by Kirby Lindsay
Kevin Conroy described his “problem with making wine that everyone wants.” A few years ago, his brother-in-law, Mike Blom (“a rock star wine maker down in Napa,” as Conroy described him,) “suggested we make a little wine, and we did.” With some buddies, Conroy and Blom made wine – and then had to make more when the first batch proved too popular for just one taste.
More Than Wine
Today visitors can go to 509 Wines (at 1300 North Northlake Way, Suite #509) and, for those 21+, taste the one-time ‘hobby wine.’ During First Friday Art Walks (next one on March 5) Tasting Room Sales Manager Stacey Fujimura welcomes people who stop by on their way to Walk - to enjoy the wine, plan their route and take advantage of the parking offered at 509.
Conroy never intend to start a winery. His primary business was, and remains, Blue Rooster, which he began in 2000. Incorporated in 2002, and relocated to Fremont in 2005, Blue Rooster does interactive web development, and sponsorship sales and logistical management for Microsoft events.
Blue Rooster and 509 both occupy Conroy’s building at 1300. “It’s pretty nice being there,” he remarked on the location, “it’s so central for everything.” With a million dollar remodel done by neighboring Flip Builders, he has committed himself to the location and the winery he built there. At the foot of Stone Way, the winery sits “on the fringe” of two neighborhoods. According to Conroy, it enjoys the “best of both worlds - the family neighborhood of Wallingford and the funkiness of Fremont.”
A ‘Love Affair with Wine’
With eight investors, including Blom, Conroy intends to slowly relocate their winery from Walla Walla. They want to offer a local wine made of local ingredients for local consumption. 509 Wine has no presumptions - enjoyable, drinkable and good with burgers, steaks or fish. And, Conroy laughs, no reason to worry about what stemware to serve it in. They also provide a tasting room, presided over by Fujimura, with a friendly, informative atmosphere where neighbors are invited to “participate in our love affair with wine.”
The first batch of 509 Wines, the 2004 vintage, consisted of 100 cases – and only a handful of bottles remain. Since then they’ve created a Merlot and Cabernet, and in 2006 the company became able – after a two-year process - to sell their wine. “It’s not easy to become bonded,” Conroy explained about the exhaustive federal and state requirements.
Conroy explained that 509 wines focus on Rhone varietals. In Eastern Washington, they make their reds, adding a ‘Cotes du Fremont’ Syrah Rose. With the next harvest, in the fall, the company will make a white wine, a Viognier, the first wine to be crafted professionally in Fremont’s winery. Over the next three years, 509 Wines will up production to 2,500 cases.
“We want to be here for a long time,” Conroy admitted, and eventually to move all wine production to Fremont. “If we had to put a dart on a target,” he explained of their business model, he chose Red Hook, “with the one exception - that we’ll stay in Fremont.”
While the winery grows and draws attention, Conroy remains dedicated to his primary business, Blue Rooster, for good reason. “You know how you make a little money in the wine business?” he said, paraphrasing an old joke, “start with a lot.” As 509 converts from ‘garage winery’ to a profitable business, Conroy admitted, “it’s a pretty big jump.”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.