Longtime Yakima Valley winemaker set to retire

Special to The Tri-City HeraldOctober 22, 2013 

Sean Tudor, Tom Tudor and Robert Smasne, from left, will work together to launch Tudor Hills Winery near Grandview.


GRANDVIEW -- For the first time since 1952, Otis Harlan will be out of the wine business.

The owner of Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley north of Grandview has sold his land to another longtime winemaking and grape-growing family that plans to re-launch a family business that started in 1946 in Southern California.

Harlan, who lives in Yakima and is now in his mid-80s, purchased what became Otis Vineyard in 1954. Two years later, he planted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon that is still producing wine grapes today.

"It was a good ride, a fun ride," Harlan said. "I've been very fortunate to work with some very good people."

Those people included William B. Bridgman, who helped launch the Washington wine industry in 1917, and David Lake, the talented winemaker for Associated Vintners/Columbia Winery.

The father-son team of Tom and Sean Tudor and Sean's uncle Mark Tudor purchased the historic vineyard along County Line Road, just up the hill from their family's longtime vineyards. Tom's father, Andy, founded Tudor Hills Vineyard in 1947 in Fontana, Calif., in the Cucamonga Valley east of Los Angeles near San Bernardino.

By the early 1960s, the Tudor family had started a winery with a capacity of 3 million gallons.

Rising land prices forced the family to sell the land in the late 1960s, and the Tudors relocated to the Yakima Valley, where Andy Tudor planted 160 acres of Concord grapes and worked for Seneca Foods. He was the winemaker for Seneca's Boordy Vineyards until his death in 1976.

Tom Tudor began planting wine grapes in the 1980s in the Yakima Valley, and he and Sean added vines to property they owned adjacent to Otis Vineyard. At the beginning of this year, Harlan approached the Tudors about purchasing his vineyard.

The deal was finalized last month, and the Tudors will take over the property in December.

Harlan said he's finally ready to retire completely from the grape business and focus his energy elsewhere.

"Sean Tudor brings lots and lots of enthusiasm to the table," Harlan said, hinting that the younger Tudor reminds him a bit of himself in his youth. "I am delighted to turn this over to Sean."

The younger Tudor is teaming up with Robert Smasne, one of the most prolific winemakers in the Yakima Valley, whose winemaking facility is just a few miles from Otis Vineyard.

Together, they will be producing 200 cases of wine under the Tudor Hills Winery label from the 2013 vintage. A Sangiovese ros and Chardonnay will be released next spring, and a Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon will follow.

The Cabernet Sauvignon will come from the 1956 vines at Otis. Tudor plans to release it in 2016 to mark the 60th anniversary of their plantings.

"It's a unique family story," Tudor said. "I'm anxious to share it."

Smasne is especially excited to work with these old vines. He grew up next door, where his parents grew Concord grapes. As a child, Smasne and his brothers would sneak into Otis Vineyard and taste the grapes. Even as a 10-year-old, Smasne noticed something different about the grapes Harlan grew, and a winemaking spark flickered in his young mind.

Yet even though he grew up in the shadow of Otis Vineyard, and the fruit here inspired his remarkable winemaking career, he's never made wine from Otis Vineyard grapes. Until now.

Before launching Smasne Cellars, Smasne worked at Covey Run, a winery then owned by the same company that controlled Columbia Winery. As a result, Smasne worked with Lake and recalls the Otis Vineyard connection.

"He loved making wines from this vineyard," Smasne said as he stood amid the 57-year-old Cab vines. "I'm really excited."

w Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.

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