once, rather than twice.
The sparkling drink is bottled when it is only partially fermented. Carbon dioxide is produced by the natural sugars found in grapes that leads to a light, fizzy and natural wine. Pét-nat is also known as Méthode Ancestrale because it was originally used in Limoux in the south of France in the early 16th century by winemaking monks.
Time to bottle
Dukelow drives a forklift holding a large stainless steel barrel filled with the pink hued liquid. As soon as the forklift is safely placed in park and turned off, he grabs a tube, attaches it to a spout on the metal drum and opens the valve.
From there, the wine travels, using gravity, to a bottling filler.
Turlay carefully supervises as bottling gets underway.
“There is a lot of work that goes into bottling,” Turlay said as she expertly tipped a cardboard box filled with empty glass bottles onto a table.
From there she grabs a bottle and puts it into place in the machine that fills it with wine. It has a sensor to stop the bottle from overfilling.
Dukelow and Turlay take turns filling bottles and then placing the metal caps on them. After they are successfully sealed, the bottles are wiped down and placed back into a cardboard box upside down.
In 15 minutes, the couple filled up eight cases — 96 bottles of wine. Despite how quickly things seemed to be going, the couple still had a mountain of empty bottles to fill.
All of the wine from Ducleaux Cellars is hand harvested, hand bottled and hand labeled by the couple.
Each bottle of wine tells a story.
Call Sign is a Pétillant Naturel and was crafted as a tribute to Turlay’s father, Navy fighter pilot Cmdr. William E. Turlay who performed more than 800 carrier landings in his 22 years of service. The aviator was affectionately known as “Champagne One” for his deep love of champagne.
Ducleaux Cellars won Best in Class and a Double Gold medal for Call Sign at the 2023 Oregon Wine Awards in Portland.
Meanwhile, Anarchy is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. The couple playfully relate this wine to the instance when they realized their Costco bill had reached such staggering heights while feeding a family of eight.
In a more solemn vein, there is a touching narrative. Jordyn is a wine bearing a name that holds deep significance, honoring Dukelow’s daughter, who died of brain cancer.
Dukelow and Turlay were living in the sprawling metropolis of Seattle, commuting to and from work every day. They decided they wanted a change.
Now, the couple live in a farmhouse with an unobstructed view of the Blue Mountains. They even have chickens.
For Dukelow, the picturesque lifestyle of a rural winemaker was very appealing. In essence, winemakers engage with nature, history, art and the celebration of life’s special moments.
Dukelow said, however, that winemaking was not everything he thought it would be.
“There are really long days,” he said. “It looks romantic and relaxing, but it’s not.”
Despite the long hours and the wait to see whether all the challenging work was worth it, Dukelow said he wouldn’t change anything about his career path.
Turlay said the best thing about making wine is sharing it with others.
“People drink wine for special occasions,” she said. “It is amazing to create something with your own hands and then have someone else enjoy it.”