It’s almost every true wine lover’s dream — buy some land and start your own winery. I’ve had that dream. Maybe some of you reading this have, too.
But for most of us, it’s just that, a dream. But not for Steve Thomson, a friend of mine for more than 25 years and another former Kansas Citian working in Oregon’s wine country.
Thomson is the CEO at Cristom Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. And that’s not all. He also makes his own wine in neighboring Washington state. Thomson told me recently that it’s all a tremendous amount of work, time and sweat equity, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I bought and developed a vineyard in Walla Walla with seven others about 10 years ago. It’s called Octave, and it’s really starting to garner some significant attention,” Thomson said. “I have been selling my fruit to Va Piano Vineyards, but now, we have started our own wine brand with my fruit. The winery is called Hanatoro, named for an event my wife and I have enjoyed several times in Kyoto, Japan.”
Thomson, along with his wife and their son, launched Hanatoro with the 2012 vintage. It’s small, producing just 200 cases of cabernet Sauvignon annually. Thomson says the production may triple when the 2015 vintage is released. Thomson said they sell Hanatoro in just four states right now: Oregon, Georgia, South Carolina and Massachusetts, but they hope to add Missouri soon. He says that would be something he would really enjoy on a personal level.
“I have some distributor leads to follow up on. We’re hoping to launch in the spring. We are all Kansas Citians! Heck, I met Karen (his wife) while calling on Loch Lloyd when I was selling wine in Kansas City,” Thomson said.
That’s when I first met Thomson. He was at Griesedieck, a local wine importer and distributor, with fellow Chowtown blogger Doug Frost, among others.
Thomson and I hit it off right away. We stayed in touch through the years as our careers took us in different directions — his to the Pacific Northwest as he continued to expand his wine acumen, and mine to Chicago for a stint at WGN-TV and then to launch my Public Broadcasting television show, “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert.”
Thomson held several positions at King Estate before moving on to Cristom, all the while planning and executing his own wine dream. I asked him to share his thoughts on the wines of Cristom.
“We’re a global wine brand. Our wines are in 49 states and 23 countries,” Thomson shared with me between cross-country flights. “I believe we have the capability of becoming one of the world’s great pinot noir estates. We’re doing a 100-year plan, and that’s really incredible, to have that kind of vision and be able to leave that kind of legacy.”
Thomson hasn’t just worked in the Northwest wine business. He’s helping shape the industry, serving on the Oregon Wine Board since 2012. Thomson is currently the chairman of the Oregon Wine Board, president of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, and chairman of the marketing and export committees for the board and vice president of the Northwest Wine Coalition.
Thomson is involved in nearly every aspect of the wine business, literally from the ground up. He told me he loves it all, from the joy of producing his own small-lot Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon, to spreading the word of Cristom’s wines, to his role in industry organizations and associations.
Thomson says he also has many fond memories of his time in Kansas City.
“What I remember most about Kansas City is what an innovative wine and food market it was when I was there. Many times, you’d find wineries represented in Kansas City that you didn’t see anywhere else in the Midwest. I just loved being a part of that,” Thomson said.
I hope to catch up with Thomson when he comes to town to launch Hanatoro.
It’ll be great to see a fellow wine lover not just dreaming the dream, but living it, too.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.