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Meadowbrook vintages: Bottling time arrives for Snoqualmie's Sigillo Cellars | Photo Gallery
About a dozen people spent a day in Snoqualmie last month bottling, labeling, packing and stacking roughly half of Sigillo Cellars’ output for the year. They worked steadily in the brilliant sunshine, condensing what used to be the work of days into an early morning and a long afternoon.
It could almost have been a scene from the olden days, or maybe the Old World, where small family-run wineries called in all their friends and relations to help put up the vintage.
Owner Mike Seal was bringing in pallets while his son and co-owner, Ryan, stacked the finished cases of wine on pallets in the warehouse. Friends loaded bottles into divided boxes, and slid them down to Scott Hussey, also a co-owner, for labeling.
OK, they used a forklift, and the cases were coming off a high-tech assembly line from a specialized bottling truck, but most of the jobs to be done still required people to do them. Labor was supplied by the winery’s small staff, family members, visiting friends like Marty Rausch and Kerry Maier, and at least one consumer.
“I just joined the (wine) club, and I wanted to see how it was bottled,” explained Tony Green, lending a hand for the day.
The wine, Sigillo’s annual release of Bordeaux blends, was piped from large tanks into bottles, then corked and labeled in a mobile bottling facility, like most wine in the state.
“It’s very common,” says Sigillo wine maker Steve Bailey. “Probably 80 or 90 percent of the wineries in Washington use them.”
It’s a concession to speed and economy that Bailey is willing to make, something uncommon in his wine-making process.
“We’re very hands-on, old world-style,” he said. “We put our hearts into what we’re doing.”
All their red wines are aged for 18 months in oak barrels, usually French oak. Wood chips or staves, used by some wine makers to “oak,” or develop flavor, in their blends, have no place in Sigillo wines, Bailey said, and not all barrels make the cut.
“The barrel can make all the difference in how the wine tastes,” Bailey said.
White wines also get the oak treatment, but usually for a shorter time. This day’s bottling started with the 2013 Chardonnay, then progressed to the richer and more complex 2012 reds, blends and single varietals of Merlot, Cabernet and Cabernet Franc, plus a “Barrel Select” Cabernet.
“We source strictly from Washington,” says Bailey, who decides which grapes—all from the Columbia Valley—to buy, and when, each year. It’s largely, but not entirely based on his own preferences, and the owners’. “We don’t like overblown… wines, we like wines that are good with food,” he said.
Bailey has full discretion as the Sigillo Cellars wine-maker, but he feels that it’s a group effort, begun two years ago when his friends, Mike Seal and wife Cande Collins, asked him to help launch their winery. He and his wife, Michele, and the Seals have travelled to Europe together at least seven times, he says, for tasting and research, and, of course, for pleasure.
It’s a long way to go for good wine, but not as far as Bailey had already travelled to get to this point. His journey started as a young adult, drinking something that, he says, was called wine, but wasn’t, by definition. That was in this country, the new world. His introduction to the old world, and his appreciation of wine, came through his half-French wife, Michele, who brought him with her to visit her family in France in 1979. There, he began his education in both wine-drinking and wine-making. His father-in-law was invaluable help, he said, and in tribute, Bailey created a rosé wine.
Back in this world, he dabbled in wine making, enough that by 2005, when he was thinking about retirement, he decided to enroll in the wine-making course at South Seattle Community College. He retired in 2007, received his certificate in 2010 and by the time Sigillo Cellars was ready to go in 2012, he was ready for his retirement job.
While a lot of the wine-making process is simply waiting, the winery’s growth has also kept Bailey, owners and staff busy. The popularity of their wines, available at the North Bend Bar & Grill, and in Snoqualmie’s Bindlestick, Ray’s Dining Car, and in their new tasting room on Railroad Avenue, has created challenges that they’ve had to overcome, for instance, by opening a new and larger tasting room— “We’ve always wanted to be on Railroad Avenue,” says Hussey —and by producing more wine to meet the demand.
In its first year, Sigillo Cellars produced—and sold out of— about 450 cases of wine, and last year did the same with about 1,800 cases. This year, tasting room manager Vicky Curnutt, says, the winery is buying 20 more tons of grapes than last year, 46 tons total, and should produce more than 3,000 cases.
“We’re to a point right now that we’re running out of wine,” Bailey said. “And when you do red wines, you have to forecast two years out.”
In his forecast, Sigillo will continue to grow, probably to an output of about 4,000 cases. The winery will maintain its two releases, of Rhone-style wines in the early spring, and the Bordeaux-styles in the fall, and, will become more self-sufficient, eventually able to press the juice for its own white wines, he hoped.
However, he adds, “We will always have a bottling truck come in.” Bottling equipment is too big and too expensive for them to consider.
Besides, bottling wine via the truck makes the day a real event. During the bottling, people were joking and teasing each other, and building a connection to the winery that had nothing to do with drinking wine.
Or, almost nothing. As Kerry Maier closed up a full box of wine and slid it down a ramp, she said she was pressed into service although she was just visiting from Montana. “So I’m going to make up a little shirt that says ‘will work for wine.’”
• The Sigillo Cellars Tasting Room, 8086 Railroad Ave S.E., is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. Learn more at www.sigillocellars.com.
Empty barrels are stacked in the Sigillo warehouse, awaiting the 2014 vintage.
Tony Green, left, carefully sticks a Sigillo label onto a wine case as co-owner Scott Hussey prepares a label for the next case on the assembly line.
Kerry Maier, left, and Marty Rausch joke as they help with the bottling of the Sigillo Cellars 2012 reds last month.
Family friend Joey Cirhan picks up a case of wine to be stored in the Sigillo Cellars warehouse.
Inside the mobile wine bottling facility, machines fill, cork and then apply a foil seal to empty glass bottles on an assembly line.