Fortuity Cellars: The New Boutique Wines out of Yakima You Need To Try!
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing the owners of a new boutique winery called Fortuity Cellars in their home in Seattle, Washington. There is SO much that goes in to making wine from the label design, to picking a name, to how they decided to pick up and start their passion.
So please meet Lee and Emily Fergestrom, hear and read about their fantastic wine, and then head over to Fortuity Cellars and join their wine club ASAP (I already plan on it!).
So tell me about Fortuity? How did you get started?
Emily: We’re the owners of Fortuity Cellars, a new boutique winery in Washington. We bottled our first wine in March of last year!
Lee: Yeah, we did that! My background is in tech and at one point in time Emily and I decided to figure out what the next 20 years were going to look like and we had a bunch of ideas but we decided to start a winery.
What about the name? Fortuity?
Emily: So we had a lot of different ideas and we tested them on our friends and there were ones that we loved like ‘this is the best name!’ and it ended up just falling flat. People were like “I don’t get it, I don’t understand it.” But we wanted something that would be relatable, something that would give people some pause and for celebration and Fortuity really basically means chance moments and taking advantage of chance moments. So for us, we look back on our life, we have a very fortuitous or serendipitous story of how we met. Our wine maker Johnny Brose, our families go back 30 years, and it was a chance moment when our moms met. So we kept going back to this serendipity, and came across fortuity and it felt good, sounded right to us, and it captured that ‘taking advantage of life’s chance moments’.
Me: I love that! Serendipity is my favorite movie, so I’m a big fan of that feeling and emotion in general.
I know you said you have a wine maker, but do either of you have degrees in wine? Or studied wine at all or it is a passion thing for you?
Lee: No. I mean I studied a lot.
Emily: As in you drank a lot if wine.
Lee: I drank a lot of wine. Emily is a super consumer herself, we’ve been a member of many wine clubs, but no consumers first for sure. And then just getting more and more interested, and then of course Johnny’s got the background to make the wine. We’re in the cellar too of course now, and helping make the wine.
Emily: We’re definitely cellar rats when it comes to bottling, when it comes to harvest, but we really wanted to build something. Lee’s background is in product management at multiple startup companies, I worked for multiple companies, corporations, members of congress, cities in doing branding and strategic communications. So for us we really just wanted to build a brand, and a legacy brand, something that we were passionate about. We could’ve done the tech stuff—Not passionate about it.
What has surprised you about either the wine making process or just being in the cellar? Is there anything that really stuck out as “Wow! This is not something I expected to be part of wine making”?
Lee: Yeah, I’ll go first. So first of all, the romance of making wine, it’s all true. I mean it’s a lot of hard work too but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to do that so, super happy about that. The other thing for me is walking the vineyards and being able to walk the vineyards and point at the vines and be like yeah, those are mine. When you get to taste the grapes right off the vine, it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. And I love it more than I could ever imagine. The other thing is that there is a lot of business to it and we knew it.
Emily: Everyone warned us. Everyone warned us…
Lee: And there is a ton of regulation and there’s a lot of hard work involved with that so the business side. A lot of folks ask us what our backgrounds are when we talk with folks that have been in the wine industry for decades and every time they’re like “Well that’s really good you guys have a business background” because that’s super important.
Do you have any big goals for wine making in the next 2, 3, 4 years, other than just staying in that boutique realm?
Lee: Yeah! The biggest goal that I have is that I just want to be the best boutique winery in the state of Washington and represent Washington wines. That’s really what it’s all about.
Emily: Yeah I mean we have, coming from the corporate and business background, we have of course gone through goal setting and strategic planning, probably much to Johnny our winemakers dismay, but a lot of what we need to do, we have to set goals, we need to have business projections, they need to go out five years. Like Lee said, a lot of it is around the quality side of things. The being the best that we can be. We work with some really fantastic growers. And so we want to make sure that we…because they are entrusting their brand with us, when we buy the grapes and we can put their name on the label or we can tell people about it so we want to make sure we do them proud. We have goals around wine club members, we have goals around sales, we have goals to have our own winery opened which we’re getting ready to build in the Yakima Valley, so LOTS of goals.
So tell me about the wine club!
Lee: This is Em’s world but we wanted to keep it simple and approachable for folks so we named it Chance Moments and we have two levels.
Emily: We have two levels that are right now, kind of the basic the 3 bottles twice a year, 6 bottles twice a year. We did have a Founders Club which was kind of the early adopters, friends and family, and other people we met along the way that wanted to support us in our first year so that one we closed at the end of last year. But it kind of builds on that subscription model that so many businesses have found to be successful and part of why we’re doing the winery is about building a community and having an experience piece of it and we feel like a club is the way to do that. It’s kind of that agreement we have. We want them to be a part of what we’re doing and our growth and our story and by them agreeing to be part of this club, we give discounts on the wine, we give discounts on the shipping, we do fun events. We’ve done some fun events at Franz Chocolates in Georgetown or Glassybaby. One of the things that we—kind of at the heart of Fortuity, because I grew up in the Yakima Valley—is we wanted to connect people back to the Yakima Valley so we’ve had the opportunity to bring up the Los Hernandes tamales which won the James Beard Americana award last year, brought that up to our wine club party up here in Seattle so people could get a taste of Yakima.
Lee: We’ve had wine club dinners and brought people from Seattle to Yakima to experience Yakima.
Emily: Some of the Farm to Table restaurants there, a beautiful restaurant named Crafted. That’s part of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and we feel good about the club that we’ve built in the first nine months.
Lee: It’s a fun group, and they say things like “we’re glad to be able to participate, we’re glad to be part of this. And so it’s a lot of support and a lot of fun.”
What’s your favorite wine region outside of Washington?
Lee: We primarily focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals and so that’s strongly represented in our portfolio. We have some stuff from the Burgundy region as well.
Emily: But what is your favorite?? Not necessarily Fortuity.
Lee: Well I love some big angry reds, some Malbec so Bordeaux would be mine.
Emily: I had the opportunity to live in the central coast of California for a little bit and so there was the Santa Ynez Valley, there was San Louis Obispo, but I kind of fell in love with Zinfandel being close to Paso Robles. We actually don’t get a lot of it up here, we don’t get exposure to it, but I LOVE zinfandel. I love the fruit on the zinfandel… one day I’ll have to take Lee down there.
So direct to consumer, but if people were to buy this, is there anywhere they could go buy it now?
Lee: Yes! Go to our website and you’ll see a big list of all the places we’ll be. We hang out a lot at farmers markets.
Emily: So this summer we’ll be at Queen Anne, Bellevue, and Kirkland.
Lee: We also tend to hang out at Uncorked events. So you can find us there.
Emily: And we’re only in a few shops in Seattle. We’re hoping to kind of grow that a little bit more but we’re at Ken’s Market in Queen Anne. We’ve got our Viognier and our Red Blend there and McCarthy and Sheering up here on Queen Anne as well. I believe they have the Chardonnay.
Now on to the wine tasting portion of the evening!
Lee: First up is our Viognier, and it’s it from a vineyard called Marcella. And it’s Yakima Valley of course, all of our wines are sourced from Yakima Valley, bunch of vineyards there right around us in the area. This is from our good friends at Two Mountain. The way that we produced this wine is we do it in stainless steal to keep it very crisp and clean.
Me: It smells really good!
Emily: The tropical notes on the Viognier, it’s been really fun. That’s one of the things we noticed from the very beginning. In fact when it was literally first in tank such a strong pineapple, like literally pineapple juice, and I kind of hope that it holds a little bit. It softened a brought up things like pear, sometimes you get a little guava.
Me: I love when you take a sip of your wine, especially white wine, chilled in summer, and you just want to feel a little bit tropical like you’re on a beach somewhere.
Emily: This wine’s been really great, it’s a good year round wine because it goes well with like spicy foods, it goes well with taco Tuesday. I call this my taco Tuesday wine. But then it’s awesome with a nice cheese platter out on the patio in the summertime. Or it’s beautiful with raw oysters, so if it’s alternative that you’re looking to like sparkling wine, this Viognier is awesome.
Me: Well now you’ve got me wanting oysters.
Emily: We do the Viognier, the Rosé, and then we go back to the Chardonnay because the Viognier and the Rosé are both aged in stainless steel so we do these first before we get to the oak.
Lee: So what’s fun about this one, this is also from Marcella, same vineyard, same wine making style, also done in stainless steel very crisp and clean, so what you’re going to taste is just a difference in the varietal. So this is a rosé of Cinsault.
Emily: And this has more of the strawberry, cherry notes on it verses the tropical that you had in the Viognier.
Me: It still smells really good.
Emily: And this is also another really good spicy food wine so it’s really great, there’s this restaurant down in Yakima, farm to table, called Crafted and they make this awesome crispy rice with spicy pork, it’s a Laotian dish maybe Thai? So it’s just a little bit of chili oil spice to it and they’ve done some wine pairings with our wines and this rose is just amazing with that. We’ve had it with Tuna Crudo so I’d say it’s our unofficial sushi wine maybe.
Me: I do live right about a sushi shop. Always trying to find a good wine to pair with sushi.
Emily: This is our 2017, our 2018 is going to be released later this year. It’s also Cinsault, it’s from the same vineyard, but it’s going to be really fun to show the two next to each other because they definitely reflect the vintage.
Me: I actually find that I like steel on my whites and rosés better. I don’t know if I like to save the oak and richness for my reds but I lean more towards the stainless steel barrels for any white that I find that I like I’m like oh!
Emily: There’s definitely a preference I think people have for that. A lot of times I think it’s because you’re looking for the crisp, clean, essence of summer wine, and the stainless steel provides it. In both our Viognier and the Rosé we do what’s called a cold extend fermentation. So that really helps to bring that crispness out and really accentuate the bouquet too.
Emily: So but talking about oak, you want to talk about the Chardonnay?
Lee: So now we’re transitioning to our Chardonnay, is from a vineyard called Copeland and the way,
Emily: That’s in the Rattlesnake Hills area of the Yakima Valley.
Lee: This one’s hung out in some oak, and it went through the fermentation process in oak barrels, and then it aged and we stirred the lees once a week, and mixed it all up and we used a lot of neutral oak and 30% new and so we did a traditional Burgundian style to keep it very light so you get lightly toasted hazelnut.
Emily: You definitely get the toasted notes on it, and you know it’s Chardonnay on the nose.
Lee: But there’s been this transition throughout the years of Chardonnay’s going to the extreme, all super brand new oak and really buttery,
Emily: And American oak…
Lee: So this is more traditional style, it’s lightly toasted.
Emily: Johnny, he really loves to make what he calls elegant wine, and particularly elegant white wine. He’s told us that is he could just make white wine he’d be a happy man. We’re like you’re in Washington you got to make some reds. But he some really great experience and mentorship when he was at King Estate he ran their Pinot Gris program, Le’Mullson, he worked at some wineries down in Australia, and so he does take a little more of a traditional approach to it. 100% French Oak but only about 1/3 in new, the rest in neutral. That kind of helps to keep those toasted notes to it without being overly buttery.
Me: I would say that’s one thing I usually don’t like about Chardonnay’s is when they are overly buttery, I feel like a mouthful is too much and I get over powered and I don’t actually enjoy a glass or more of the same wine. This is very light while still… I do taste that toasted! I don’t know if it’s you guys just saying that but I do.
Lee: What’s also funny is whenever we’re out pouring some place, someone will come up and there’s a couple of different types of Chardonnay people. There is the “I don’t like Chardonnay people” we try to convince them to try it because it’s a little different.
Emily: We always tell them “you can dump it we won’t be offended we just want you to try it” cause it is different.
Lee: We’ve had people walk away with a few bottles because they love it, but it’s interesting because some people love it and some people don’t so when someone walks up and says “Is it a super buttery chardonnay, I never know to say yes or no because you’re not sure if they love buttery or if they don’t, so we just explain how it’s down verses saying buttery or no.
Emily: Distract them!
Me: Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you if you’ll like it. Honestly I’m probably one of those people. If I’m like is this super buttery and someone says yes, I’m like “I don’t really want to try it” no offense to the wine makers.
Emily: This is the wine that surprised us the most. We were not planning on doing a Chardonnay. It was not on the radar and Patrick Rohn of Two Mountain who manages Copeland Vineyard, said hey I’ve got chardonnay and Johnny was like give me a chance, just let me make this, I promise I’ll make you a Chardonnay you’ll enjoy. Too be quite honest it’s the one that I enjoy drinking the most, and partly because it’s my favorite wine to pair with food. I love to make crab cakes and risotto is my ultimate favorite thing to make, probably because I get to cook and drink the whole time. Stir and take a sip.
Me: There’s a bottle for cooking and bottle for dinner!
Emily: So there’s probably some of that though that plays to that, but the chardonnay is just an amazing food wine. It’s really really phenomenal.
Me: I’m going on record. This is one of my favorite Chardonnay’s I’ve ever had!
Emily: See Johnny would be happy.
Lee: Just a side note of this one, if anyone wants to watch a really cheesy Youtube video, a Day in the Life shows us actually making the Chardonnay.
Emily: That’s why this one’s special too is actually this is the one we made as a team. From start to finish by ourselves. Obviously to get up and running we needed to work on custom crush stuff, we worked with and our winemaker oversaw.
Lee: Harvest the first day we brought it in—14 hours. So a lot of fun. The other fun thing about this one is that we did this on Johnny’s birthday.
Emily: On his 30th birthday. This might be why Johnny likes this one so much.
Me: It’s like his birthday present! That’s adorable.
Emily: So this is a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain from a vineyard called Heart of the Hill vineyard it’s literally in the heart of red mountain. It’s managed and owned by Kiona, and Heart of the Hill is just a really special vineyard, we went and met with the Williams family and they were the first to plant on Red Mountain back in the 70s and definitely the pioneers of the Washington wine really. So when Lee and I started this winery, I said I just want to make sure we get some Red Mountain cabernet.
Lee: Uhhh she said we MUST have. We must have Red Mountain Cab.
Emily: We went and met with the Williams family and they tasted us through some barrels and we fell in love with Heart of the Hill. So 2016 is in bottle, 2017 will be bottled later this year, and 2018 is in barrel to age a little bit.
Lee: Our Cab is, sometimes you can get really big cabs, ours is a little more balanced, a little bit more approachable. Some raspberry, a little bit of blueberry notes to it. Just a really approachable kind of elegant cab.
Me: It’s got the dustiness to it.
Lee: Yeah, definitely has. Red Mountain to me has some really signature dusty notes on it and it shows.
Emily: Yeah it’s got about 50% new French oak, the rest neutral. They also do a whole berry fermentation, so they take it through this optical sorter, shoot out the bad grapes and then you actually ferment the whole berries instead of taking it through the crusher and destemmer.
Lee: Yeah, that helps calm it down, make it a little more docile, doesn’t get to tannic.
MOMENTARY BREAK—WHAT ARE THE FUNNIEST QUESTIONS YOU’VE EVER BEEN ASKED AT A TASTING?
Lee: I think that’s up there for me, sometimes I get a little crazy with the rose. It’s like a bowl of strawberries, and they think we actually put strawberries in it. There are no strawberries in it.
Emily: We’ve got our Red Blend and this is Lee’s favorite so I’m going .
ANY FINAL REMARKS?
Emily: Well thank you for taking time to learn a little bit about Fortuity Cellars. It’s been a dream of ours to have our own business and we’re just happy to be able to bring something to you that’s full of passion and something you can enjoy, something like wine.
Lee: Yeah, wines good. You should try wine. And Washington wines.
Emily: Washington wines are amazing and check us out at fortuitycellars.com we also have a social media site that us and our wine maker post regularly so you can see a little bit about what’s going on. Join our newsletter, we do pop-ups up in Seattle where you can taste our wine. Come to Farmers Markets so you can support farmers.
Lee: Sign up for our newsletter so you find out where we’re going to be.
Emily: So that’s it, thank you for watching tonight!