Chris Camarda grew up in a large family in the Queen Ann neighborhood in Seattle where he attended Seattle Prep and the University of Washington. It was in his mother’s basement that he first began making wine in 1987. Two years later, he started Andrew Will Winery, naming the wine for his son Will and nephew Andrew. Andrew Will is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, 2014.
Chris developed his interest and passion for wine after working in the Seattle restaurant business for more than 20 years. He is self-taught as a winemaker; relying on books and constant tasting as well as in the early years seeking advice from other winemakers he respected such as David Ramey and Gary Figgins.
Initially, the winery consisted of 900 square feet of rented industrial space in Seattle. In the early days, everything was done by hand from shoveling grapes into crushers, to labeling and delivering the wine. In 1994, the winery and its 36 barrels of wine moved to Vashon Island where Chris built his home and the winery on 5 acres.
In the early years, Chris focused on the single varietals Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, sourcing fruit from a number of vineyards in the Columbia Valley as well as Walla Walla.
Yet, as Chris developed his style of winemaking over the years, he chose to focus on the primacy of the vineyard over variety. He was in the forefront among Washington vintners to make single estate blends; each wine a different makeup of the Bordeaux varietals. His wines are named for the vineyards from which the fruit is sourced.
“I believe that an individual piece of property can form a signature – an identity – and it is that face that is the focus of my winemaking. We are trying to let the vineyards reveal themselves,” he says.
Over the years Chris has pared down the number of vineyards he works with. His now focuses on three vineyards in the Columbia Valley.
These vineyards include Chris’s own 32 acre estate Two Blondes in Zillah, first planted in 2000 and named for his late wife Annie who was blonde and the wife of their silent partner, also a blonde. Despite being 3 hours away from the winery, Chris is involved in the planting and development of the vineyard.
The other two vineyards which provide fruit for Andrew Will are Champoux Vineyard of which Andrew Will is part owner and Ciel du Cheval Vineyard where Chris has sourced fruit from his very first vintage.
Andrew Will case production remains at 5000 with no plans to expand. Despite the small production, Andrew Will wines are distributed throughout the country as well as abroad. In addition to the blends, the winery also produces small lots of other wines such Sangiovese and Syrah on the Cuvee Lucia and Annie Camarda labels. These wines are named to honor his daughter and late wife.
Chris is emphatic that he is first and foremost a Washington winemaker. As he puts it, “We are not Napa and we are not Bordeaux.” He adds, “I believe that if Washington is ever to be considered a great wine region we need to establish the characteristics of our geographical areas and the characteristics of each vineyard in those areas.”
In the spirit of the collegiality found among Washington’s wine community, Chris is a generous host to aspiring winemakers. Those that take the ferry out to Vashon Island, witness the passion Chris has not only for wine but art and music, as well.