The finished product is still more than a year away, but the vision is already taking shape.
While there’s still much work to be done at Fortuity Cellars’ new event venue in Wapato, the owners have already begun welcoming the public to the grounds.
Hosting a small family wedding in early August and a grand opening celebration on Aug. 18 gave the team a pretty good idea of what needs to happen between now and next year.
The next phase of the project will be a wine production facility — expected to be done next spring — and a tasting room, which will be completed in 2020.
“We had a great turnout for the grand opening — nearly 150 people,” said Emily Fergestrom, who owns Fortuity Cellars with her husband, Lee, and her longtime friend, Johnny Brose, the winemaker. “We’ve already received tremendous support from the Yakima business community and the local wine industry, including our growers.”
The winery’s new home is at 160 Lombard Loop, located off the Yakima Valley Highway on the former Sawyer Gardens property. The once-popular wedding venue is surrounded on all sides by orchards and affords magnificent views of Mount Adams and the Rattlesnake Hills.
About two years ago, the Fergestroms had been looking for a small business opportunity in the Valley. That’s when they came across Sawyer Gardens.
“It was love at first sight for us,” said Emily, who grew up in West Valley and used to work in public affairs (her maiden name is Christensen). “We’re surrounded by orchards and vineyards, and the landscaping is beautiful. It feels like our own little oasis.”
The owners are still finalizing some permitting details with Yakima County officials, but they said the process has been progressing this summer.
They hope to start producing wine on site by next spring.
“We’re still several months off with the county, but it’s all moving in the right direction,” Emily said. “Right now, we have approval for commercial use and zoning, but the building plan hasn’t yet been approved.”
Beyer Architects of Yakima has completed the preliminary design work, while Mountain States Construction will help make the blueprints a reality.
Emily Fergestrom said some of the design specifics may change, but she is confident that work on the wine production facility will begin this fall. Fortuity Cellars wines are currently being produced in the wine incubator on Yakima Valley College’s Grandview campus, but that all will change in just a few months.
The owners are confident that their building partners will make the project shine.
“Megan (Beyer) has a really good grasp of what we want, and Mountain States has worked on a number of wineries, so they understand what we’re trying to do,” Emily said. “We’re very excited to partner with both of them.”
Having grown up in the Valley, Emily has known Beyer Architects owner Megan Beyer — also a Yakima native — for years.
The Fortuity Cellars team talked to several local architects and decided Beyer was the best fit.
“We love what she did with the Yakima Tennis Club and thought she would be the right person to execute our vision,” Emily said.
Beyer is equally enthusiastic about being involved in such a momentous project.
“The Fortuity Cellars team brings great vision and energy to the project, which will be a wonderful asset to the Yakima Valley community,” she said.
The idea for Fortuity Cellars began in 2016 when the Fergestroms started considering a new business venture in the Valley.
Emily was ready to try a new career direction and Lee had lots of experience working with startup businesses. That’s when they found the Sawyer Gardens property.
“We kept coming back to the idea of making wine because it’s so experiential,” Emily said. “We talked about becoming part of the wine-tasting culture over here and decided we could make a go of it out in a rural area like this.”
With all of their connections in the Valley, the transition didn’t take long.
Bringing Brose into the fold was also essential to the long-term plan.
The Oregon State University-trained fermentation specialist is a longtime family friend of Emily’s who was making wine at King Estates in Oregon’s Willamette Valley when she contacted him.
Developing working relationships with Brose, the growers and YVC made it possible for Fortuity Cellars to introduce its first label last year.
“I knew Johnny wanted to come back to Washington and that he would be looking for a job in the wine industry,” Emily said. “I sent him a text one day and he was in.”
Brose is currently working on his ninth vintage overall, and he has been producing Fortuity Cellars wine at YVC’s incubator since last fall.
Brose has traveled to Australia on numerous occasions to perfect his craft. Now, Fortuity Cellars is reaping the rewards.
“Johnny has been all over the world to study winemaking,” Emily said, “so we’re not just making wine here. It’s some of the best you can find.”
Fortuity Cellars currently produces seven varietals (four reds, three whites), which are available for purchase at Stems, Crafted and Hotel Maison, as well as the tasting room and online at http://www.fortuitycellars.com.
The startup business also has been selling its wine at farmers markets, offering products for private events in the Valley and the Puget Sound area, and hosting appointments at its Grandview tasting room.
The winery already has earned medals in three competitions, and wine enthusiasts around the Northwest are taking notice. Before long, all aspects of their bold new undertaking will combine to form the new event venue in Wapato.
“It can be difficult to get started in the wine industry because of all the upfront expenses,” Emily said. “But having a top winemaker like Johnny and partnering with YVC and all of the local growers has allowed us to be successful in a short period of time. We’re definitely a business now.”