From chips to cheers: Former potato-chip maker goes for grapes
Tim Kennedy (who started Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips) and his wife, Lori, attempted to retire to the sunny side of the state. But they now find themselves farming and making wine at Don Carlo Vineyard.
Special to The Seattle Times
HE FIRST delighted us with his crunchy, delicious and high-quality potato chips. Now, Tim Kennedy has turned to more ethereal agricultural pursuits as a Walla Walla Valley grape grower and winery owner.
It’s actually Kennedy’s third career.
In the 1980s, he was an electronics engineer for a company that made packaging machines for the snack industry. In 1986, he became determined to make high-quality, kettle-style chips. So he launched Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips in Auburn and created a favorite among Northwest snackers using Washington potatoes. In 2006, he sold Tim’s to Birds Eye Foods (now owned by Pinnacle Foods), and he and his wife, Lori, retired to the sunny side of the state.
“Ironically, we settled in the Walla Walla Valley without thinking of getting into the wine industry,” he said. “We’re following my wife’s dream now.”
The couple bought an apple orchard in 2006 on the Oregon side of the valley near the town of Milton-Freewater. They removed about 10 acres of trees and planted chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, and in 2007 launched Don Carlo Vineyard with Lori as winemaker and Tim farming the vineyard.
“I’m outdoors more now than I was in the chip industry,” he said.
They named the winery after Lori Kennedy’s grandfather Carlo, who emigrated from Italy’s Calabria area in the 1930s and settled in Seattle. He loved making wine for his family. Today, his handsome face adorns the label that carries his name.
For the first few years, they were open by appointment. But in 2011, they were among the first wineries to open a separate tasting room in the lobby of the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla. There, they had easy access to hundreds of guests as well as thousands of visitors who arrived in town each weekend.
This winter, they decided to move back to the southern valley and open a tasting room at their winemaking facility to keep everything closer to home.
Kennedy also is helping build the next generation of Washington winemakers and grape growers, serving on the Wine Science Center Development Board, which is building the Wine Science Center on the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in Richland. When it is completed next year, the Wine Science Center will be a world-class facility for education and research in the heart of Washington wine country.
At the annual Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend, which is May 2-4, the Kennedys will be releasing their 2012 chardonnay, as well as a new wine called Big Poppa’s Red, a premium blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sangiovese. It’s an homage to Carlo.
More than 100 wineries will be open throughout the valley during the three-day event, which is the biggest weekend in Washington wine country. Be sure to put Don Carlo on your itinerary.
Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.