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Brian Carter Cellars
October 23, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

The History of Port, by Arielle Moule

The story of Port is one steeped in lore. It is a story of trade, warfare, colonization and power, accidental genius, and good fortune.

We begin in the 1600s:  a scene set in England as anti-French Brits began searching for new wine origins. France and England had been on-and-off sparring partners for generations, and the 17th century saw some of their most gruesome battles.  At this time, countrywide boycotting of French wines was occurring, and other options were being sought out.

Trade relations with Portugal at this time were blossoming; a royal wedding between Henry VIII’S sister and the King of Portugal opened a strong opportunity for fortunes to be made and shared between the two countries. However, the seas were not kind to the wine trade, and between the ever-shaking boat, hot sun, and frequent piracy, Portuguese wine would never reach England tasting as it should.

Two Portuguese brothers, as the story goes, fortified the wine with Brandy before the trip to England to help ensure its quality. This concoction became a hit with the British, and the rest was history. Over the next two centuries, the influx of British port makers was visible up and down the Douro Valley. In fact, some of the oldest and most respected Ports have British names like Taylor and Graham.

In 1756, The Douro Region of Portugal received the very first Designation, or “specific growing/production region” (like Champagne in France) in European history. This valley consists of three areas: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. Though there are as many as 100 grapes that can be used in the production of Port, five varietals are among the best: Touriga National, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Souzao, and Touriga Franca. Here in Washington, Brian Carter Cellars sources four out of five of those varietals (all but Touriga Franca) from the Snipes Mountain AVA for our award-winning Opulento.

The Douro Valley has seen its share of changes over time. The blight of Phylloxera between 1868 and 1872 destroyed more than two-thirds of the vineyards in that region. What followed was a slow rebuilding and restructuring of the Valley and Port production in general.  Even though Port no longer travels by ship, but by land now, that doesn’t hinder the tourism and charm of the area. Visitors flock to the city of Porto to eat, drink, and celebrate the ethereal elixir we call Port.

The good news is that if you can’t make it to Portugal right now, Brian Carter Cellars is offering a Vertical of our Opulento Port-style wines, including our 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages, for your holiday table.

The even better news is that if you see a trip to Portugal in your future, tickets for our all-inclusive 2021 Douro Valley Cruise are available.  Click here for more details!

Brian Carter Cellars
September 30, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet our New Marketing & Sales Director: Sonya Farrell

Tell us about yourself (where are you from? Sisters and Brothers? Pets?):

I’m originally from the VA Beach area, but I spent the last 15 years living and working in and around DC.  I moved to Seattle last summer with my husband and 2 dogs – a not-so-smart yellow lab named Zeus and a super-smart mutt who looks like a yellow lab, named Clancy.  I have a brother who’s 6’8” and a sister who’s 5’10”.  I’m 5’5”.  I don’t get it. Also, like any good introvert, I love love LOVE cooking and reading.

What is your favorite part of your job?  

I’m a big nerd in general, and when I find things that I can totally geek out about, I get excited.  That’s how I feel about wine.  And the Oxford comma. Finding a job in wine and marketing, which is all about communication, allows me to tell stories all day to people about one of my favorite topics—in person and in writing—and I love that.  And the wine is pretty good, too!

What attracted you to work at Brian Carter Cellars? 

I recently moved from Northern Virginia, where I worked for a very esteemed winemaker who reminds me a LOT of Brian.  Both have been making wine for over 40 years, both focus on blends, and both are never content with good enough. I’m pretty sure I applied for the job the same day it was posted.  

Sidenote: there is some exceptional wine coming out of Virginia, btw.  A lot of folks I’ve talked to on the west coast seem very surprised by that. I’m a huge advocate, and I’m happy to offer recommendations…for a price.  Just kidding.  Maybe.

What is your favorite Brian Carter wine? 

Hmmm…right now I’m loving the 2015 Corrida. It’s smoky and dark, and it has good acidity to keep it fresh on the palate.  Great for Fall!  But ask me again tomorrow.

What would people be surprised to know about you?  

I got into the wine biz by accident about 10 years ago as a direct result of the recession.  Like every good/weird story, it all started with a law degree.  Since then, I’ve done just about everything you can do in the industry (sommelier, teaching, marketing/sales, consulting, legal compliance, events and programming, wine club, and a dash of production). Also, I can quote just about every episode of Seinfeld, The Office, and Parks & Rec. That’s talent.

Brian Carter Cellars
August 27, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

New Grape Varieties - How many are there anyway?

Brian Carter Cellars just released two new varietal wines under our ONE label. While we have been blending these two wines for several years, we have not bottled and released them separately until now. Since they are not common varieties, especially in Washington, it may be the first time you have been exposed to them.

Graciano is a spicy, aromatic grape used mostly as a blender in Rioja and has been used since 2010 in our Corrida Blend.  The second wine is a varietal named Souzao which we have been making for some time in a sweet wine variation as a part of Opulento. It is a very dark wine and one of the most highly touted of the many Port varieties.

If you have not yet tasted a 100% varietal Graciano or Souzao, you are not alone. These are examples of the many varieties that have become available to consumers over the last few decades. For many of us, this is an exciting time, with bourgeoning opportunities to try something new and different. For a few of you, however, it might also be a bit overwhelming - how many of these new varieties do I have to learn about?

You might remember the good ol’ days when store shelves were stocked with just a few varieties: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and maybe a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc if you were lucky. Exposure to more exotic varieties such as Cabernet Franc or Grenache was rare. You probably had to have taken a wine class to have been exposed to varietals like Viognier or Mourvedre. Now, the shelves are crammed with dozens of different varieties. If you are naturally inquisitive, you can even search out exotic wines from Aligoté to Zweigelt.

So, how many of these varieties are there and why bother trying a new one? Nobody knows for sure how many varieties there are in the world; new varieties are being discovered all the time. Oz Clark, in his book Encyclopedia of Grapes states there are over 8,000 varieties. More recent publications say 10,000. The good news is you can’t possibly learn them all, so you don’t have to try!  There are 82 permitted varieties in Portuguese Port production alone, and I can guarantee that you have never heard of more than a half dozen of them.  

For me, the good news is that, if you want to, you can try a new variety every week for the next year and not get bored. If you’d rather stick to drinking Cabernet and Chardonnay the rest of your life, that’s great too (I have met people who only want to drink Chardonnay). However, if you are into exploring, these are a few varieties that I have discovered in the last few years that have particular interest to me: Albariño, Aglianico, Arneis, Carmenère, Frappato, Grillo, Grüner Veltliner, Lagrein, Picpoul, and Touriga Nacional.

What will be your new favorite varietal?

-Brian Carter

Brian Carter Cellars
July 30, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Spotlight on 2015 Takahashi

This is the second release of our Dedication series, a unique blend released each year to celebrate a person who has had a significant impact on my life. This wine is dedicated to Robert Takahashi who, for the last decade, has been essential to the success of Brian Carter Cellars. Robert, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Washington Wine industry, holds an essential role in making every Brian Carter Cellars wine since 2008. He is a ‘steady hand’ who works hard and can always be counted on, from early morning punch downs to late-night cleanups. He is a great winemaker in his own right, and I rely on his palate and his winemaking advice daily. Thank you, Robert!

Robert has always had a special passion for Malbec, a variety well suited to Washington’s soils and climate. I asked him to blend a 2015 Malbec- based Bordeaux blend and the result is the 2015 Takahashi, dominated by Malbec with smaller amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This wine has already won several Gold medals and recently took home a Double Gold at the Cascadia Wine Competition where all the judges must unanimously agree it is deserving of this accolade.

When you pour this wine, you see the color is like a black hole from which no light can escape. With aromas of blueberries and damson plums, on the palate, you will find lots of body, balanced acidity, and modest tannins supported by plenty of fruit.  Pairing this wine with food will not be difficult, just don’t pick anything too subtle, or this wine will dominate. I suggest rib-eye steaks smothered in mushrooms. Enjoy!

Malbec is one of the classic varieties approved in the Bordeaux district of France. However, on my last trip there, I found that Malbec was scarce or non-existent in Bordeaux today. More popular before Phylloxera, the variety did not survive the post-Phylloxera planting, not because of the quality of the grape, but because of several viticultural problems including frost, coulure (which prevents berry set) and downy mildew. However, Malbec is the dominant grape in the nearby area of Cahors, where the wines are distinctive and worth seeking out. Malbec is also a stalwart performer in Argentina where it can be found bottled on its own and in Bordeaux-style blends with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The variety has found a home in both California and Washington as well, where its popularity is on the rise.

For fun and education, I recommend going to your local wine shop and picking up a Cahors and an Argentinian version of Malbec and try them together with the Takahashi. You will see some commonalities such as the darkness in color, but you will also see some differences as well. Keep drinking, keep learning, and keep enjoying wine!

Brian Carter Cellars
April 22, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet our Employees - Laurie Sheehan

"Meet our Employee"
Laurie Sheehan

If you have visited the Tasting Room during the week, you probably have met Laurie and her welcoming personality. We asked her some questions on our monthly spotlight.

What is your favorite part about your job? 
I would have to say the wonderful people that I work with, and the people I get to meet every day in the Brian Carter Cellars Tasting Room. I also love learning about wine.

What attracted you to work for Brian Carter Cellars?
I have been a fan of Brian Carter’s wines for years, so the decision was easy. It’s a great place to work and be part of the Brian Carter family. It brings you closer to the wine you love.

What is your favorite Brian Carter Wine?
I love the Takahashi, I am a huge Malbec fan and the balance of the Takahashi wine is perfect. It feels very rich and indulgent, plus it’s just yummy.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am the ‘guardian ad litem’ for foster children who are very special to me. I love to bike around Kirkland, and love to be in the sun. Every year I escape to Southern California for a month just to avoid the rain.

Tell us a little bit about your family?
I have three grown children and four grandchildren. We are a very lucky family, to be able to live close together here in Washington. I was born and raised here- it’s home.

Time Posted: Apr 22, 2019 at 10:32 AM
Brian Carter Cellars
March 7, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Why Join a Wine Club!

When you visit a winery, chances are that you will also be getting a pitch about joining a winery wine club. Most wine clubs work the same way. Members of the wine club receive multiple shipments of wine per year adding up to a case or more of wine per year. Some wine clubs will offer different options. But, if you love their wines, enjoy the tasting room and friendly staff when you visit and find yourself always taking home a bottle or two each time you visit, orr you live out of town and want a regular supply of wine shipped to you with virtually no hassle.  Then you should join the winery’s wine club.

Benefits of joining a Winery’s Wine Club

  • Wine clubs may ship you wines before they are available to the public.
  • Wine clubs may ship you special wines such as reserve wines or exclusive releases that are not available anywhere except at the winery or to members.
  • Wine shipments are usually discounted off the normal retail price.
  • Wine club members receive a discount on any wines or merchandise they order or purchase from the winery.
  • Wine club members say they enjoy and look forward to receiving the wines and the element of surprise that comes with each shipment.
  • A convenient way to taste the latest offerings from a winery.
  • A winery may offer special events at the winery for wine club members only, or offer discounts on event tickets
  • There is often no cost to join a wine club.

Joining a winery wine club allows it’s members immerse themselves in everything the winery has to offer. It’s easy to lose sight of what draws you to wine in the first place: usually it is the complex flavors that excite the senses. Wine clubs offer bottles that are ready to be uncorked, or access to limited production wines that are not available in the market place. This might even inspire a few spontaneous blind tasting parties or an experimental food and wine pairing dinner with close friends. Regardless of where your wine experiences take you, rekindling your love of wine and the experience of learning something new can make any wine club worth joining.

Which Brian Carter Cellars club is right for you?

Club Vivant (“Life”) offers three releases per year of six bottles each, for a total of 18 bottles annually. It showcases our core collection of old-world, European-style blends.

Club Amour (“Love”) offers a truly special 9-bottle single release annually, highlighting the best of what Brian Carter Cellars has to offer. The single-vineyard, single-varietal “ONE” Collection, and limited-edition bottles to enjoy and add to your remarkable wine collection.

Club Dévotion (“Devotion”) is the epitome of the Brian Carter Cellars wine club experience. Combining the Amour and Vivant releases, you will receive a total of twenty-seven bottles annually, including wines from the core collection and the “ONE” Collection. 

The release parties are held in February, May, and October, with the Amour release in August, and are a great way to pick up your wine, meet new people, enjoy great music, and savor delicious food that complements the release wines perfectly. 

Brian Carter Cellars Benefits….

As a wine club member, you are invited to enjoy long summer afternoons on our patio while soaking in our grand view of Mt. Rainier and the Sammamish Valley. Or cozy up in our members-only Gallery on the weekends and having food delivered from one of the nearby restaurants.  Each membership receives a special tasting flight for you and two guests per visit, so you can invite your friends and family to experience Brian Carter Cellars. There is even an extra discount if you refer your friend and they join.

The Brian Carter Cellars tasting room is dog-friendly, so your four-legged family members are welcome to visit alongside you and get pets from the friendly staff. Make sure to get your pet’s photo on our “Animals of Brian Carter” wall.

Gain exclusive access to Brian Carter Cellars’ “ONE” Collection, library wines, and other limited-edition bottles, and receive information on discount codes and specials that occur throughout the year. 

Please contact our Wine Club Manager, Arielle at 425.806.9463 or with questions for more information.

Time Posted: Mar 7, 2019 at 11:39 AM
Brian Carter Cellars
March 1, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Barrels & Wine

When you come into Brian Carter Cellars Winery, you are greeted by hundreds of oak wine barrels stacked to the ceiling. What is the big deal with barrels and wine? Do you need barrels to make good wine? They cost a lot of money, take up a lot of room, and they require a lot of labor to fill, top and rack. In addition, wine is lost through evaporation during aging.

Many wines, I hesitate to say a majority of wines, are probably made without using barrels. Stainless steel tanks can save a winemaker a lot of time and money. When you buy a bottle of wine for under $10.00 or $12.00 a bottle, it is unlikely that the wine was aged in oak barrels. The cost of making wine using oak barrels is too high to be able to sell a bottle of wine at that price point, at least in the United States. Winemakers can get lots of oak character in their wine without the use of oak barrels through the use of oak adjuvants such as oak chips.  So why bother? 

First a little background on oak barrels and wine. Wine predates the use of barrels; indeed, clay amphorae were the containers of choice for storing and transporting wine until around 300 BC when the Romans discovered the Gauls using barrels for beer. You can imagine the dangers of a large amphora of wine being hauled on a cart. Barrels became the favorite container for wine within a couple of centuries. It soon became apparent that barrels added some qualities to wine by imparting oak flavoring and tannins. Both elements helped wine become more age stable since spoilage of wine was a significant issue before the use of sulfur dioxide.  Ultimately winemakers also found that oak barrels, because of their porous nature helped advance the aging of wine. We now know that small amounts of oxygen permeate through the barrel and allow the wine to soften and become more complex over time. 

While all types of wood have been and continue to be used including cherry, walnut, chestnut, acacia, and redwood, oak remains the material of choice over the millennia as the choice material for making wine barrels. Few kinds of wood are as durable, resist leaking, and have the desired flavor characteristics as oak. There was a time when the highest demand for oak was to build ships rather than barrels. I have read that most of the oak forests in France were planted by Napoleon, who wanted to assure a long-term supply for his navy. Let us be thankful for the advent of steel hulls for making these forests available for barrels.

French oak barrels are the most sought after by most winemakers in France, and in this country where two oak species dominate: Quercus rober and Quercus sessiliflora. These two species are also used for barrels in Eastern Europe. American oak barrels are also widely available. French oak barrels are the most expensive and cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,400 apiece, while European oak is typically closer to $800 and American oak is closer to $500.  American oak prices have been on the rise recently because of the growth in the bourbon whiskey industry, which requires the exclusive use of American oak. One reason that American oak barrels are less expensive is that they are less labor intensive to make. French oak has to be hand split, or it will leak, whereas American oak staves can be machined because of their dense wood structure. French oak can be further categorized by the individual forests of origin such as the Vosges and Never. Each forest has its subtle differences in quality. Many winemakers are steering away from buying oak by forest and are instead focusing on the tightness of the oak grain.

Winemakers have many qualities of oak they like to specify including size, toast, length of time for the aging of the staves, and the stave thickness. A cooper or Tonnellerie is a person or company that makes barrels. Oak barrels are almost always toasted (although the heads may not be) and this adds almost an unlimited number of variables that often define a cooper’s style. Different styles can include the type of fire (propane vs. wood), time, temperature and moisture of the wood. Every winemaker tends to have his favorite coopers. The typical barrel is about 59 gallons or 223 liters. While this is the most popular size, barrels can be of almost any size imaginable. Another popular size is the 500L or so-called puncheon. Why the 223-liter barrel is popular is a bit of a mystery, but my theory is that it is the largest size that a (small) Frenchman could easily move around. The smaller the barrel, the greater the surface area to volume, and the more oxygen is transferred into the wine. Of course, an important decision for a winemaker who would like to see his wine either age quickly or more slowly.

So, back to the question, why do we still bother with this ancient system for storing wine? The best wines, certainly the best reds, are made using oak barrels. Consumers have become accustomed to the vanilla, coffee, caramel and smoke characters that oak imparts on wine. The slow oxidation makes the wine less angular and more complex. That is why here at Brian Carter Cellars all of our red wines are stored in 100% oak barrels.

Brian Carter, Winemaker


Time Posted: Mar 1, 2019 at 10:54 AM
Brian Carter Cellars
February 14, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet Our Employees - Kim Underwood

Meet our Employee
Kim Underwood

If you have visited the tasting room recently, you probably have met Kim’s bright smile behind the tasting bar. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 
I love the opportunity to share my passion for wine with our customers. Taking customers on a trip around the world with Brian's wines and describing the styles they reflect is one of the best parts of my job. I love the chance to create a unique and fun experience for each customer, which most typically involves adopting one of my specially customized accents to describe the wines. The great group of people at BCC is the icing on the proverbial cake, or perhaps more appropriately, the cheese to enjoy with the wine!

What attracted you to work for Brian Carter Cellars?
Brian Carter is a pioneer in the Washington wine world and remains someone who is highly respected amongst his peers and those who know his wines. Who wouldn't relish the opportunity to work with one of the best winemakers in Washington!

What is your favorite Brian Carter Wine?
Ask anyone in the tasting room - it is no secret that I have a very special place in my heart for Corrida.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I'm addicted to traveling and am always planning my next adventure. Most recently, I was in Ireland, a beautiful country which exceeded my expectations. I love to be active and spend time hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, scuba diving and walking my pups with my husband. We have a cabin in Mazama (the Methow Valley) where I get the opportunity to do a lot of my favorite things.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
Couldn't decide between the fact that I was on the drill team in high school or that I am an attorney. I guess the fact that I'm an attorney is more surprising since anyone who knows me probably figures I am the type who would have been the goofy girl on the drill team.

Tell us a little bit about your family?
My husband is originally from England. Although beer is his favorite beverage, he is a willing participant in my many wine escapades. I have two beautiful daughters; my eldest is a project manager for a digital presentation design company in Seattle while my youngest is in her second year of law school in San Diego. #proudmama, my family, also includes two wonderful pups - a Siberian Husky and a rescue "mutt" that my daughter says reminds her of the street dogs she would see while traveling in Mexico.

Time Posted: Feb 14, 2019 at 1:13 PM
Brian Carter Cellars
January 3, 2019 | Brian Carter Cellars

Brian Carter Cellars Looks Back on Another Stunning Year

Happy New Year! It is time to look back on the year as Brian Carter Cellars wraps up 2018 on a successful note. Brian Carter shared his thoughts on his 39th harvest in Washington State.

“What a year,” said Carter, winemaker and managing partner of Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville WA, “the 2018 harvest which is safely in the barrel and is one of the best I can remember, this year’s wines have great balance and fruit, with the reds showing particularly well with dark color and ripe, rounded tannins.”

This year, Brian Carter Cellars took home the following top honors:

  • “Winery of Distinction” Award - Northwest Wine Summit
  • Best of Category and Gold - Northwest Wine Summit for the 2013 Le Coursier, 2013 Solesce, 2013 Ace, and 2015 Opulento. 
  • “Best of Show” - Washington State Wine Awards for the 2017 Abracadabra Rosé
  • Double Gold - Washington State Wine Awards for the 2014 Trentenaire
  • “Top 50 Wines $30-and-under” - Seattle Times Pacific NW Magazine for the 2015 Abracadabra Red and 2015 Opulento.
  • Double Gold – Seattle Wine Awards for the 2013 ACE, 2013 Le Coursier, and 2016 Oriana
  • Jefferson Cup Nominee and Double Gold – Jefferson Cup Wine Invitational for the 2014 Solesce
  • Best of Class and Gold – Cascadia Wine Competition for the 2015 Abracadabra Red
  • Double Gold - Cascadia Wine Competition for the 2015 Opulento
  • Best of Class & Double Gold – Tri-Cities Wine Festival for the 2014 Byzance
  • Double Gold – Tri-Cities Wine Festival for the 2015 Opulento

Brian Carter Cellars was also honored with 8 Double Golds, 12 Golds, 30 Silver, and 14 Bronze medals in 2018, receiving a total of 70 medals.

“We are deeply honored to have Brian Carter Cellars chosen for these highly competitive awards. Along with the many honors we have received, this a great tribute to the Washington growers who provide us with such exceptional grapes and to my hardworking staff who continue to contribute to making Brian Carter Cellars great”, said Carter.

Brian Carter, Winemaker

Time Posted: Jan 3, 2019 at 2:25 PM
Brian Carter Cellars
December 3, 2018 | Brian Carter Cellars

Meet our Employees - Arielle Moule

Meet our Employees
Arielle Moule
Wine Club Manager

We would like to congratulate and introduce our new Wine Club Manager, Arielle Moule.  If you have visited the tasting room, you probably have already met Arielle’s bright smile behind the tasting bar. She has been a valuable member of our team since August and ready to help make the Brian Carter Wine Club something special for all of our members.  If you have any questions, Arielle can be reached at the tasting room or via email at

What is your favorite part about your job? 
I truly love how many new people I meet every day. It’s a fantastic Tasting Room right in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country, so there are always customers coming and going. It’s great to hear stories, find out where people have traveled from, and get to know new faces, as well as see the Club members too. What better way to meet new people than over a wine tasting?

What attracted you to work for Brian Carter Cellars?
I have been a fan of Brian Carter Cellars wines for years and was thrilled to learn that there was a position available. The staff here is like a family, and such a fun environment to be in, I couldn't think of a better way to be involved.

What is your favorite Brian Carter Wine?
That's like picking a child! I think my go-to favorite is Corrida. I love the earthy quality, with lots of dusty, dry gravel notes mixed with perfect spice and dark Reminds me of the mountain paths of Northern Spain, and it’s a perfect glass on a chilly Autumn evening.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to garden. I’m always trying to pawn off extra veggies to the Brian Carter staff, I also love to cook and make pickles. I also love to read about history and travel and collect books from around the world.  

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m pretty quiet and shy most of the time. There's something about my passion for this wine that brings out this other side of me! It’s nice to tap into that, especially working with such other enthusiastic people.

Tell us a little bit about your family?
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA. I’m an only child, and my mother is a Dean at a Girl’s School in New Jersey. She and I are very close. We can trace our family tree back to 1258 AD in England, and we love to collect old family records. I moved out to Washington seven years ago to pursue the world of wine. I have two cats, Nyla and Pooh, and live in Mill Creek. 

Time Posted: Dec 3, 2018 at 1:30 PM