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Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

Corvus Cellars moving to Walla Walla incubator

WALLA WALLA -- Randall Hopkins, who co-owns Benton City-based Corvus Cellars, soon plans to relocate to Walla Walla to connect with wine afficionados.

Hopkins, who owns the winery along with wife Jennifer and winemaker friend Steve Lessard, said he is excited to have a tasting room at the Port of Walla Walla.

The winery is not open to the public, according to its website, www.corvuscellars.com.

Lessard explained, "We will be moving our barrel and some case good inventory Oct. 1 with the plan of opening a tasting room second week of October. I will continue to crush and ferment at Whitman Cellars and move the wine after pressing off."

The port recently approved his company to move into one of the wine incubators after former tenant Trio Vintners graduated from the facility and a spot became available.

Hopkins, who planted grapevines on a six-acre patch in the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, or AVA, in 2005, so far has sold Corvus wines largely through word-of-mouth advertising.

Corvus' Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon won a double gold at the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards and was mentioned in Wine & Spirits Magazine's list of top Cabernets in 2009.

There's a great buzz to be located at the Walla Walla airport in the community of wine makers, Hopkins said.

It will help him share his love of wines with others while learning about Walla Walla wines, he said.

"Walla Walla has done a good job of marketing its wines," he said.

The port's role is to help small businesses grow, and the port's wine incubator program is designed for that purpose, said Jim Kuntz, executive director of the Port of Walla Walla.

The port initially built three incubator wineries in 2006 to encourage the area's wine industry. Two years later, the port used state money to build two additional incubators.

Each building is about 1,600 square feet. It has climate-controlled work and storage areas with high ceilings and floor drains. An outdoor crush pad also is part of the facility. Monthly rent starts around $1,200 and gradually increases to about $2,200 in the sixth year, the maximum length of stay permitted, Kuntz said.

The port had two applicants for the vacant spot, which ultimately went to Corvus on the strength of its track record, business plan and expertise of the partners, including that of Lessard, winemaker and partner at Whitman Cellars in Walla Walla, Kuntz said.

The port commission thought Corvus had the best chance to succeed, he said.

Corvus' future plan will evolve as the winery grows, Hopkins said. Production will be under 2,000 cases annually for the first five to seven years to allow growth at a healthy pace for long-term success, he said, adding Corvus will continue to use its own fruit from its Red Mountain vineyard and buy grapes from other growers.

The company, which so far has made wines using facilities at Whitman Cellars, recently found a distributor to market its wines in Washington, he said.

The winery annually makes about 900 cases of three types of red wine that range in price from $18 to $39, he said.

Hopkins, who works for Microsoft as a human resources executive, and his family will move to Walla Walla from Puget Sound. He calls the move a step in the right direction.

"We're looking to broaden our portfolio," he said.

* Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com.