The Big Tuna and My Favorite Cabernet!

What does tuna and Cabernet Sauvignon have in common?  Very little but it’s an excellent combination all be it not necessarily food and wine. Instead the combination is about vines and people. Big Tuna is my nickname for my good friend Dick Beightol. Dick owns Phinny Hill vineyard where we get much of our Cabernet Sauvignon and all our Carmenere grapes from. 

I guess the nick name requires some sort of explanation.  So gracious is Mr. Beightol that on each of my visits to his family’s vineyard, if the timing is right he offers me a tuna fish sandwich. Hence the name Big Tuna! Now I must admit that the timing of my arrival is nearly always deliberate. I know it sound terrible the thought that I make a conscious effort to intrude on the Beightol lunch but I swear they don’t mind and you have never had such a great tuna fish sandwich.  What makes it special? Well the fact is the tuna is from a special boat that line catches the tuna and the mercury levels are lower. It is simply made, but more over it is made by a good friend who is always smiling. I know it sounds corny but the sandwich is made with love and you can taste it.

Like his sandwich, Big Tuna and his family put such effort and joy into their vines you can taste it in our Phinny Hill wines. I enjoy working with such a great family and over the years they have been able to give us advice with our own vines. I even remember Dick driving all the way out from his home to help me fix some damaged pipes.  How he got here in an hour when it takes me an hour and 45 minutes to make the same trip I have never asked. 

Now you know about the people that produce Phinny Hill’s fruit I should mention the terrior.  Phinny Hill is situated in the Horse Heaven Hills a few miles north of the Columbia River.  Across the street lies Champoux vineyard. Such notable wineries as Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, and Woodward Canyon own that vineyard and make amazing wines from their grapes.  Phinny Hill has the same depth of tannin and varietal correct character as Champoux vineyard.

What makes Phinny Hill fruit different is the abundance of gravel in the subsoil.  The soil has an amazing capacity to transport minerals into the vines. This makes a wine that is more elegant, showing finesse rather than brute force. This lends itself well to my style of winemaking.

Our Phinny Hill wines are not simply about the geology, climate, and geography but also about the culture of my friends at Phinny Hill who work the land with pride. They are about our relationship. The care they take in the vineyard makes me do a better job in the cellar.

Cheers to the good folks at Phinny Hill.

Ryan Raber

Tertulia Cellars




Stomp, Stomp, Stomp!

Stomp, stomp, stomp, the dust from the vineyard sends a little plume into the air off my new work boots. I stop and admire them for a moment before heading into the cellar. I really like these boots. They were intended for use on ships. Dark brown leather, slip resistant and water proof they seem more suited to my needs then a sailors.  They are equally at home in the vineyard or cellar as they are out to dinner at Brasserie Four. I should know I got them on my birthday and wore them out that night to dinner.  I wash them off before heading upstairs to visit Michelle. I would advise against walking into the tasting room with dust covered boots. Just thinking about it gives me a flashback to the muck boot incident of the 2011 harvest. Said incident involved me, a pair of muck boots and a very angry Michelle. I think I should stop there since Michelle will be reading this and there was never a clear resolution.  Michelle shares with me that she won Bunko last night. I am not sure what this bunko thing is but it sounds a lot like an underground gambling ring ran but an odd ball group of women. 

I head down stairs to my office to write up a job description for the harvest cellar position. I have already decided that Nicki our Sunday tasting room employee will get the job.  Still I want to make sure she knows what working harvest entails. Here is my amusing description meant to take the sting out of how much sanitation (scrubbing) she will be doing. Well that is enough from me. I think I will go back to admiring me foot ware.


Ryan Raber


Tertulia Cellars Troll Cellar Position Responsibilities


                Albert Einstein once said “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”. Ryan Raber once said “winemaking is 99% sanitation and 1% inspiration”. Like how I just compared myself to Albert Einstein! There will be cleaning of tanks, the press, crush pad equipment, barrels, lab, grape bins, pumps, hoses and anything else I can think of. You will be getting sprayed with the hose on occasion! Most often on accident but there is an occasional water fight. I recommend dressing in clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, sticky and wet. Also keep a spare pair of clothes on hand in the event you lose a water fight! I advise bringing a good pair of water proof boots. Most of us wear Muck boots but any type of water proof boot is fine. Now for the details of cleaning, we use a lot of hot water. Be mindful it can get up to 180 degrees and that hurts. No worries no one will spray you will 180 degree water on purpose unless you turn into a zombie and it is as a weapon of last resort.  In such an event remember it was your own damn fault you were bitten by a zombie in the first place.  Chemicals for cleaning are Proxy Carb, citric acid and potassium bi met sulfite.  Don’t eat them, can’t tell you how many times I had to say that to Sergio! We will usually make up buckets of the various chemicals to sanitize things. Pretty easy it will take you a few minutes to learn. 

Processing Fruit

                Sorting fruit is a pretty easy job here. We have a machine that does almost all the work for us. There will be someone operating the forklift (me) and someone raking the grapes onto the elevator. We will also have someone watching the sorting table.  Once the berries are in the tank we chase it down with other fruit or water. Once we are done we break down everything and clean then maybe we go grab a beer…depends if all the work is finished.  Once the fruit is in a tank we run some analysis and do a few adjustments. Maybe we add yeast depends on the conditions and how tired we are.

Managing Fermentation.

                We do mostly pump overs. They are really cool. We shoot wine up into the air and it crashes into a bin then we pump it over the top. We do this twice a day from 10-20 minutes per tank. How long it takes depends on how many tanks we have fermenting.


Once the fruit becomes wine we will press it.  We pump the free run into a tank and press the grapes keeping the wine from each separate.  After pressing we clean the press so it is spotless. Next we clean the floor. The pressed grapes are dumped into bins and some guy I know with cows comes to pick it up. Cows love getting buzzed and the beef tastes better for it. We usually don’t schedule pressing on the same day we are processing fruit. 

Barreling Down

                Once the wine settles in tank after pressing usually the next day we pump them into barrels.  With a flashlight in one hand and a remote to the pump in the other you will fill the barrel.  Be careful not to overfill it or you will get a wine shower! I hear wine showers are good for the skin. Actually I just made that up.

Lots of other stuff to learn but it is pretty easy.  We like to have fun, listen to music and not take ourselves too seriously.





Roast Leg of Labrador

I just got back from the bar at White House Crawford. I wanted to thank them for putting our Cabernet on a glass pour. The 2006 Cab is one of the best wines I have made and it is unfined and unfiltered to boot! Moreover I was there for a drink. It had been one of those days and I needed something to fortify my soul.

The day started with Michelle and my desperate struggle to find someone to fill in next weekend in the tasting room while we are at Taste Washington Seattle. We go through our phone list discarding people for various reasons.  What about so and so I say to Michelle? No I don’t think he would work, he is a little irresponsible she replies. Like what type of irresponsible I ask? Like shooting heroin up in our bathroom or personally stocking his cellar with our wines? No, no, no he is just a little lazy and has a hard time keeping a job. Well how about Mrs. Blank? She moved away. Rats I say. How about Trista she used to work here. Nope she is at the same event we are pouring at.  Damn, well that exhausts my list how about you Michelle. Me too. Finally we found out that Karen who worked here last summer had an open weekend to help out, which worked out perfect. Next Michelle had to run off for a few minutes.  Turns out her dog Lizzy chewed a lab sized hole in the fence at her new home. Bad dog Lizzy, we will chop you up and feed you to our friends! To bring more joy to our fine day Michelle filled me in on some sad news. One of our friends has a terminal illness. No one wants to hear their friend has an expiration date.

Fast forward to Whitehouse Crawford, all the tension and anxiety melt away as the first sip of wine slides down my throat. I smile the 06 Cab Sauv is still holding up. I refuse to analyze it anymore. I do that too often. I simply enjoyed it and all is made well in my world again.

Bah Humbug!

Its official; Michelle has gone nuts.  Not yet Thanksgiving and its nonstop Christmas music here in our tasting room.  I refuse to listen until the day after Thanksgiving at the very least. One holiday at a time is my rule.  Instead I will talk about what I am thankful for.

First of all I am thankful that harvest is finally over.  Don’t get me wrong I love harvest, it’s just I am a little worn out.  I am ready for my hands to turn back to their original flesh color rather than the stained purple.  Second, I am thankful for the massive amounts of tryptophan I am about to consume.  There are many chefs in my family and this year I get to be my mother’s sous chef helping prepare the world’s best turkey dinner.  The real trick is in the gravy which I judiciously pour over everything on my plate.  Next I am thankful for spending time with my family and friends.  I am bringing over quite a bit of liquid libations from Tertulia for our own social gatherings.  Finally, I will leave you with my suggestions for Thanksgiving dinner.  Our Viognier and Rose make wonderful pairings with turkey and all the fixings.  If you want to go for a red I would suggest our 2009 Grenache Syrah. Its fruitiness and spice should be a good pairing with the smorgasbord of flavors on your plate.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.



Ryan Raber

Tertulia Cellars


The Order Of The Purple Hand

My Hands are tired and sore from tightening clams. Dried from their continual contact with wine a purple stain has appeared.  You can trace every dermal ridge and my finger nails have are beginning to see the same purple stains.  Myself and the rag tag crew here are Tertulia wear our purple hands as a badge of honor.  We follow the tradition of making fine wine that our ancestors have passed down through the ages. 

On our first day of harvest I tried to explain to them what we were attempting each vintage.  That is to make something that enriches people’s lives.  Every bottle is a shot at immortality, to create something that will be remembered beyond us. 

Harvest is whining down now.  It is too early to say much about the 2011 vintage.  I will say this many of the wines make me smile and do a little jig.


Ryan Raber

Tertulia Cellars


Red Red Wine You Make Me Feel So Fine

The first few rays of sunshine peek over the Blue Mountains as I pull up behind our winery.  I step out of my car holding my keys in one hand and a latte in the other.  Thank heavens for coffee on these early mornings of harvest.  I fumble with my keys looking for the correct one.  Finally I open the door and the aromas of fermentation permeate the air.  I inhale deeply and say “I love the smell of fermentation in the morning”, it’s my little joke on most recognized quote from Apocalypse Now.  I slide open the doors to the winery to help evacuate the CO2 from the air.  I quickly check my emails to make sure there is nothing that requires my immediate attention.  Next, it is time to set the mood so I turn on the sound system and play UB40 on Pandora.  To my utter delight “Red Red Wine” plays and I know it’s going to be a good day. 

Ryan Driver shows up early with a load of Syrah from Les Collines Vineyard.  The grapes taste perfect. Once they are unloaded Driver hits the road to pick up Merlot from Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Quickly Sergio our cellar worker and I set up the crush pad and render the Syrah into crushed grapes.  Each bin of grapes is placed in a 500 liter barrel called a puncheon, which have had their heads removed so we can conduct fermentation inside of them.  Barrel fermenting will allow for a richer wine that has seamless integration with the oak barrels they are aged in.  After we finish, we have enough time to clean up the worst of our mess and grab a bite before Driver shows up with the next load of grapes. 

This time we set up to fill a stainless steel tank with the nearly three tons of Merlot.  This is all conducted seamlessly while Marley belts out “Buffalo Soldier.”  We are in the full swing of harvest.  No need to yell out orders we all knows our jobs.  While our hands are busy sorting the grapes we crack jokes