Lou Facelli (right), owner and winemaker of Facelli Winery in Woodinville, is proud of the success and quality of their wines. Lisa Lucarelli (left), Lou's daughter, is learning all of the ins and outs of the family business.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.
by Jeff Switzer
Lou Facelli says he has focused on staying strictly family-owned, worked hard and saved for new equipment, and now life has never been better.
The Facelli Winery is housed in a business park on Woodinville-Redmond Road and has been there for six years. With a purchase of five pieces of state-of-the-art equipment, they were able to double in size last year, expanding production of their seven wines from 2,500 cases to 4,500 cases each year.
With more wine to work with, faster equipment replacing what was done by hand, a new label, and distribution on both coasts, Facelli is excited about the future for the winery.
"We were stubborn and hung on," he said. "We knew what equipment we needed, kept small on purpose, and now we're pretty slick. What used to take days now takes hours."
Previously, wine production matched sales, "the perfect combination," Facelli said. But now with expanded production, the winery is expanding its markets to meet its new capabilities.
"We have the capability to do 20,000 cases, but our magic number is somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000," he said.
Facelli Winery buys their grapes from five growers in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys, with their Pinot Noir grapes from "an Oregon climate," in Vancouver, Washington. All of the fruit is hand-harvested, and every cluster is looked at and sorted by hand.
Facelli says that "no wine is better than its fruit," and uses gravity as much as possible, to be gentler on the fruit, including their "very, very low-pressure" membrane press.
Half-Italian and half-Portuguese, Facelli learned winemaking from his Portuguese grandfather.
"He taught me to respect nature. He taught me what clean is and what fresh is. Even back then, we measured sugar and acidity, but what the wine tasted like was the most important thing."
Facelli began in the wine business in Idaho in 1981 using two planks tied together as a press, and says he was fortunate enough to have a U.C. Davis graduate as an assistant, who tutored him in some aspects of the craft.
"But when I relied less on the books and more on my own intuition, the wines got better immediately," he said. Their 1983 Chardonnay won second national grand champion in 1985 from Wine and Spirits magazine; their 1983 Johannisberg Riesling won a platinum medal in 1985 from the Beverage Tasting Institute in Hyde Park, New York.
Facelli says he's made every business mistake, but learned from each of them and studies continuously.
The Facellis moved to Woodinville in 1986, and Lou worked for the Salmon Bay Winery. He then worked for less than a year for Haviland Winery, housed where Columbia is now. Family and friends pitched in and helped when the family started their winery here, and very, very methodically started growing.
"The winery belongs to a lot of very nice people who generously donated their time. The first five years were very tough; almost the antithesis of where we are now. We had no investors. We wanted to get to a certain level on our own. We can proudly say we've earned it," he said. "I'm very proud of my family, they're very patient. We're doing what we love to do and doing it in an area we love to live in."
Facelli says making wine is a blend of art and science, and running a winery is a blend of art and business.
"There are people who are creative and there are people who are good at business. My goal is to be one of those people who can do both. When an individual can do both, great things can happen."
The winery is frugal and does little advertising, relying mainly on word of mouth.
"The ideal situation in the winemaking business is to have one family in control of the wine," Facelli said. "A winery where the winemaker is the owner and his name is on the label is generally regarded as the perfect scenario. People really appreciate that, especially out of state, and people enjoy meeting the winemaker. If the vine has to struggle a bit to survive and ripen its fruit, the flavor of the fruit is more intense. Winemakers and wineries are better if they have to struggle a little. Every bottle you sell means something."
Facelli Winery offers seven wines: four reds and three whites. Currently, they sell a '93 Chardonnay, a '94 Fume Blanc, a '94 Semillon, their award-winning '93 Merlot, a '92 Cabernet Sauvignon, a '92 Pinot Noir, and a '93 Lemberger.
Most recently, their 1993 Washington Merlot won a silver medal, competing against half of the world at the Los Angeles County Fair in June. Their 1995 Fume Blanc won a bronze (no golds were awarded) from the Seattle Enological Society, and the Sept. 15, 1996 issue of Wine Spectator rates several Facelli wines in the high 80s, awarding very few scores above 90.
"Woodinville is a fantastic location because of the other wineries and its proximity to Seattle. We gain a lot from the tourism and other wine tastings. There's an atmosphere of friendliness that pervades the valley," Facelli said, adding that the wineries send each other support and wine tasters.
Facelli wines are available in restaurants, wine shops, and grocery stores, and as of spring, will have expanded to the East Coast, Canada, and Hawaii.
Lou Facelli's 23-year-old daughter, Lisa Lucarelli, has been involved with her father's winemaking since she was 4 years old when she was able to stand inside the small grape press in their tasting room.
A graduate from Woodinville High in 1991, she began at the University of Washington with plans for a business degree to incorporate into the winery.
"But I was more interested in the chemistry of winemaking," she said, choosing instead to work full-time at the family business. Now she works side by side with Lou, who calls her his shadow, and attends winemaking seminars.
"I couldn't have had a better teacher, if you ask me!" she said. "I'm very grateful for what I've learned and I benefit from the mistakes and the discoveries my dad has made."
"What I've handed down is the passion and desire to please people," Lou Facelli added. Lori Facelli, 20, and Kristi Facelli, 17, also help out, with the rest of the family and Lou's wife, Sandy, crushing, bottling, and labeling. Lori graduated from Woodinville in 1994 and works in the winery's front office; Kristi will be a senior this year.
The Facelli Winery is open for tastings and sales on weekends from noon to 5 p.m. at 16120 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE.
Fourth 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 their 20th anniversary this year.