PORT ANGELES — From bittersweet toasts to a marriage proposal, lingering wine tasters to longtime friends, Camaraderie Cellars’ reputation agrees with its name.
The Port Angeles winery, 334 Benson Road, celebrated 25 years of business in August.
Owners Don and Vicki Corson never intended Camaraderie Cellars to serve as an event venue — and that’s still true. But in 25 years, they’ve seen an engagement, 90th birthday parties, high school classmates reuniting 40 years later, exasperated mothers seeking refuge and friends toasting a departed companion.
“We have some very touching stories about people who chose to spend certain life moments here,” Vicki said.
For some, the winery represents respite, laughter, grief, celebration, warmth — even coming home in some primal sense, Don said.
“People say over and over, unprompted: ‘There’s just something about this place,’ ” Don said.
“It’s not prompted. It just sort of bubbles,” he said, laughing. “We don’t make bubbly wine, but it bubbles up here.”
Throughout 25 years, Don has carved out “spaces for space,” transforming a gravel parking lot into a shaded patio and adding alcoves, a firepit, fountains, music, rock sculptures, gardens, roses and tree seedlings to the property.
At some point, Don realized the winery possessed all the characteristics of a sacred garden: senses of enclosure and safety, music, fire and the sound of water, he said.
“I think it’s very, very primal,” Don said. “We were hunter-gatherers much longer than we were in the city, so to be able to come to a place of safety with water, food, music and craft — it’s like coming home.”
As the gardens matured, the Corsons began to recognize the winery’s “sacred” elements.
“Maybe we’re also maturing in that sense, too, and realizing maybe we do have something special here,” Don said.
Just a wild notion in 1981, Camaraderie Cellars evolved from a garage operation with 100 pounds of grapes — translation: 5 gallons of wine — to a national brand with hundreds of barrels bearing some 100,000 pounds of grapes.
The winery currently produces cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, syrah, tempranillo and viognier from grapes at seven vineyards in Eastern Washington.
Still, the North Olympic Peninsula operation favors camaraderie over commodity.
“Wine is not a commodity to us,” Don said. “It’s a lifestyle component.”
Such a lifestyle pairs food and fellowship, according to the Corsons.
Before they were winemakers, the couple found wine naturally encouraged conversation among friends, especially when paired with a meal of “full-flavored fare,” Don said.
Camaraderie Cellars recently created an anniversary cookbook, chock-full of their son’s, or chef Steve’s, recipes to complement their variety of “food wines.”
“Is it ‘food and wine’ or ‘wine and food’?” the cookbook begins.
The Corsons prefer the open-ended question.
Married for 47 years, the Corsons realized a glass of wine with dinner could slow down their thoughts after a stressful workday and focus each’s attention on the other.
“Enjoying wine with a meal slows you down to enjoy conversation in our fast-food world,” Vicki said.
“We live in such frenzied times that we need all the ways we can to slow down and talk — and hopefully listen,” Don added.
On a community level, the Corsons aim to promote camaraderie among the arts and other causes.
Their benefit wines — what Don affectionately dubs “liquid assets” — include “Rhapsody in Red,” created for the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra; “Plein Air 1” for the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center; and “Confluence” for the Olympic Medical Center Foundation.
The latter will be sold at the 2017 Harvest of Hope, a dinner and wine gala benefiting cancer patients at the Port Angeles hospital. During the 15th annual gala at Sunland Golf &Country Club, “Confluence” will be served out of a new 2017 bottle featuring Sandy Byers’ art.
Camaraderie Cellars’ business hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays to Sundays from May to mid-October and by appointment apart from those hours and during the offseason.
For more about the winery, visit camaraderie cellars.com.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.