Peter and Olga Osvaldik have reason to be proud of the winery they’ve established in Bellingham at Dynasty Cellars. With its warm, inviting tasting room and lounge area, local wineophiles and out-of-town visitors alike have come to recognize this as Whatcom County’s “go to” place to meet friends, linger and chat over a glass of quality, handcrafted wine.
Making you feel like part of the family is exactly what the Osvaldiks had in mind when they opened the tasting room at its present location in 2012. Getting there took nearly three decades, beginning with a leap of faith that put them on a journey from their native Slovak Republic to the United States.
YUGOSLAVIA TO BELLINGHAM
Tired of the increasing oppression of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, the Osvaldiks made plans to leave the country with their six-year-old son, Peter Jr., in 1983. Using vacation privileges to enter Yugoslavia (now Croatia), they sought out a United Nations underground facility for Eastern Bloc refugees. After obtaining permission from the nearby U.S. embassy to come to America, an intense screening process, and a wait of 2-1/2 months, they were on a plane to Los Angeles.
“It was quite a culture shock,” Peter recounts. “We had two suitcases, three blankets and about $120, that was it. And at that point we were basically on our own.”
The Osvaldiks took English language classes and earned a sponsorship from a local Korean church that paid them $600. Peter began work pumping gas before becoming a general contractor, while Olga found work in the computer industry.
It was Olga’s friendship with a co-worker who had connections in Bellingham that led to the suggestion they consider a move to the Northwest. After visiting the area, they decided to permanently relocate in 1990.
CABINETRY AND CABERNET
“I was planning to continue general contracting in Washington,” Peter notes, “but after the first winter, there was no way I was going to do framing work outside.” He made the switch to specialized custom cabinetry work, which still serves as his day job when he’s not making wine... a skill that has been a part of his family history for several generations.
“I was actually born into winemaking; everything was fermenting and bubbling around me,” Peter recalls with a chuckle. “It got into my system right there.”
After taking a few years to establish themselves in Washington, the Osvaldiks tapped into their winemaking roots by taking up home winemaking using grapes sourced from the Tri-Cities. “That was the beginning of the vortex that sucked us in,” Peter laughs. “It was a hobby gone wild.” That hobby led to the formation of Dynasty Cellars in 1995 and their first commercial release in 2006.
A BOOST FOR MORALE
Armed with cases of wine and looking for resellers, Peter and Olga self-distributed their early releases by driving to retail outlets and wine shops. Among their first breaks was a purchase by Doug Charles at Compass Wines in Anacortes. Charles was so impressed with what he tasted that he later named the Dynasty Cellars 2006 DC3 Bordeaux blend one of his top 10 Washington red wines of 2010.
Positive reviews and word-of-mouth in the local wine community also gave notice that Dynasty was indeed a winery worth checking out. “It was a boost not only for sales but a boost for morale,” Peter recalls.
BIG RED WINES
The Osvaldiks have been fortunate enough to source the majority of the grapes for their red wines from two of Walla Walla’s finest vineyards: Pepper Bridge and Les Collines.
“I’ve always had an affinity for big, bold wines,” says Peter. “Those are the wines I like to drink. We started making those initially for our own use and the natural progression was to then make them commercially.”
A visit to the tasting room today reveals a number of current releases that fit this flavor profile. Among them: a 2012 DCT Tempranillo, 2010 DCC Les Collines Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 DC3 Les Collines Meritage (a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), and a 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel.
Today’s wines are the result of what Peter says is a shift of his focus to more Les Collines-sourced grapes. “The vineyard is maturing to perfection, the quality of the grapes is astounding, and the Syrah is one of the best in the state.” The number of different varietals grown there also allows him to purchase virtually all of his grapes from the same vineyard.
ON THE HORIZON
Dynasty has recently added white wines to its tasting room menu, and the 2013 Riesling that is currently available has been so well-received the Osvaldiks will continue to produce it. The grapes from the 2014 Semillon harvest are also in hand, and after some trial runs with oak and stainless steel aging, the winery will release its first-ever bottling of this varietal next year.
Red wines scheduled to be released in 2015 include a 2012 Primitivo, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Malbec (all sourced from Les Collines) and a Port-style red wine.
Current production runs about 1,500 cases with plans to top out at about 2,500 cases within the next five years. The Osvaldiks feel this keeps the winery at a comfortable “family operated” status without compromising the level of quality.
WHAT SETS DYNASTY APART
Family is indeed at the heart of Dynasty Cellars. In addition to Peter and Olga, their two other grown children, Eric and Monica, are frequently behind the tasting bar and also assist with the winemaking and sales processes to assure that customers keep coming back.
“We don’t treat our customers as customers, we treat them as friends,” Peter notes. “We want to make people feel comfortable so that the focus is on the total experience and not just about the wine.”
To that end, guests can relax in a lounge area adjacent to the tasting room with comfortable chairs, sofa, gas fireplace and a flat-screen television. Local musicians perform regularly.
It’s a long way from Slovakia, but it’s exactly the kind of atmosphere the Osvaldiks envisioned in this home away from home.