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Business

SilverLake Winery expanding into valley

Company wants to be a 'player' in the industry

Sal Leone

Founder and president Sal Leone sees a bright future for SilverLake Winery with the purchase of three acres near Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Wineries.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

SilverLake Winery by Jeff Switzer
SilverLake Winery is about to hit the big time, and with an historic piece of land and plans for a tasting room a short walk from the other wineries in the valley, they're working to mold an image that will endure for years to come.
   The company has its roots in Bothell, where in 1983, three periodontist college professors--William Ammons, Herbert Selipsky, and Sal Leone--along with real estate developer Ragnor Pettersson, began their hobby of wine-making. In 1987, they changed that hobby into a business.
   "We thought there were too many wineries, so we went with ciders, cashing in on the wine cooler popularity," said Leone, president of the company. While ciders replaced wine coolers in popularity, and the company's line of Spire Mountain Ciders took off like a shot, the company discovered in 1989 the economies of producing wines alongside their ciders, launching the SilverLake labels.
   The company is also associated with Puget Sound Bottlers via parent company Washington Wine and Beverage Company: a 13-employee organization which produce SilverLake's wines and Spire Mountain Ciders. Puget Sound Bottlers is also responsible for bottling Thomas Kemper Root Beer.
   In 1994, SilverLake went public with a $1.7 million stock offering and also launched its Sentinel Peak label. The company now has 1,300 shareholders and, with those funds, acquired the old French Creek facility in March 1995 and expanded their production capabilities. They're also planning for another expansion stock offering this fall.

Their product line
   SilverLake crushed its first batch of grapes in 1989. They produce a variety of beverages, including Spire Mountain Ciders, premium, super premium, and ultra premium wines, including the classic varieties such as chardonnays, merlots, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and rieslings.
   They also produce two sparkling wines in the traditional champagne method. Their SilverLake Brut is a 65 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay finished mix with additional yeast which it sits in "tierage" for three to four years.
   In all, there are about 17 different SilverLake wines, four Sentinel Peak wines, and two sparkling wines (brut and blanc de blanc), producing 20,000 cases of wine in 1995.
   Because of freezes in the Yakima Valley reducing the grape harvest this year, SilverLake has scaled back its wines and focused on producing 30,000 cases of pear and apple cider.
   This past year, SilverLake has won awards for the quality of their wines, including a double-gold in March for their 1992 Merlot Reserve from the Tasters Guild International. Similarly, their 1993 Chardonnay Reserve won a gold in France's Challenge International du Vin, where the 1992 Merlot Reserve also took a silver.
   SilverLake wines are distributed primarily in the Northwest, though they have markets in New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona.

A new facility within the next two years
   Two weeks ago, the company announced they will be buying three acres of land just north of Columbia and Chateau Ste. Michelle Wineries and building a new wine-making and tasting facility on what use to be Elmer Carlberg's homestead.
   Last week, Leone approached the Chamber of Commerce and began the process for including the future site and three other parcels along the west side of Woodinville-Redmond Road within the City of Woodinville's Tourist District Overlay.
   "We think the current Tourist District Overlay is too small," Leone said, who is excited about the prospect of sidewalks and bike lanes connecting the tourist sites in the city.
   "It's a very important move on our part to be where the wine tourists are," Leone said. "Our company goal is to become a player, not an also-ran. We've failed in the past to have an icon the public can recognize. This property is a priority so people can say 'Boy, they've arrived!"
   Leone says the company plans to preserve the historical significance of the property, which was settled in the 1800s and was King County's second historic landmark. The land had been owned by Barbara Donnelly since 1984, but the main building was torn down two years ago because of irretrievable decay. Donnelly still owns many old artifacts reminiscent of the valley's bygone days.
   "We're hoping to have a room in the tasting facility to display the artifacts and preserve some of that heritage," Leone said.
   Brad Hoffman, vice-president of sales and marketing for the company, says they plan on building a facility with an atmosphere that both the shareholders and the public will appreciate.
   "When we finish the building and get the facility open, it won't be the size of Chateau Ste. Michelle or Columbia, but we'll be of that caliber. I think people will be impressed."

This article is the first in a series of features on the wineries and breweries which attract so many to the Woodinville area, ending with a grand finale look at Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.