Winemaker – Justin Neufeld
What is your/your family’s story around your winery? How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
I became interested in wine from taking a mycology course at UW. Shortly after graduating I decided to move back to the Yakima Valley (where I grew up) so I could have more experience with both vineyard and winery work. Both my wife, Brooke, and I knew early on that we wanted to have our own brand and after four years of working in the valley, we launched JB Neufeld with the 2008 vintage. That vintage we made 175 cases and now we are up to 4,000 cases.
How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
My first vintage as a winemaker was 2006, when I made the wines for Glen Fiona winery. However, I got my first winery job in 2004 working in a lab, so I’ve been in the business for 20 years this year.
How did you first begin working with the grower?
I reached out to Ciel du Cheval in the early spring of 2017. I knew of their reputation for quite some time, but I had heard a rumor that they had recently planted Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon on their property. I was somewhat enamored with that clone at the time so reached out to see if I could get any.
What excites you the most about the wines you’re making?
I love the vibrancy of my wines. I feel like they are good representations of the terroir from which they come from. They maximize the full potential of the fruit without turning into something that they aren’t.
What is your favorite part about the Washington state wine community?
Everyone you meet is so passionate, not only about what they are doing, but what Washington wine in general is doing. We are a relatively small wine region in the vast world of wine, and I think that helps strengthen the comradery that we have in our community.
What excites you the most about what the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
Some people say that Washington wine has always had an identity crisis. I attribute that to the fact our growing regions have such diversity and so many microclimates we can literally find a great place to grow many different varieties of grapes. It’s hard to say what the future holds for Washington wine, but I do believe that we are positioned well to deal with any challenges. Climate change will reshape the topology of wine across the world. When that happens here, I believe our state’s diversity of terroir will become an even greater strength that will allow our industry to evolve and thrive for many generations to come.
What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
I don’t have a favorite wine and food pairing. I am going to have to keep working on that!
Vineyard Manager/Viticulturalist, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard – Kade Casciato
What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing? How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
I grew up in a community rooted in agriculture and forestry. I have always had an affinity for agriculture, science, and being outdoors. Viticulture seems to be the perfect combination of all these elements, while providing for some unique challenges and plenty of excitement. My involvement in viticulture was my second career. After spending more than a decade building industrial buildings and custom homes, real estate economics forced a change in my career. I sought out the viticulture & enology program at WSU where I received my B.S. in Integrated Plant Sciences (V&E), and an M.S. in Agriculture. During my time at WSU, I was fortunate enough to meet and go to work for the Holmes family at Ciel Du Cheval. This was a perfect fit to continue with on-farm research coupled with growing premium wine grapes as well as the opportunity to work alongside the best of the best in viticulture and enology here in Washington state.
How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
2024 will be my eleventh vintage growing grapes in Washington state.
How did you first begin working with this winery?
In 2017, Justin reached out to purchase some of our Cabernet Sauvignon. This was an easy choice for us. As we think about single varietal, vineyard designated wines with exacting character and an overwhelming sense of place, we want to pair our high-caliber fruit with extremely capable hands. Justin has proved vintage after vintage that he is indeed blessed with those capable hands. JB Neufeld Winery has been a great addition to the vineyard, and we are always excited to see what Justin brings to the next vintage.
What excites you the most about the grapes you’re growing or the techniques/equipment you’re using?
Half of my excitement lies in learning from the unabated latitude and freedom to pursue the challenges of grape growing though on-farm research and the implementation of technology, e.g., machine learning models for irrigation trials, predictive modeling for growth and development and sugar distributions across blocks, telemetry-based soil moisture sensors and valve control to name a few. The other half of my excitement lies in working with and mentoring people. It’s our goal to build, support, create opportunities, and maintain as many qualified individuals within the industry as possible.
Crew Lead/Logistical Coordinator, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard – Cristal Farias
What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
I come from an immigrant background, where my siblings and I were raised by a single mom who would take us to pick cherries during our summer breaks. My mom is going on 22 years working at Ciel du Cheval – she was the one that encouraged me to apply for a job here.
How long have you been working in this capacity?
I started working at Ciel du Cheval in February of 2016, as a regular crew member. I started taking over different roles in the vineyard, which inspired me to further my education in agriculture, and become a student at Columbia Basin College.
What excites you the most about working in the vineyards?
I love that I can be outdoors and enjoy the weather, as well as make connections with our amazing crew and our awesome winemakers during harvest.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
My favorite aspect of this job is being able to care for these vines like they’re our babies and seeing the transition of pruning to having full ripe clusters hanging off the vines.
What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I’m seeing a bright future for Washington state wines, especially with more social media exposure and maintaining our focus on sustainability.
What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
We do most of our labor by hand; from pruning, tying, canopy management, and harvesting.