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April 01, 2011
Something Special in the Air - Airfield Estates!
The land gives and takes, as so many will tell you. It's easier when it gives, but when it takes, those are the defining moments that shape not only our future, but test our resilience and forward thinking.

It all began back in 1946 on what is now famously known as Airport Ranch in Sunnyside   Washington.   It  was   named  as

such due to having been a landing strip dating back to World War II. During the War years, Don Miller was a B-29 crewman flying missions over India and later in the Marianna Islands. The airplane was called the Monsoon Goon.

Don had decided that planting grapes made sense after a visit to Freemark Abbey of Napa Valley. His friend Walter Clore had urged Don and who ever else would listen that the Yakima Valley lying at the same latitude as Bordeaux, made the perfect place to develop into the next premium wine production area. The initial planting was three acres and consisted of four different varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. The vines were sourced from a California Nursery and were certified as heat treated virus free.

During this time frame, Mike a Vietnam era sailor was still in the service of the Nation. Upon his discharge, Mike enrolled as an undergraduate at Washington State University, eventually becoming an agronomy major graduating in the Winter of 1974.

In 1978, a large sugar producer, U and I Sugar made a decision to shut down production in their Washington and Oregon plants. which created an opportunity. The farm was heavily involved in that industry at the time, growing approximately 500 acres of sugar beets. Because of the loss of such an important part of its production portfolio the farm needed a new direction. Dialogue quickly began  with  Chateau  Saint  Michelle.
Saint Michelle had recently been acquired by U.S. Tobacco, and were accelerating the production of the Winery beyond the their own vineyards ability to supply grapes. A relationship was soon forged between the parties and Airport Ranch planted 100 acres of vineyard in the Spring of 1979 for Chateau Saint Michelle. Another notable occurrence took place that year in the Yakima Valley. It was the first of a series of drought years that has plagued the area on a somewhat regular basis since that year. Realizing that water consumption of wine grapes was significantly less than other crops the farm was growing and the unpredictable nature of the droughts, Mike began to make a major shift to less consumptive crops.

Challenges arose in early 80's when a large rainstorm caused a large percentage of the fruit to develop Botrytis and the corresponding loss of that fruit. Ideas such as canopy control and deficit irrigation management were implemented as a result of that disaster and eventually decided that drip irrigation was the best means to augment these strategies. Today the entire farm is drip irrigated making the farm a poster child for water management and water conservation.

In the late 70's and early 80's, Mike's wife Kristeen, blessed them with two children, Marcus and Lori. Mike was still selling fruit and continued to go down the path as to whether or not they wanted to produce wine as this would require additional expertise.

By 2002, Marcus Miller, had graduated not only with a business degree, but an MBA in finance as well. He had also completed the wine program as Walla Walla Community College and after having completed his internship, he worked at Tsillan Cellars in Chelan. After the 2005 harvest, he came back full-circle to Airfield Estates and began to make things happen in a big way preparing for the 2007 launch of Airfield Estates. Over the years, Marcus has become quite the winemaker.

As no winery of this size can be without properly targeted marketing, Mike's daughter, Lori Miller is the Marketing Director. Having acquired her Masters in Wine Business from the University of Adelaide, Lori worked at Kangarilla Road Winery in McClaren Vale. Lori returned to Prosser in 2007, just in time for Airfield Estates Grand Opening! A look at the current bottle labeling programs shows the true benefit of a strong marketing program.

The rewards are in the special niche of growing the family tradition rich in heritage, while being able to stay close to home, close to family - here at Airport Ranch!

Wine is in the air!



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