By ANDY PERDUE AND ERIC DEGERMAN
When Damian Davis launched Rainier Wine in 2005, his focus was on producing California wine. Now, the Florida native has created a label that showcases Washington and offers high quality at a great value.
Davis grew up on the Gulf Coast and moved to Washington in 1999. He came to the Northwest to work in high tech and fell in love with the region. During his first trip through Eastern Washington, he kept stopping at wineries in the Yakima Valley and ended up with a car filled with bottles.
He was smitten and, by 2004, he was figuring out a way to get into the business.
“Growing up in a restaurant family, I’ve always cooked and entertained,” said Davis, 48. “One universal thing around the world is that at the end of the day, we look forward to a meal and a glass of wine. It really is the element of humanity that we share.”
To get into the wine business, he became a negociant, a person who buys wine and repackages it with his own label then resells it. This is a tradition that comes out of Europe, and it is how many wineries get their start.
“I was bound and determined to find my way into this business,” he said. “But I wasn't a wealthy guy who could produce a boutique wine.”
So instead, he obtained a winery license in California and a distributor's license and created Mad Housewife, a California brand that accounts for more than 50,000 cases these days. He built relationships with wine shops and groceries throughout the Puget Sound region, selling the wine out of the back of his car.
Then Davis began to eye a Washington brand. He worked with the Milbrandt brothers, who own Wahluke Wine Co., a custom-crush facility in Mattawa. With their help, Davis created Diversion, a 25,000-case Washington brand. It has become successful, winning gold medals in international wine competitions and being used for glass pours in Northwest restaurants.
Each label features the artwork of Seattle photographer Justin Reznick that portrays scenes from Western Washington, including Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and the Olympic Peninsula.
Davis believes he can at least double Diversion and now has his eye on an Oregon brand that will include Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Here are four Diversion wines we've tasted recently. They should not be difficult to find throughout the Northwest.
— Diversion NV Chardonnay, Washington, $15: This is a delicious and refreshing Chardonnay with aromas of pear, fresh caramel and apple, followed by flavors of butterscotch, oak, tropical fruit and spice. It's a tasty, approachable wine to pair with pasta, salmon or chicken.
— Diversion NV Riesling, Washington, $15: It opens with aromas of fresh-squeezed lime juice, flint, fresh-cut pineapple and lemon zest. On the palate, it furnishes gorgeous flavors of blood orange, apple and spice. There’s a sense of elegance on the midpalate with bright acidity and great length. Enjoy with Tex-Mex or Thai dishes with moderate heat.
— Diversion NV Majestic Red, Washington: $15: This blend of Merlot (50 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (29 percent) and Syrah is as majestic as its name. Aromas reminded us of maple syrup on blueberry pancakes, rose petals and black pepper, followed by flavors of boysenberry, plum jam, bacon and blueberry. It's a smooth, easy-drinking red with mild tannin and moderate acidity. This is a great wine for a midweek meal.
— Diversion NV Merlot, Washington, $15: This delicious Merlot includes a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It opens with aromas of pink peppercorn, vanilla bean, black walnut and spice, followed by flavors of dark cherry, black raspberry and blueberry syrup. It’s a hedonistic red that is smooth throughout and darned yummy.
— Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman own and operate Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.