When Dennis Murphy first tasted the wines of Walla Walla, I wonder if he knew that he’d eventually launch a winery there. After a long career in the construction industry building homes throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon, Murphy planted his own cabernet sauvignon and merlot vineyards in 2005. By 2010, his new venture, Caprio Cellars, began selling wine out of a stunning tasting room facility where he and his team provide complimentary food and wine pairings for visitors. Yup, you read that correctly. Caprio Cellars does things its own way.
In lieu of the traditional wine tasting experience where guests pay a flat fee per person for a flight of assorted wines (with the option to have said fees waived should you purchase a few bottles), Caprio Cellars takes the pressure out of the equation. Based on the reciprocity theory Murphy learned in business school, Caprio allows you to sip, nibble and steep in stellar hospitality, on the house. This experience allows you to drop your shoulders and actually enjoy yourself as you learn a bit about the wines and take in the views. The Caprio culinary team creates a seasonal farm-to-table menu to pair with their current wine offerings, featuring dishes like a chilled prawn salad, keftedes, or patatas bravas with tomato aioli. In homage to Murphy’s grandmother, Eleanor, you are well-fed during your visit.
Using moderate French oak, Caprio Cellars produces just 2,000 cases of award-winning, estate-grown Bordeaux varietal blends per year. Tastings are limited to four 90-minute time slots per day with a 20-person cap per slot. This is not your average tasting room experience, as most venues cram as many imbibers in as possible.
And if you aren’t already packing your bag and planning a trip, it gets better. Caprio donates 5% of net profits to charities via a program called Every Sip Changes Lives, focusing on two non-profit organizations: First Story, and Big Brothers and Sisters of America. Imagine an attentive, free-of-charge wine and food tasting experience where the wine you choose to purchase also gives back to good causes.
Customer Experience Director Emily Kiefer spoke with Beyondish about this truly unique winery and the good folks who run it.
How did your founder, Dennis, get into wine?
Wine has always been a part of his family. His great grandmother, Eleanor Sanitella, was an arborist of grapes. His grandfather made wine (Eleanor’s husband). His dad also had an acre of Cabernet Sauvignon in California and produced wine with him every year. Dennis fell in love with Walla Walla in the early 2000s and subsequently studied winemaking at UC Davis.
What’s one thing you’d share with folks who don’t know about the wines of Washington State?
Good Question. Walla Walla has such vast terrain and rich soils that were a result of the Missoula floods. With the longer growing season, the extreme diurnal temperatures and the rich soil, we are the recipients of fruit with a great deal of finesse. That fruit creates wines that can be enjoyed for years to come. There is so much diversity in the varietals grown in Walla Walla that we feel it really makes our wine region stand out.
How do you select the menu items that you feature at your facility?
Our culinary team is adamant about doing everything from scratch and using the abundance of agriculture that our valley provides. Having grown up in the valley, they know when things are in season and have developed a strong relationship with many of our smaller farmers. We sit down as a team and taste or discuss the current wines being offered and envision possible pairings. They then work their magic in the kitchen to create dishes that complement the wines beautifully without overpowering them.
Could you tell our readers a bit about your philanthropic work with First Story and Big Brothers and Sisters?
Dennis has always been a generous person with a give-as-you-go mentality. There are two special programs that are near and dear to Dennis’ heart. After having mentored a little brother for 20+ years, he also sat on the board for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. He says he went in with the notion that he was going to change someone’s life, but what he found was that his little brother changed his life. First Story collaborates with Hayden Homes and is a program that gives families that have undergone hardships a chance to own a home. In 2002, First Story set out to build one home every year for a family in need. Now, after just celebrating their 20 year anniversary, they are about to complete their 100th home!
Do you have any advice for anyone who’s new to pairing food and wine?
Dennis makes it easy to pair our wine with food. He creates each of our wines with balanced acidity and softer, less overpowering tannins. When I taste our wine, I think about all the flavors I experience. They all have their place throughout your meal. I will tell you, our rosé pairs beautifully with just about anything, and as a result, it sells out very quickly! Our white blend has such an elegance and minerality that enhances the seafood coming from the Northwest.
Our cabernet sauvignon is definitely a crowd pleaser; it’s beautiful on its own while you are preparing dinner or while eating duck or a New York strip. Caprio’s flagship wine, a Bordeaux red blend composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc, has elegant tannins and complexities that leave your mouth watering. This wine is perfect for that ribeye!
Is your mouth watering yet? Just wait for our premium reserve red blend, Sanitella. Sanitella is composed of the best of our barrels and is aged an additional 6 months. This is for your filet mignon, definitely a richer red meat, with some sautéed wild mushrooms. This wine can even go with a luscious chocolate dessert. Lol, now that I have given you my super long answer, the short one is that I just think of the flavors that I get out of our wine and pair it with the first thing that comes to mind. Your gut instincts are usually the most accurate.
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