IT’S REMARKABLE HOW delicious irony can be. In 1998, just as I began learning and writing about Pacific Northwest wine and food, I wrapped up a decade covering the Western Hockey League for my local newspaper.
Now, as part of my beat, I’m writing about the winemaking team in Washington’s Columbia Valley that’s working for the owner of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks — Francesco Aquilini.
On a November night in 2013, the Aquilini family became one of the state’s largest landowners when a proxy wrote an $8 million check in Pasco after winning a high-stakes auction for 670 acres on Red Mountain. Though few knew it then, the Aquilinis already were a presence in Washington as one of the state’s largest blueberry producers.
They now own more than 1,100 acres of vines throughout the Columbia Valley, and Aquilini Brands USA has assembled an all-star team that includes consulting winemaker Philippe Melka from Napa, Ste. Michelle alum Joshua Maloney and vineyard consultant Andrew Schultz. The CEO is Robert Chin, who spent 27 years with industry giant E. & J. Gallo.
While there are luxury bottlings from Red Mountain, Chin and his sales/marketing team have been innovative with supermarket brands such as Be Human, Dixie & Bass and Roaming Dog.
“Visionaries and lunatics both get the same feedback when they first get started,” Maloney says, chuckling.
Beyond the eye-catching labels, there’s been recent critical acclaim and gold medals that recognize the quality of these wines. Look for them in essentially every large grocery store in the Northwest and beyond.
And they come priced under $20. That’s a score for the consumer who wants to fight the wine glut during the pandemic.
Who knows how well they’ll sell among Seattle Kraken fans.