Attending a casual wine-tasting event over a decade ago led optometrist-turned-pharmacist, Gary Gougér, to add internationally-recognized winemaker to his resume of accomplishments.
Gougér, owner of Gougér Cellars Winery in Ridgefield, was at a tasting in California back in 2002 with his good friend, Andrew Hutchins.
“I turned to my friend and said, ‘Andrew, we can make wine,’ and he said, ‘What makes you think we can make wine?’ And, I said, ‘I’m a chemist. I’ll get some books and we’ll figure it out,’ ” Gougér said.
Shortly after that, Gougér entered their 2002 Zinfandel in the WineMaker Magazine International Competition and it won a gold medal. In 2003, he and Hutchins made a Petit Sirah and another Zinfandel. Again, gold medals, and Gougér realized he was having a lot more fun making wine than being a pharmacist.
With a new passion to pursue, Gougér traveled to Australia, where he earned a graduate diploma in Oenology from the University of Adelaide. Upon returning to Clark County, he opened up his own winery in downtown Vancouver in an 860-square-foot space.
“I remember saying to the two guys who had that space, ‘This is an awful lot of space. Do you think we could divide it in half?’” Gougér said. “I made use of every single square inch of the place. I can’t imagine how I ever did it.”
Taking advantage of a recent Washington State ruling, Gougér was the first winery allowed in farmers markets. He set up a booth at the Vancouver Farmers Market located at Esther Short Park. This opportunity increased his visibility with area wine lovers, prompting a move.
In June 2013, Gougér expanded to a 5,500-square-foot space in Ridgefield that used to house the fire station. He has found many advantages to setting up a winery in such a building. The large bay added at the end of the building is perfect for his winemaking and wine storage. Large garage doors open the whole building up in nice weather. There’s plenty of indoor seating to while away an afternoon drinking wine accompanied by a menu of perfectly-chosen small bites.
But, the pièce de résistance has to be the winery’s roof. From the rooftop patio, guests can enjoy views of Mt. St. Helens and, if the wind is cooperating, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, as well. Last summer Gougér brought in a solo guitarist and found it to be the perfect space for live music. The fact that it’s sitting at over two stories tall keeps the noise down for area neighbors and makes for an inviting, relaxing space. This summer he’s hoping to expand to a jazz duo and is also talking about putting in a couple of bocce ball courts.
A far cry from his days making wine with his friend, Hutchins, in his low-lying basement.
“Andrew and I started under his house,’’ Gougér said. “We put in a little sink and a few little lights and some racks for wine bottles and we’d have to be on our knees or bent over. In fact, there’s a picture of the two of us with some medals we’d just received from our wines and we’re on our knees and our heads are almost touching the floor above us. It really was funny and it was so much fun.”
Plenty of personal stories like that surround Gougér. Many of his wines, though the varietal is on the bottle, are named in numbers. The idea came from Australian wines such as Bin 555. Gougér changed the bin to blend and decided, if he was going to number his wines, he wanted them to have personal significance. For instance, Blend 128 is his birthday. Blend 726, which is a Petit Sirah, is the birthday of a man who helped him in the winery and that wine was always one of his favorites. Blend 522 is named for Don Elliott, who designed Gougér’s wine label. Of particular note is his Blend 780.4 Sparkling Rose. In the medical field, each procedure is billed with a CPT code. The medical code for giddiness is 780.4.
A self-proclaimed idea man, Gougér’s most recent creation is a line of ice creams that already have a following of their own. He witnesses people coming in, buying a pint and eating it in one sitting. This venture has synergy written all over it. After taste testing a few different flavors of ice cream and receiving such high praise from customers, he realized he couldn’t make it in large quantities on his own. He approached Ice Cream Renaissance in downtown Vancouver with a proposition.
Gougér supplies the recipe, they make it for him and he sells it at his winery. In three weeks, he sold 90 pints. It’s a non-alcoholic ice cream based on wine grapes with all the sweetness coming from the grapes. Currently he carries Muscat Ottonel, Merlot, Zinfandel and Merlot with chocolate chips. These ice creams pair nicely with his Mine, Mine, Mine and Muscat Ottonel ports and dessert wines.
Gougér Cellars Winery is located at 26506 NE 10th Ave., Ridgefield. For more information, go to www.gcwinery.com or call (360) 909-4707.