Stavalaura Vineyards is the result of a high school horticulture project gone right. In 2003 owner Joe Leadingham, a pilot for Delta, was on a flight with Bob Morus, a fellow Delta pilot and owner of Phelps Creek Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. The topic of conversation turned to Leadingham lamenting his lack of skill and experience to help his daughter Laura with her high school horticulture project. Morus offered him some young Pinot Noir vines that he wasn’t using. The vines thrived after he planted them with Laura on his land near Ridgefield, Washington, and the idea for Stavalaura took off.
Inspired by the quality of the fruit they grew — and naming the winery for his daughters — Leadingham realized this could be another source of income for him. He took the Viticulture and Enology program at Washington State University in Prosser to learn how to grow and manage a vineyard as well as make wine.
When he decided to plant more grapes he worked with botanist Tom Thornton of Cloud Mountain Nursery and sought advice as to what would grow well in his area. Another requirement was unique grapes: Leadingham did not want to grow what everyone else did. He ultimately chose Golubok, a Russian varietal, and Zweigelt-Rebe, a northern European grape. He also added more Pinot Noir, specifically the 777 and Pommard clones.
Although not certified organic, Leadingham uses natural products such as sulfur to suppress mold and bird nets to keep them out of the grapes. “Whatever the season brings, that is what the wine tastes like,” he says of his philosophy. He says he feels plants should adapt to where they are at which includes soil, climate and bugs. He does limit the use of pesticides so that the good bugs take care of the bad bugs. This results in some crop loss but he feels like it is worth it.
Leadingham also throw in another component to his wine: music. Around the clock, the vines will hear Gordon Lightfoot or the Eagles playing in the tasting room and the sound floats over some of the vines as well. “It just makes the wine better,” he says.
The reason most come to Stavalaura is to taste the Golubok and it does not disappoint. “We try to educate people as to what this wine is because it tastes nothing like a Zinfandel or a Cabernet Sauvignon,” Leadingham says, adding that Golubok is a very rich and deeply colored grape with inky red juice and pulp. He produces 15 barrels a year — three times the production of his other two varietals. His decision to grow an unusual grape has paid off and he is planning an expansion of the Golubok vines over the next few years.
Stavalaura’s tasting room is not far from Interstate I-5 in Ridgefield, just 10 miles north of Vancouver, with six other wineries in town and another four more in nearby Battleground. Though the vineyard is not currently in a recognized viticultural region, Leadingham, along with some of the other vineyard owners in the area, are charter members of the Southwest Wine Association. The group is currently working on the process to establish a new Washington AVA for Clark County and to promote the wine industry in the area.