Adamant Cellars has been making some of the finest wines in Walla Walla since opening in the airport area North of downtown in 2006. Our favorites are the Nalin red blend and the Cab, but try them all – there’s not a bad wine in the bunch! Adamant winemaker Devin Stinger was kind enough to sit down with us for an in-depth interview in February 2017.
WALLA WALLA WINE LIMO: Tell us how you got interested in wine in the first place.
DEVIN STINGER: I grew up North of Willamette Valley and when I was a young wine taster back in my 20’s, I started drinking Pinot Noir and I wanted to start a Pinot Noir winery. That was my goal for about twenty years. Then I started making wine in Portland in my basement. Pinot Noir was my very first wine that I ever made and I made that for a couple years. Then somebody introduced me to Cabernet Sauvignon from Yakima Valley. So I searched out some Cabernet grapes in about my third year of making wine and I’ve never made Pinot Noir since! Then I went to Bordeaux styles and I started with Syrahs and Merlots and I’ve stuck to the Bordeaux styles ever since we started the winery in 2006. It was a 20+ year adventure to get to the point where we decided we could start a Walla Walla winery.
WWWL: What kind of work were you doing before the winery became your full-time job?
DEVIN: I did high tech jobs in the Portland area for twenty-three years before coming to Walla Walla.
WWWL: Did you have any formal kind of winemaking education?
DEVIN: I had a love for Pinot Noir, but I didn’t know anything about how to make Pinot Noir. I had just tasted wine from the various wineries in the Walla Walla Valley and in California. So one day I just looked at myself and said, “I should just try to make this”. It was kind of a timing in life thing. I had the space and the time. I was working at a company where I was working from home a lot and I said “Lets just figure out how to make wine.” So I got in touch with my dad, who was semi-retired at the time and said “Let’s figure out how to make some wine.”
WWWL: This was pre-internet?
DEVIN: I think there may have been a little bit of internet at the time, but I didn’t really search the internet for how to do it.
WWWL: I imagine these days you can go on the internet and find all the information on how to make wine pretty easily.
DEVIN: That's true. You can find a wealth of information about how to make wine on the web.
WWWL: But while someone today who’s a wine novice like you were when you first started can go on the web and read a million different things about how to make wine, it’s not necessarily going to be good wine!
DEVIN: Oh yeah, you could get the recipe, but there’s no artistic sense that you’re gonna bring to it. So at the start we just basically read books. My background is as an engineer and my dad is a former chemist, so we kind of figured it out and started making some wine. Our first batch was actually pretty good! And we got better with time – in about our third or fourth year we began to enter amateur winemaking competitions and started winning them.
WWWL: Was there a label name for the wine you were making at the time?
DEVIN: There was -- it was called Gam. G-A-M which if you’ve ever read Moby Dick, when two ships come together in the open sea, they kind of tie up and have a gam, a party of sorts. My secondary term for Gam was God Awful Mess. But really the wine wasn’t too bad. We started fermenting in my basement and we mostly used these little tiny 13-gallon barrels.
So to answer your original question, we didn’t take any formal education classes to make wine; we just read some books and talked to people who I had gotten to know in the wine business down in Oregon. Around that same time, my wife and I started to come to Walla Walla for wine tasting. We got to know some of the winery owners and some of the winemakers here, so when it became time to do this for real, we decided quickly on Walla Walla. We did our due diligence and looked at Yakima and Sunnyside and a few other places, but it was always going to be Walla Walla.
WWWL: What’s the best thing about being a winemaker?
DEVIN: It’s a good lifestyle. It’s a good life, ya know? You have some intense work periods and you have to deal with the whims of mother nature, but it’s a good life. Where else can you walk into your place of work at 7:30 in the morning and taste wine? Plus you get to meet fantastic people and it’s just a great life to live. It’s not too stressful. You can make it stressful, but its not too stressful for us because we decided to stay small. I don’t have to feed three or four families, we don’t have any partners. It’s just my wife and I. And we really enjoy the lifestyle of having a business just the two of us. It’s a great partnership between Debra and I.
WWWL: You mention the possibility of stress in this business and thankfully you haven’t had too much of it. But has there been a particularly stressful time in the history of the winery?
DEVIN: I would say the most stressful time for us was when we were first getting up and running, because it takes at least three or four years to get your legs under you in the wine business. You have to hang on to a lot of inventory for a couple of years before you can start selling it. And while we got into the business because of our shared passion for wine, it took some time to get our heads wrapped around the idea that it really is a business and you have to run it like a business. That was probably the biggest stress point that we had, making sure that we ran the winery like a business. There was a point about six years ago where we were at about 2,500 cases a year. And that’s one of those points where you have to decide if you’re going to jump up to the 5,000 to 7,500 case level or not. But when you make that jump you’ve got a lot more wine that has to be sold away from the tasting room. You’ve got to deal with a lot of distributors and build relationships in other states so you can sell that kind of quantity. That was a real big decision point for us when we decided to stay small. We looked at each other and we said, “We don’t want to work that hard.”
WWWL: I understand that you actually scaled back production from 2,500 cases a year to the current production level of 900 cases a year.
DEVIN: Yeah, we made a conscious decision to go backwards. The reason we did that is if we had continued to grow, we would have had to hire staff, we would have had to be on the road all the time selling. Our margins would have gone to nothing. Debra and I both came out of the corporate world and we agreed that we didn’t want to do that again, even if we were doing it for ourselves. We now sell all the wine we make either at the tasting room or to our wine club members and we don’t have our wines in distribution anymore.
Check out Part Two of of our interview with Adamant Cellars winemaker and co-owner Devin Stinger by clicking here!
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