Kim Roberts is one of those driven, confident — perhaps crazed — types who says, “I can do this.”
A visit to Westport Winery is proof she and her family do this and this and that. Judging from the medals earned by their 6,000 cases of wine, and the sales and support for their solar-powered lighthouse-themed restaurant, they are doing it all rather well.
And the Grays Harbor community didn’t just welcome them, they’ve embraced them.
“Our thought was for it to be just the four of us in this, and it would be a great opportunity for us to teach our kids the love of the land, the love of community and the love of enterprise,” Kim said. “Much to our surprise, we immediately needed to start hiring employees.”
Officially, the name of their business is Westport Winery & Vineyards By-the-Sea, but the subtitle reads Farm to Fork Restaurant & Bakery, Gifts - Produce - Nursery - Sculptures - Golf - Dog Park - Cider - Tour.
“We don’t leave the property much,” she said with a smile. “We want to be here for the people who come to meet us.”
Their son, Dana, makes the wine. Their daughter, Carrie, serves as general manager and now cider maker. Blain, the patriarch, keeps everything together while Kim develops the next phase of their business as she digs her hands into the gardens and nursery.
No wonder all four family members live on the estate, even though they are spread out among three homes. And in a couple of years, their goal is to have established a destination garden.
“If not the Butchart Gardens of Washington state, then the coastal Ohme Gardens,” Kim said. “We want a place where families of all ages — people who like wine or don’t like wine, people with dogs — can come here and just experience the beauty of our region.”
Technically, it all began with the vineyard, then the winery, but one thing led to another in the family’s never-ending bid to address the desires of the legion of fans and wine club members. A recent example is their non-alcoholic Riesling grape juice, called Sunflower.
“At this point, I believe we have 38 different labels available,” Dana, the winemaker, said. “They are not all individual varieties, but different blends, different fruit combinations. And then we added three (hard) ciders this year that I’m working with my sister on.”
But the buck stops with Mom.
“With 38 wines, we think that we’ve got something for most palates,” she said. “There are a few things we won’t make because I don’t make stuff I don’t like.”
And while she grew up in Marysville, Wash., this all goes back to Westport.
“I was raised on a chicken farm, so farming is kind of what I know,” Kim said. “When I was a kid, Dad brought me to Westport to go salmon fishing, and I just loved it. I wanted to be a fisherman, so I moved out here when I was 17 to work on the fishing boats. At that time, girls didn’t do that much.”
She ran a boat in the summers until August, when she’d return to Washington State University. The charterboat chick graduated in 1982 with two degrees.
“I put myself through architecture school working on the boats,” she said.
Rather than launch her career in Seattle, the siren of the sea overwhelmed her. She opened an art gallery and design business in Westport. There she met Blain, who was having a boat built in Grays Harbor.
“At the time, he owned the largest scuba diving business in Hawaii,” Kim said. “I moved with him to Hawaii, and we raised our kids there.”
They did well with Lahaina Divers Inc., which Blain founded in 1978, but Kim sought to trade paradise for a return to farm life. They moved to eastern Washington and did well turning around rundown farms, starting with 34 acres in Leavenworth. Five years later, the Roberts family found a 240-acre farm west of Spokane so they moved again.
“All along, my husband promised me that he’ll bring me back to ‘The Harbor’ because this is where my heart was,” Kim said.
By this point, they were empty-nesters, so they bought a showpiece home on the water that needed no work. Almost immediately, Blain and Kim realized that wouldn’t work for them, but in 2007, they found a 20-acre parcel along Highway 105, halfway between Aberdeen and the ocean. They debated what to farm until meeting Don Tapio, a local agricultural extension agent for WSU who talked them into planting a vineyard and starting a winery.
“We actively disliked wine,” Kim admits. “Our experience had been buying the cheapest bottle on the bottom shelf with the prettiest label and taking it to whomever invited us over for dinner.”
Fortunately, friends in Leavenworth introduced them to Icicle Ridge Winery. The Wagoners agreed to share some of their business acumen and help train Dana and Carrie. Their winemaker, Don Wood, hired Dana to help in the cellar, while Carrie learned how to develop a wine club.
“Our daughter wanted to count the money, and our son wanted to be ‘the man,’” Kim said.
In 2008, they opened the winery and Dana continued his wine education through WSU. Two years later, they opened the restaurant at the request of customers who wanted more of Kim’s culinary class creations and desserts.
While the vineyard has been a struggle, Tapio’s more important prediction came true. Their unique business model works. An astounding 98 percent of their wine is sold out of their tasting room or their adjacent Farm to Fork Restaurant.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of every bottle goes to the nonprofit designated on the back label of each wine. That’s 33 local charities for the wine. Carrie’s three new ciders benefit Mercy Ships as does their non-sparkling cranberry wine.
“We’ve contributed more than $250,000, which is a lot for a little family in a rural community, but we’re really proud of the opportunity,” Kim said.
There’s a fair bit of whimsy behind many of the labels, yet the Westport wines do well in blind competitions. In 2011, Wine Press Northwest named Westport as the Washington Winery to Watch.
“Customers get validation from hearing about us getting awards and they go ‘Yeah that’s my favorite wine that just got a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle or whatever the competition was,” Dana said. “They know that the wines they love are acclaimed from international competitions and that they’re serious.”
The early success of the wines — combined with relationships Kim developed during her three-year appointment to the Washington State Wine Commission — helped the family to begin reaching into some of Washington’s top vineyards.
“Starting out as a small family winery with no credentials, you can’t simply walk into the best vineyards and say, ‘I would love to buy some of your fruit,’ ” Dana said. “It’s really quite a testament to the sheer quality of grapes grown in Washington state that we were able to come out with nice wines early in our learning curve.”
Making wine at Grays Harbor was a handicap, but a number of vineyard owners came to learn of Westport Winery while on vacation or through family living in the region. Among the first were Mike and Karen Sauer of famed Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.
“Their trips to ‘The Harbor’ were probably the only reason we ever were able to meet them,” Dana said.
Discovery Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and Songbird Vineyard on Red Mountain also have ties to Grays Harbor, and they now also sell fruit to Westport. Other vineyards include Conner Lee, Lamonti, Olsen, Two Blondes and Upland.
Most certainly, Westport’s vineyard choices have improved with the Roberts family’s association with John Bookwalter, owner of J. Bookwalter in Richland and Woodinville, who has served as a consultant. In their two-year-old relationship, he has helped guide them to better viticulture and winemaking practices, as well as occasional marketing advice.
One of Blain’s responsibilities is to make the nearly 20 trips across the Cascades each year to haul grapes to Westport. Somehow, Kim — a former newspaper reporter — carves out time to write novels. There will be five in the series. Two have been published, and she’s working on the third.
“They are set on Maui, and the protagonist is Aloha Jones, who works in the harbor at Lahaina,” Kim said.How does she find the time? Carrie jokes that her mother hangs upside down to sleep as she takes off at a moment’s notice.
“Now we have 2,000 raspberries plants, 2,000 Marionberries, 100 apple trees, 100 pear trees, 4,000 blueberries, 250 huckleberries, a display garden and culinary herb garden,” Kim points out. “We’re back farming.”
And people love to see it all as Westport Winery has been chosen as King 5 Evening Magazine’s Best Northwest Winery Tour/Destination four of the past five years.
When it came to the Match Maker assignment, that boiled down to Kim. Every recipe at Farm to Fork has her fingerprint, a skill she developed later in life.
“I never took home ec in school,” she said. “I took drafting. I did sports, I fished and skied, so I never learned to cook, and when we got married, Blain was a great and self-sufficient cook.”
That all changed one day at the Spokane farm when one of the kids lodged a complaint about the predictable school lunch Blain packed for them.
“The next day, I was in charge of the cooking and they got fruit roll-ups and Cheetos,” Kim said. “I had to take cooking classes, and I learned my baking from Eva Roberts at Just American Desserts in Spokane. I’ve had a lot of amazing teachers, and I just gather recipes, which I re-engineer.”
Being so close to the Pacific Ocean, one of her top items at Farm to Fork are crab cakes, which she paired with Dana’s Fleur de Lis Pinot Gris.
“Twice a week, my friend who owns a crab cannery drives fresh crab — 15 minutes away — up to us,” Kim said. “We get this beautiful, fresh-caught Dungeness crab, and our crab cakes probably aren’t like most others because they are mostly crab and very little cake.”
The Pinot Gris aromatics are floral with alyssum and apple blossom, joined by starfruit and lemon. Dana takes it dry with flavors of melon, lemon, gooseberry and Gala apple. Its bright and mouthwatering structure highlights the sweet crab.
As one might expect, there’s no pretense in Kim’s restaurant, and many of her guests love to get their hands around the hamburger. It’s called The Bubba and is made with certified Angus beef. The special ingredient is her remarkable Bacon Jam, and she paired the burger with the Westport 2012 Swimmer Petite Sirah from Jones Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.
Dana shows a deft touch with this burly variety. It’s nose-filling and dense with black fruit notes of plum, blackberry, black cherry, joined by Aussie-style black licorice, blueberry taffy, black pepper and graphite. Inside, there’s a staunch but not aggressive approach of tannin with that core of dark fruit, making for a rich Petite Sirah that’s finished with chocolate-covered pomegranate.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting wines we make, and it’s received the most acclaim,” Kim said. “It’s just a big, delicious, fruity wine. And it really needed to be paired with our Bubba Burger.”
She described Bacon Jam, made using Dana’s Sangiovese, as “one of life’s best creations.” The key component is coffee.
“If you are a Northwesterner, that’s a good secret ingredient,” she said. “It’s been a fun project for us, and people love to come and buy the Bacon Jam — even if they don’t have time for a burger.”
1 S. Arbor Road, Aberdeen, WA 98520,
Westport Winery 2013 Fleur de Lis Pinot Gris....$25
— 159 cases, 12% alcohol
The name of this wine from Dana Roberts sounds so lyrical, and like most examples of Pinot Gris, it plays so well with things from the sea.
And each June, visitors to Westport Winery and its Farm to Fork Restaurant can enjoy the 10,000 irises that Dana’s mother, Kim, grows on the property. Rulers in Europe turned the iris into an iconic symbol, and fans of the New Orleans Saints football team will recognize it as the club’s logo.
“It sounded alliterative to me,” Kim said. “And one of my husband’s surf partners, who at age 73 still surfs competitively, is a talented watercolor artist. I was going through his portfolio one day and saw this beautiful iris painting and said, ‘Can I have this for a wine label someday?’ ”
The combination of that iris draped across a blue bottle makes for a striking package.
This vintage of Pinot Gris came from Airfield Estates Vineyard, the estate site for the Miller family winery in Prosser.
“We’ve had a great relationship with the Miller family,” Kim said. “They are a family similar to us in that the dad is running the farm, their daughter is running the office and their son is the winemaker. It’s always nice to meet people wearing the same kind of shoes you are.”
Recently, the Roberts clan began to pair its wines with not only food, but also music. Kim also suggest serving their Pinot Gris with Broccoli Bisque while listening to As Time Goes By from the late Louis Armstrong — an iconic figure in New Orleans. Fans of modern-day jazz may also enjoy it with Les Fleur, performed by pianist Ramsey Lewis.
And next June, Westport will stage its seventh annual Fleur de Lis Festival. There also are plans for a French-style marketplace that will be called Art in the Vines.
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup garlic, diced
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1. Sauté all of the vegetables in garlic butter and cool.
1 lemon zest and juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
7 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
3 pounds Dungeness crab meat, picked and cleaned
4 cups, Panko bread crumbs
1. In a bowl, mix the lemon, lemon zest, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, green onions, salt and seasoning.
2. Combine with the sautéed ingredients.
3. Add the crab meat.
4. Add the Panko crumbs.
5. Let sit 30 minutes.
6. Form cakes into the size of a small biscuit.
7. Fry until brown and crisp on the outside.
Westport Winery 2012 Jones Vineyard Swimmer Petite Sirah....$29
— 154 cases, 14% alcohol
If the winemaker had his way, there would be something other than the picture of a smiling blond boy in a blue Speedo on the label of his Swimmer Petite Sirah.
“That’s what happens when your mom designs wine labels,” Dana Roberts sighed.
Proud mother Kim Roberts decided to feature her son — and will continue to do so — on the front of the Westport’s Petite Sirah.
“One of the things about having a rock star winemaker is that sometimes you need to help them be more humble,” Kim said with a wink. “He really regrets some of the artwork, but we tell people that he begged us to put that (picture of him) on the label. As a parent, sometimes you have to even the scoreboard a little bit.”
The dominant image on the label shows Dana, in 1993, posing with a plaque that reads “Awesome Swimmer of the Fest. Dana Roberts 160 Laps HSO-L 1st Annual Swim Fest.”
The structure of the grape doesn’t match the label of a clean-cut, bare-chested pre-teen. In fact, Kim describes Dana’s Petite Sirah as, “A tattooed biker wine, muscular and dangerous.” To her, it conjures up thoughts of the ‘60s rock classic “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf.
Petite Sirah is neither petite nor Syrah, but cross of Peloursin — an obscure Rhône variety — with pollen from Syrah. Until recently, Oregon regulations required its vintners to label the wine made from the grape as Durif. French botanist François Durif is credited with developing the variety around the time of the U.S. Civil War.
While its berries are small, the wines they create rumble with tannin and scream with acidity. However, when the alcohol is tamed, they age with grace.
A portion of the Swimmer proceeds are presented to the Grays Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center.
1 pound bacon
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brewed coffee
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
5 1/2 ounces orange juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup Smoky Nor’wester red wine
1. Chop the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces, then cook in pan until brown and crisp, leaving only 2 tablespoons of grease in the pot while pouring off the rest.
2. Reduce heat to medium, then add the onions and garlic until they soften.
3. Add all other ingredients — except the wine — and simmer for 45 minutes.
4. Transfer to food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped, then cook another 15 minutes.
5. Add the wine and cook another 30 minutes until it is thick and syrupy. This will hold in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.