COUGAR CREST ESTATE WINERY was established at the Walla Walla airport in 2001 by Deborah and David Hansen. Natives of the Northwest, Deborah from Spokane and David from Bremerton, they met in Pullman. After graduating from Washington State University in the 1970’s, Deborah in Pharmacy and David in Veterinary Medicine, their careers led them to the San Francisco area for 18 years. It was there, among the California wineries, that the appreciation of the art of winemaking was born. While pursuing their careers and being wine tourists in California, the Hansens purchased land and developed 125 acres of apple orchards in the Walla Walla Valley. In 1995 the farms became self sufficient and they moved their family to the Valley in 1996.
The return to the Northwest was a pleasant surprise. There were seven wineries making amazingly good wine in Walla Walla. Upon visiting the Walla Walla vineyards, the decision was made to replace some aging apple orchards with wine grapes. Dave was born with a green thumb, and learned to propagate vines from cuttings. Fortunately self rooted vines are the norm in Washington State, and he was able to grow all our Cabernet Sauvignon vines from cuttings off the original Seven Hills Vineyard, and Syrah vines from cuttings off Cailloux Vineyard. The first vines were planted in 1997 and they were a huge success. The vines flourished and more were propagated and planted the following years. Today the vineyard acreage totals 110 acres, spread out over four different vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA.
For two people with a love of fine wine and lots of science education, the progression from growing grapes to making wine came naturally. Dabbling in winemaking at home led to bigger things. Starting in 1999, David and Deborah made many trips back to UC Davis to take classes in many different subjects, but always about winemaking and grape growing. The following year, the idea of starting their own winery was born, and in 2001 the long sought after winery license arrived.
The little building at the Walla Walla airport was home for seven years. Initial production was small, 900 cases, and consisted of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. When this wine was bottled in 2003 it was entered in several international contests. The Los Angeles Fair was the largest wine competition in the United States at that time. All of these wines scored well but two of our wines catapulted to the head of their class. Both the 2001 Merlot and the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon won gold medals and Best of Class. The Cabernet went even further, winning the top award for Best Cabernet Sauvignon of the entire contest. We were thrilled to receive this recognition in our first year of winemaking.
Little did we know our second year of winemaking would bring even bigger surprises. In 2004, the 2002 Syrah was recognized by Wine Spectator as one of the Top 100 Wines of the World. In two short years, our very first vintages had won more recognition than we had dared to dream of. In the years since, we have received many Gold Medals and high ratings and recognition, but we still reminisce about the thrilling results during our first two years.
In 2008 we completed the move to our new facility on Frenchtown Road. It is a beautiful modern prairie design with soaring clerestory windows, chunky glue-lam beams, barrel-rolled ceilings, and a subterranean library wine cellar. Rastra block construction material, tankless hot water heaters, and recycled materials were used to create a truly environmentally friendly building.
Since moving back to the Northwest, the Hansen’s children have passed through all the stages of becoming adults and we now look at them eye to eye. The apple orchards have seen good times and bad, and the love of fine wine has grown into a passion for growing grapes and turning them into wine that everyone in the Valley can be proud of.