The Officer and the Vintner

Jerry Riener has worked homicide. He has conducted undercover narcotics operations with the DEA to bring Sinaloa cartel members to justice. He’s done all of these things as a police officer in Washington, serving the state for two decades. He can also pour a flight of reds. Reds that he has produced himself.


That’s not street lingo; that’s wine talk. And the cop’s cabernets and petit syrahs, which he pours at his winery, Guardian Cellars, are killer, rivaling most vintages in a state with nearly one thousand wineries.


While it might seem like an unlikely transition from upholding the law to crushing grapes, Riener does have a degree in organic chemistry, and did spend years volunteering at Matthews Winery and helping Mark Ryan start his label.


To call it a transition, in fact, would be wrong. Riener pulls double shifts: forty hours at his winery and forty hours on the force. Life can feel like a blur with that schedule, and it might be the reason his two worlds bleed together. For instance, Guardian’s bright and elegant tasting room also features mug shots of John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Frank Sinatra on its walls. When first entering, patrons are likely to do a double-take, as their first sighting will be of framed body targets meant for the shooting range, as opposed to the photographs or artwork that so many other tasting rooms dullishly present of grapes or vines.


Riener pays tribute to his other life beyond interior design. He names his wines Chalk Line for his six years working homicide, The Informant for his “two phenomenal informants”, and so on. Riener also produces a series of wines called Newsprint, honoring Jennifer Sullivan, his co-owner and wife, who is a career journalist. While most lovers meet over wine and find themselves, over time, edging toward debacles, this couple did things in reverse.


They met at a homicide, where “We butted heads,” Riener said. But eventually he became her source and then her husband, (which, in the police world, might be more shocking to colleagues than a cop announcing that he’s starting a winery), an finally co-owners of Guardian Cellars.


Like the reporter, Newsprint is straight varietals, but less awarded. It is, however, hard to compete with Sullivan, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes.


While some would assume that Riener cross-contaminated his wines with the constant references to journalism and policing, the winemaker-cop would disagree. “People want to hear a story,” he said. “I could talk to you all day about organic chemistry, but that would be boring.”


So Guardian Cellars’ wine clubs are unabashedly named the Usual Suspects and the Heist. His wines are dubbed the Alibi and the Wanted. And he sources some grapes from one of the most coveted vineyards in the state because of his experience on the job.


A few years ago, Riener had driven east to Stone Tree Vineyards. He wanted to inquire about sourcing from their vines. But the owner, Tedd Wildman, told Riener that he would add him to the end of a very long wait list. While Riener was on the property, Wildman agreed to at least give him a tour. Riener hopped into Wildman’s pickup truck and found a rifle. The cop picked up the gun, smelled the chamber, and knew that it hadn’t been fired yet. He told Wildman so. Wildman was nervous, Riener said, fearful that some Seattleite, who appeared to have some knowledge of weapons, was clutching his gun.


Riener paid Wildman a second visit later that month, but this time, having learned about the vineyard owner’s interest in guns, the cop “brought an arsenal out.”


Riener and Wildman spent the day firing in the fields. It was wonderful, Riener said. And soon after, miraculously, the police officer was off the long wait list, pressing his newly acquired Stone Tree fruits for his cop-themed wine.



Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States

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