For many traveling along State Route 105 in Westport the big, bright-red barn-shaped warehouse that is home to the Cranberry Road Winery is an alluring place to stop and rest.
Inside the winery’s tasting room — a small portion of the 4,200 square-foot building — owner Chris Tiffany, who at 6 feet, 5 inches tall manages to still look welcoming, greets guests by asking: “Are we here for beer or wine?”
Tiffany’s brown ale, currently on tap, is one of many new ventures for him and his wife Maria. They formed their company, Brookside Cranberry Vinters LLC, in early 2009. Maria said they never intended to start a business out of what was then only her husband’s hobby of making wine from Grayland cranberries in a garage at their Bonney Lake home.
“It was just something he was doing in the garage with the neighbors. … It was, ‘Oh, the guys will go there and smoke cigars and make wine,’ ” said Maria, who describes her husband as “laid back, very funny.”
The couple would give the wine to friends and family as gifts, and the feedback was positive enough to convince them to try and start a business.
“We thought ‘go big or go home,’ ” Tiffany said. “As a hobby it just took up a lot of our time anyway.”
Maria Tiffany said her husband’s dedication as “wine maker, director and CEO” of the company is strong, and that the business has become the main focus of the whole family as well.
“Even our 4-year-old, she likes to explain to everybody that her daddy makes wine from cranberries, not from grapes,” she said.
In the summer, the family can most often be found around the winery in Westport, the children — two and four years old — playing outside as the adults alternate work duties.
“It has become his passion, it’s pretty much his everything right now. … Now it’s our life and we’re putting 150 percent into it … in a nutshell,” she said.
Tiffany bought the building in Westport and the 10 acres of land on which it sits in 2011. Prior to the opening in October of 2012, Cranberry Road Winery faced what they called a “big setback.”
The winery was broken into as they were preparing to open. They lost 4,000 gallons of product after someone drove a forklift into the storage portion of the building. Wine seeped into the floor and they “lost everything,” said Maria.
The culprits were never found by police. Despite having to start all over again in terms of production, the Tiffanys opened and have been expanding ever since. The duo splits duties, though Chris Tiffany does most of the production and upkeep while he says his wife often does “the biggest job,” taking care of their two young children.
“We had a great first year,” he said, adding they decided not to do any marketing or advertising in their first year while they figured out the complexities of running a tasting room for the first time. “Now we sort of know more of which way to go.”
Tiffany previously worked as a professional audio technician and then as a project manager for a telecommunications company. While he often works longer hours than he ever did previously, he said, it is still a more comfortable position to be in.
“Even though it’s longer days, it’s much more pleasurable doing this,” he said, adding that especially in his career in telecommunications, the constant evolution of technology and the fast paced lifestyle made for a lot of added stress. “Before I would work a ten-hour day and now it might be sixteen, but here I don’t mind putting in the longer day. … It’s different when it’s your ‘baby.’ ”
Tiffany began selling two versions of his cranberry wine, a simple cranberry, and a cinnamon infused cranberry, which are now stocked in grocery and wine stores across the state and in western Idaho. Tiffany hopes to add Oregon to the list in the coming year.
“We’re constantly growing,” he said, adding he currently uses two distributors, Crown Distributing and Click Wholesale Distributing.
The goal from here on is to keep things simple, but continue to expand Cranberry Road’s repertoire. Soon sparkling versions of the cranberry and cinnamon cranberry wines will be available, as well as a mead, or honey wine, made from honey collected in the nearby cranberry bogs. The new wines will boast a new, “much nicer” label made by his wife’s graphic artist cousin, once the label is approved by the government in March or April. Tiffany designed the current label himself.
“Our goal isn’t to make 30 or 40 different wines, our goal is to make a handful of well-made wines that people enjoy,” said Tiffany. “There have been wines that didn’t turn out so I didn’t bottle them. I’m not trying to force anything.”
Tiffany has been using cranberries harvested by friends, the Waara family from Grayland, since they began making the wine around 2007. He said they are allowed by Ocean Spray to buy from the growers, but limited as to how much, so they buy from several in the area, including the Mayben family.
The cranberries from the dry bogs — the way most of Grayland’s cranberries are raised — are the best for Tiffany’s ventures because they last longer than those from wet bogs, he said. Dry harvested cranberries are most often sold as fresh fruit and last longer because they are less likely to be bruised. Those harvested in wet conditions are more often used to make juice or cranberry sauce.
Tiffany’s wine-making process starts at the shaker table where rotten parts and twigs are separated from the cranberries. Next, he washes them in the pressure washer. Then the clean cranberries go into Tiffany’s 1,000-gallon fermentation tank for five days — and then into an impressive 4,500-gallon storage tank where it sits until it is ready to bottle. Wine that needs to be flavored with cinnamon, which Tiffany says helps to mellow some of the cranberry tartness, sits with raw cinnamon sticks for four or five days before it’s ready to bottle.
If it’s a small batch Tiffany handles it himself, with just a few bottling taps — and he often has help from local volunteers, many who are interested in learning the process of making wine. On a recent night the Westport Fire Department chief stopped by to help him “just for fun.”
“Hell, I’ve even given my recipe for cranberry wine to someone so they could make it at home. I said ‘go for it,’ ” Tiffany said.
He often aids friends in their own fermentation efforts, or supplies them with bottles. Starting in March, Tiffany will start hosting tours for visitors to help with and learn about the process.
But when the time comes for larger orders, Tiffany said they could hire a mobile wine bottling operation, which is a semi-truck that has a large crew of workers and the machinery to bottle up to 25,000 bottles in a day.
Tiffany said people have different opinions about the wine, though he mostly receives good reviews — and it has recieved a number of awards, like the gold award for their cranberry and cinnamon cranberry wines in the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards. He calls it “slightly on the sweeter side,” and said those who like dry or full-bodied red wines often think it is too saccharine.
“People who normally don’t drink wine, they tend to like it it,” he said, adding that, like any wine, the sweet or tartness from batch to batch can vary depending on the berries.
For those who prefer beer over wine, Tiffany now can satisfy them as well. Not only does the tasting room have more than a dozen craft beers and ciders on tap, he began — alongside his brewmaster, Jon Bennett, of Aberdeen — to work on their own beers about nine months ago. They aptly titled the brewery side of the business Bog Water Brewing Co. Both it and Cranberry Road Winery have their own Facebook pages.
Around the winter holidays, Bog Water’s first beer was put on tap, a brown ale. They are working to complete four, an American wheat, a cranberry-wheat (“hopefully”), an IPA and a hopped hefeweizen. Custom-designed growlers are available for $10, filled for $16.
Prior to the expansion of their product line, Tiffany was already hard at work literally expanding the business this summer — creating a large patio outside the building, opening it just prior to July 4. He hosts live music, and said the seating, which seats up to 50 or 60, is often packed full.
Next, he plans to add a wood-fire pizza oven and to expand the tasting room, which currently hosts a small bar and features local pieces of artwork, like those from Tokeland woodcarvers Al Holbrook and Jeffro Uitto, as well as locally made items like homemade jams. He also is planning on eventually opening a full kitchen.
“So we’ll kind of open up the space inside and grow outwards,” said Tiffany. He envisions a restaurant with comfort foods, and a family-friendly atmosphere — and that he plans to eventually hire more locals to help out. Maria, his wife, is Bulgarian, and he said he would like to bring in some of the influence of her native cuisine, like her stuffed bell peppers.
Also in the works, said Tiffany, are plans for the rest of the 10 acres. While the land is designated as wetlands, he is currently working to convince the county to allow him to “clean it up” and construct a gazebo for wildlife viewing.
“We have deer, porcupines, bears … you name it,” he said, adding his plan is to make the area more “healthy.”
The Tiffanys plan to move to Westport this summer, so that they can spend more time as a family if Chris Tiffany no longer has to drive the 112 miles each way to their Bonney Lake home.
And Tiffany said it will also aid in their quest to continue to grow and focus — and “just be a part of the community.”
Tiffany hosts live music frequently at the winery, and will host the Kim Archer Band, of Tacoma, for a Mardi Gras party on March 1.