Overlooking the lush Yakima Valley, DuBrul Vineyard is cultivating a loyal following for their elegant fruit—with helpful hands from an all-female vineyard crew
If you drive by DuBrul Vineyard, near Sunnyside, from mid-February through harvest in the fall, you are likely to see the ladies of their vineyard crew hard at work. They might be pruning, thinning, or doing whatever is necessary to take care of this 45-acre world class vineyard.
Why an all-female vineyard crew? “Women are more nurturing to the vines,” says owner Hugh Shiels. “We appreciate continuity of our workforce and people who care about following instructions.”
DuBrul Vineyard was planted by physician Hugh Shiels and his wife Kathy in 1992. At the time they purchased it, the land was home to an apple orchard and a meager seven acres of Riesling vines. Those Riesling vines, some of the oldest in Washington State, are still there today. The apple orchard, however, was torn out in order to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc.
Those initial plantings were done under the expert supervision of vineyard consultant Dr. Wade Wolfe (now owner of Thurston Wolfe winery). When Wolfe got promoted at Hogue Cellars, Stan Clarke took over the development of the vineyard. A Washington wine icon, Clarke worked with the Shiels from 1996 until his untimely death in 2007. Today, Rick Hamman is their viticultural consultant.
Through all three consultants, the one constant has been vineyard manager Larry Dolan, who has been there since the beginning. Under Dolan’s watchful eye, DuBrul is committed to sustainable farming practices. During a drought in 2005, they dug a naturally filling pond in the hydrology draining wedge on their property which allows them to provide the vineyard with normal irrigation even in years with limited rainfall.
DuBrul Vineyard, named after Hugh Shiels’ mother’s maiden name, is truly a unique site. The vineyard’s steep, rocky, south-facing slope is situated on a basalt promontory with gorgeous views of the Yakima Valley in all directions. It boasts many different aspects, multiple elevations, multiple exposures, multiple slopes, and multiple soils, which are planted to maximize the growing conditions for different grape varieties.
While cherry can be a very common descriptor in the flavor profile of red wines, Hugh and Kathy’s daughter, Kerry Shiels, who is the winemaker for the family’s estate winery Côte Bonneville identifies, “a very intense cherry that is distinctive of our vineyard,” as DuBrul’s overriding trait. “There is also a lot of complexity and richness in the fruits from DuBrul that is not common. Our vineyard tends to produce wines that definitely have good structure but are not astringent. Our tannin levels are not incredibly high. It lends itself more to elegant, finesse type wines.”
Winemaker David O’Reilly of Owen Roe, DuBrul’s largest customer, speaks highly of the vineyard. He makes numerous single-vineyard wines using DuBrul fruit, including a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah, a Chardonnay, and a Riesling.
Oftentimes, wine critics will perpetuate an idea about a particular region by saying that a certain area is great for growing one particular variety. When you look at DuBrul Vineyard, that theory is challenged.
“Where else can you find a single-vineyard with world class Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling? It is just unheard of,” says O’Reilly.
“You think Syrah from the Rhone, Riesling from the Mosel, Chardonnay from Burgundy, and then the Bordeaux grapes. But here, you have all these grapes grown in one area.”
The common thread that emerges when speaking with winemakers who use DuBrul fruit is the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of the vineyard. “Everything we do is hand-harvested, hand-worked, and nothing mechanical. We differentially irrigate within a row and really manage everything to the nth degree,” says Kerry Shiels.
During harvest, Hugh Shiels, who still works as an orthopedic surgeon, visits the vineyard every morning to check on the crew and give them instructions for the day before he goes to his office. After work, he changes clothes, returns to the vineyard and helps the crew who will be working late into the evening. “To get the quality, you have to be hands on,” says Shiels.
In 2001, Hugh and Kathy Shiels started Côte Bonneville, their estate winery that uses fruit exclusively from DuBrul. “Before the vineyard was ten years old, we knew it was special. So we decided to start our own winery to showcase what the vineyard can do best,” says Kathy.
Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly praises the consistency of the fruit he buys from DuBrul. “Year in and year out, you know what you are going to get and when you are going to get it.”
That consistency is a testament not only to the vineyard itself, but also to the Shiels family and the ladies of their crew who strive to be diligent stewards of the land.
Written by Kori Voorhees