It all started on a soccer field. Not your typical winery story but Seven Bridges isn’t your typical small winery.
Seven Bridges has two winemakers, each sharing in the duties. Co-winemakers/owners Kevin Ross and Bob Switzer met in 2003 playing pick-up soccer in Portland. Bob went byKevin’s house to pick up something and noticed the winemaking equipment and wine boxes in the garage. Kevin was a home winemaker (a true garagiste); Bob was no stranger to wine, having grown up in California and developed a fondness for Sonoma. They got to talking more, Kevin gave Bob a bottle of 2004 Merlot, and Bob asked if he could help
It was only a month away from crush so the answer was an enthusiastic “yes.” They weren’t even making a barrel at that point - glass carboys easily accommodated the production. Kevin and Bob had an important incubator, the West Side Wine Club (WSWC), a group of amateur winemakers that has fostered the development of such professional winemakers as Howard Mozeico (Et Fille) and Peter Rosback (Sineann). In fact, it was Peter Rosback who recommended that Kevin join the WSWC. Kevin ordered a bottle of Sineann at a restaurant and when asking the server more about the bottle, he said “there’s the winemaker - you should ask him.”
They went to meetings religiously for a couple years and in the summer of 2006, starting literally moving earth, making more room in Kevin’s basement to accommodate barrels and winemaking equipment. After moving 55,000 pounds of clay up a hill “with the help of all my ex-friends” jokes Kevin, they determined his basement was too small. Good thing, because the plan was to increase production to 100 cases with the 2007 vintage and that quickly ballooned to 350 cases.
It’s important to interject that Kevin and Bob are both engineers who love solving problems. Some of their soccer friends were going to buy a building and Kevin and Bob told them to make sure there was room for a winery. The building had an underground storage space that just so happened to have a whole in the ceiling for grapes to be dropped from. With only a foot of clearance in a 7 foot-high basement, they made Seven Bridges’ first commercial vintage, 2008. It didn’t take long for them to move upstairs to a 4000 square foot space, making production infinitely easier and allowing them to actually have a forklift (!) and a tasting room.
Their incremental growth happened during challenging economic times, which proved to be advantageous. Many larger, established wineries were contracting between 2008 and 2010, dropping grape contracts at coveted Washington vineyards. Their first grapes were secured on a trip to Walla Walla by Kevin and his wife, Jill, who is also a partner in the winery (though not in winemaking). The vineyard was Golden Ridge, east of the Walla Walla airport, and the grapes were Merlot. This Merlot provides the backbone of
the Prima Nata blend. They continued to meet more winemakers and growers, particularly David O’Reilly of Owen Roe, who hooked them up with Elerding Vineyard in Yakima.
Having a business partner and no shortage of opinions, I asked Kevin and Bob if it was difficult to be co-winemakers, if there were stylistic clashes. “I learned winemaking from Kevin, so there was a similar style from the beginning,” Bob says. Kevin adds, “we have very similar palates - just luck. Every time we’ve done blends Bob and I have agreed on the final blend. We don’t have formulas, just what tastes right. We make the wines we like, not wines we think other people will like. Then we find people who like the same wines. We’re very hands-on, in every step. Everything is hand bottled and labeled. It’s labor intensive - basket pressing everything by hand. We spend money on things that make for better wine, not necessarily easier wine. And the engineers in us will always tinker with things, varying macerations and yeast strains. We’re learning, mostly improving. We have all the grapes in the toolkit.”
I asked Bob about the name Prima Nata: “naming was brutal since we all had veto power…with 3 partners. Kevin and Jill lived in Italy for a while and threw out a bouncy of names I couldn’t even pronounce. We all liked Prima Nata; it means first born and is a fitting name for this wine and what it means to us. Each year we’ll name our most balanced and well-constructed blend as our flagship wine.” Seven Bridges currently makes 1500 cases but are growing their production.