Washougal couple is committed to sustainable practices at their Lyle vineyard

Wine, the natural way

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“Experience wine the way nature makes it.”This is the philosophy behind Washougal couple Robin Dobson and Kathleen Perillo’s business, Klickitat Canyon Winery. From the soil in which the grapes grow to when the wine is sold, everything is as natural as possible.

Their vineyard is one of only three in the state of Washington that makes certified organic wines. There are no sulfites, yeasts, clarifiers or chemicals.

These days, “clean eating” is becoming a common practice in many households, but Dobson said he was making wine without additives long before that.

“I’ve always done it this way,” he said. “It’s the traditional way of making wine in Europe. I want the grapes to speak for themselves.”

The Washougal couple, who met in 2001, bring their unique personalities to the business.

Dobson, who grew up in Switzerland, believes firmly that “wine happens,” and that the joy of wine making includes both the art of growing the grapes and the art of making the wine.

“The grapes are everything, all that is needed, and the wine represents the location,” he said. “I wanted my wine to be made on its own merit.”

This point is emphasized on the Klickitat Canyon website:

“Our experiences in Europe emphasized the intricate relationship of wine to its rooted origins in the soil and this notion guides the philosophy of our winery today: Wine should not be created and manipulated in a chemistry lab, as is being promoted by the growing U.S. wine industry. Instead, wine is a beautifully crafted representation of the grapes and the location on which they grew.”

Perillo handles the marketing aspect of the business.

“Robin loves making the wine,” she said. “But I bring to it the presentation aspect. Wine is beautiful, and it should look beautiful. What attracted me to Robin is the way he grows the wine and grapes is the same way I approach agriculture and food. I think people are attracted to that aspect, and I try to get the word out about it.”

When Perillo first met Dobson, he was making barrels and barrels of wine at his Lyle vineyard, but was selling very little.

“He was all, ‘I love wine!’ and I told him we needed to figure out a way to get it to people.”

Now, the couple sells their wine at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market, Camas Farmer’s Market, and four markets in the Seattle area.

“We love the Camas market because you always run into someone that you know,” Perillo said. “It’s a laid back market, an quite lovely. It’s for those who are really interested in food, and it’s family friendly.”

Added Dobson, “It’s a place where people get together, a classic downtown.”

In addition to the farmer’s markets, they also provide wine for events such as parties, anniversaries and weddings. A year ago, they opened up a tasting room in Stevenson.

“We thought it would be nice to come to town and help represent the Gorge community,” Dobson said.

Added Perillo, “We used to have a tasting room open in Lyle, but we thought it would be more convenient if people from the markets could come out here instead. This is much closer to Camas and Vancouver than our winery.”

The tasting room in Lyle is still open, but by appointment only.

During their tenure in Stevenson, the two have enjoyed a partnership with local restaurant Vibe Café, which is located next door to their tasting room. The two businesses share outdoor space as well.

“During Second Fridays in Stevenson, people can come here, have an entrée at Vibe, and a glass of wine with their meal,” Perillo said.

A third business, Lizette, a women’s clothing store, is located on the other side of the tasting room.

“It’s a neat thing,” Perillo said. “We are delighted to be located between two small businesses.”

The couple still offers tasting at the winery, by appointment only. In recent years, they have expanded their operations to include another vineyard in the Lyle area.

In addition to wine making, running a tasting room, and selling at area farmer’s markets, the two also hold down full-time jobs. Perillo teaches environmental science and biology at Clark College, and Dobson works for the Forest Service.

They have been approached a few times to teach a wine making class, an offer they politely decline.

“People tend to approach wine the way you do a chemistry lab,” she said. “And it shouldn’t be approached that way. Wine happens.”

The natural approach to wine making begins with the soil where the grapes are grown, she added. Klickitat Canyon Winery uses a process called “restorative farming,” to keep the ecosystem in balance.

“Basically, you look at the natural system, and make sure you put it back into your farming,” Perillo said. “What we teach farmers is that it enhances the ecosystem. If you have several different kinds of insects, it provides for natural pest control and you don’t need to use chemicals.”

Ultimately, the natural process makes for a unique wine experience. And that’s what keeps them passionate about their work.

“I love the wine making,” Dobson said. “I much prefer to do the growing of the grapes and the wine making, and see how the wine expresses itself from year to year.”Perillo said she enjoys telling the vineyard’s story.

“I really like to talk to people about the wine and how we are treating the land,” she said. “If we don’t treat it well, we are doing mother nature a disservice.”