For many successful people, knowing what they want is often the motive behind their achievements. For Pamela Adkins knowing what she doesn’t want has been a big part of her success as winemaker and co-owner of Adrice Wines.
Pam is driven by her insatiable appetite to learn. Whenever life has put her in a situation where she’s felt idle or bored, she’s never been afraid to move on or change directions entirely to take on a new challenge. She demonstrates the quintessential “what you see is what you get” personality, speaks frankly, and laughs off what many of us might view as insurmountable hurdles. She’s that rare combination of theoretical intelligence (as evidenced by her 4 degrees), along with practical smarts as revealed by the first role that got her started in winemaking—facility engineer at Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.
We met with Pam at the Adrice winery and tasting room in Woodinville, Washington she co-owns with her wife Julie. The name of the winery is a blend of their last names (Ad-kins & Bul-rice) and is pronounced “add-ris”. Pam does the winemaking while Julie looks after the marketing and day-to-day operations. We settled in at the tasting bar where she had 10 of her wines lined up ready to taste while we listened to her compelling story.
Born and raised in Colorado, Pam decided she needed a change after her father passed away in 1997. On the suggestion of friends who lived in Seattle, she decided that Washington State would be the start of her next chapter and headed west. She ended up getting a job working the grounds at Chateau Ste. Michelle which she won a prominent award for. The winery asked her to consider coming inside to work as their facility manager, where in her words, she “fixed everything they broke”. She credits her father for her handy skills as he was very mechanical.
While she loved the job, after 4 years, the boredom started to kick in and she approached them about doing more, “I loved the processes I was seeing and asked if they’d send me to eastern Washington to work in the vineyards and do more things related to that side of the business.” They declined her request on the basis that she was too good at what she was doing. She ended up giving them an ultimatum that either they help her grow in the company or she would have no choice but to leave. “They didn’t think I would quit but I felt I had no choice.”
She returned to school to complete one of her 4 degrees and ran 3 clinics between Seattle and New York City. After 6 years, the company was purchased, and all of upper management was let go. In typical Pam fashion, she saw the blessing in the restructure as it gave her the opportunity to return home to Colorado where her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. She looked after her mom for the next 4 months before she passed away. “Losing my mother and my job really made me think about doing something that I really wanted to do just for me.”
The biggest benefit of working at Chateau Ste. Michelle 6 years earlier was that Pam was exposed not only to the process of winemaking and harvest, but she also was getting a broader experience tasting different varieties and figuring out what she liked and what she didn’t, “Even as a facilities engineer during harvest, it’s all hands on deck so I got to see how it all worked from beginning to end. The more I learned and the more I got to experience it, the more I wanted to know. Finally, I decided to go all in.”
Julie was living in Portland, so this time Pam decided to move there. “I arrived there in July, we got married in September, and I was introduced to Rex Hill Winery where I was invited to help with harvest.” She worked their harvest and then voluntarily wrote them a business case on how to streamline their business practices which led to a full-time position a month later. After 5 years, Julie (who works in the corporate world as an Executive Coach) was transferred to the Bay Area. Pam went to Napa and Sonoma looking for a job and got hired by Orin Swift as their Operations Manager, and also worked at Starmont Merryvale.
She received a call from the owner of a mobile bottling business who was looking for someone to run his blending and bottling facility. She was intrigued by the offer but had two conditions subject to taking the position, “First, I wanted to start making my own wine. That was easy because they needed to be making wine to keep their license.
The second condition was that my dog had to be able to come with every day. He was 14 years old at the time and had been with me his whole life. I wasn’t prepared to leave him at home 16-18 hours a day.” They agreed on a trial basis and, from the first day, her rat terrier Dexter had won everyone over. [On a sad note, at the time of this interview, Dexter had passed two weeks earlier at the ripe old age of 19].
As she began her journey as winemaker, she found herself surrounded by some of the best winemakers in the Napa Valley, “they were just really easy to be around, willing to share their experiences and very supportive in terms of connecting me with vineyard managers or anyone else I needed to connect with.” The first fruit she was able to get her hands on was 2.5 tonnes of Syrah, which happened to be one of her favourite varieties. That wine won a gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle wine contest right out of the gate, and from there things developed really fast.
Two and a half years ago, Julie was transferred again, this time to Seattle and Pam took the 300 cases she had with her. Since that move they have grown 750% and are now producing close to 3,000 cases a year.
By now we have figured out that Pam is smart, capable and practical. We soon learn that she and Julie also have a great sense of humour as we start to hear the stories behind the names and labels of their wines. The first one that grabbed our attention was the “SofaKing Tragic” Malbec, “I was in the back and it had been raining. I was hurrying to bring things in and had double-stacked my barrels. There’s a little lip in the back and I was tired, not paying attention. I came in and bumped it just enough to pop all the barrels off which hit 2 more barrels. We ended up losing 4 barrels of wine and were left with just 1 barrel of Malbec and 1 barrel of Cabernet Franc. And, well…it was fucking tragic.”
The Semillon/Sauvignon blend is named “Leadfoot Louie” and features a caricature of Pam’s mother in a blue 1955 Thunderbird, “My mom would love to take out my father’s car on the backroads and drive it like a bat out of hell. She would get stopped but would never get tickets because she was quite pretty and charming. One day my dad said, ‘I’m just going to start calling you Leadfoot Louie’ (her name is Helen Louise) and I just thought that would be a great name for a wine.”
Pam’s philosophy with winemaking is not to push the wine if it’s not ready, a luxury she admits she has not being a large producer. She also appreciates both the chemistry as well as the artistic side of wine but laments that she wished more people would listen to the intuitive side of winemaking. She’s constantly trying new things and working with different varieties. Our lineup included a Grenache rosé, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Nebbiolo, Malbec, Montepulciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. She worked with Barbera last year, Primitivo this year and is considering making Counoise in future. She’s even experimenting with making Port in bourbon and whiskey barrels. With Pam’s voracious thirst for knowledge and her quest to constantly learn and grow, we think being a winemaker might finally be the thing that satisfies her need to be challenged…well at least for now.
2018 Alma Albariño
“Alma” is Spanish for soul. Albariño is the great white grape that does so well in Northern Spain, especially in the cool and wet region of Rias Baixas near the Portuguese border on the coast. But Adrice has shown this wine can also survive in Washington’s hot and dry climate. Very fresh, with quite a bit of acidity, we get flavours of pear and grapefruit combined with minerality and hints of white peach on the finish.
Very Good+ (USD$25 at tasting room)
2018 Leadfoot Louie
This blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc shows layers of grass, grapefruit, wax and honeydew melon. Medium body and lively acidity make for a refreshing drink that has enough body to go well with food but works very well on its own.
Very good+ (USD$20 at tasting room)
2018 Rosé the Riveter
Made from 100% Grenache this rose packs punch. Flavours of strawberry intermingle with wet stone notes. The finish shows earthy notes with just a hint of spice. Serve cold!
Very Good+ (USD$20 at tasting room)
2016 La Montagna Nebbiolo
Light red in colour this is an earthy, cherry fruit driven wine with a lighter body and transmits its terroir beautifully. The tannins in this wine are nicely tamed which means you can drink this wine right now, something we can seldom say when this grape is vinified in Italy. Complex and classy.
Very Good/Excellent (USD$38 at tasting room)
2017 Bare Knuckle Syrah
Washington State has developed a reputation for making outstanding Syrah and this is just the sort of wine that is driving that view forward. Bold blackberry fruit is joined by peppery spice notes on the back end. We also detect subtle hints of espresso. Full body with good structure, this is a bold wine that would be a perfect compliment to grilled lamb or steak.
Very good/excellent (USD$33 at their tasting room)
2015 Alter Ego II
95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec, all sourced from the Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Champoux is hallowed ground and is the source for some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine produced in the state. Brimming with black fruit, we get black cherry, currants, plums and hints of blackberry. Youthful tannins are very present and make this a structured wine that will definitely evolve in your cellar…if you can manage to keep your hands off of it! Big and bold with very fine balance.
Excellent (USD$60 at their tasting room)
18800 142nd Ave NE Suite A-1A
Woodinville, WA 98072
Tasting Room Hours:
Saturday & Sunday: 12pm-6pm