In the late 1990s, a young couple new to Seattle discovered a shared love of Washington State wines. After exploring the diversity of Pacific Northwest viniculture, Ben Viscon tried his own hand at making wine. From that moment on, there was no looking back: his craft has grown from a small but passionate basement project to a flourishing boutique urban winery.
Today, Viscon Cellars is an award-winning family-owned West Seattle winery focused on small lot production, sourcing fruit from premiere Washington grape growers. We sat down with Ben for a chat, and here is what he had to say:
How did you get started in the wine business?
I started making wine in 2004, as a curious hobbyist. I would volunteer at other wineries helping with harvest, bottling and pouring events. During the 2004 harvest I bought 100 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the wineries I was volunteering for and made my first “batch” of wine. After that, I knew that this was something I wanted to do! I continued to volunteer at wineries while applying to Viticulture and Enology programs throughout the West Coast. I got into the Graduate Program at UC Davis in 2006 and completed it in 2008. I did this while working full-time at my “day-job”, I had a 3 year old and a newborn… and of course a very supportive wife!!
What is the story behind the name for your label?
While going through the program at Davis, I knew that I would one day make this my full-time gig, but never really had a thought on what to name the winery. Once everything started to come together and it was time to bond as a legal winery in 2011, I reflected back on the journey so far and realized that I did not do this alone. My wife was a huge support, my kids (as young as they were then) had always been exposed to wine in various stages of fermentation aging and bottling. So I knew I needed to pay respect to their support of our collective efforts and chose to name the winery after our family name, Viscon Cellars.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
Wearing many hats. As a small business owner and winemaker, I am constantly filling many roles simultaneously. Farmer, winemaker, scientist, creative and marketing, legal, finance and accounting, bookkeeper, licensing and regulations, customer service, truck driver, mechanic, forklift repair, plumber, janitor..the list goes on and it all comes through me! (I would not trade it for anything)
Which part of the wine making process do you enjoy the most?
I get asked this question a lot. I don’t think I have one thing that I enjoy the most or the least. I honestly think I get energy from all facets of the process and the business. When the air turns chilly and the leaves start to change, I get excited to harvest. Meeting new and potential customers in my tasting room is always fun too.
What is your current favorite varietal to work with?
I am all over the place on this one right now. I make mainly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals in my line-up. I like to make reds that can hold their own by the glass and pair well with most foods. I’m really digging Malbec, various Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley Syrah’s, but Cabernet Sauvignon is still King for me.
What advice would you give to new winemakers?
Find your differentiator for your wines and your brand. Stay humble and ask a lot of questions. Be ready (and willing) to sacrifice. Make friends in the business and be a friend in the business. And oh yeah..stay humble….let your wines speak for themselves.
What do you think sets you apart from other wineries?
I tend to age my reds a little longer than most other wineries. I mainly use “once-filled” French Oak barrels, which I believe imparts just the right amount of oak I want in my wines. I make wines that are very drinkable at release, can stand on their own by the glass and pair with many foods.
Nothing is more frustrating than buying a wine and being told “Don’t open it for a couple of years”.
What challenges do you face with only sourcing Washington grapes?
Due to being a smaller winery, I am challenged to find grape sources that would be willing to not just sell me grapes but actually partner with me on building wine programs that feature the characteristics of the vineyard, varietal and my wine-making style. Lots of hand-shaking and dirt clog kicking out in the vineyards.
What rewards do you perceive from sourcing only Washington grapes?
I love Washington Wine Grapes. We have a great thing going in our state and our ability to grow very distinctive wines that have a variability based on the region and specific vineyard.
What one varietal would you love to work with but find hard or impossible to source in WA?
What AVA’s do you source your grapes from?
Rattlesnake Hills, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Walla Walla Valley.
What does it mean to you to be a part of Seattle Urban Wineries?
With Seattle Urban Wineries, we have the opportunity to truly draw attention to the great wines we are all making in our respective neighborhoods. A diverse collection of wineries and tasting rooms that make great Washington Wines and have distinct personalities. I love trying other wineries wines within SUW so that I can send customers to them and at the same time learn from my fellow wineries. It is a great craft and business coalition. I believe SUW has the ability to “grow the pie” while all of us keep our slices, instead if viewing it as a competitive situation.