A Modern Day Brady Bunch

The love and wine story that began with

Ducleaux Cellars’ Toby Turlay and Chris Dukelow shortly after their nuptials. ##Photo by Ducleaux Cellars
Wines produced by the husband and wife team that comprise Ducleaux Cellars.##Photo by Sarah Murdoch
Freshly picked Syrah grapes.##Photo by Sarah Murdoch
The entire Brady Bunch-like Dukelow and Turlay clan of eight.##Photo by Ducleaux Cellars
Syrah grapes being pressed for Ducleaux wine.##Photo by Sarah Murdoch

By Sarah Murdoch

Love it, hate it or drive right through it en route to Walla Walla, Milton-Freewater remains a town of history and promise. Muddy Frogwater, as it’s been cheekily called, was a 1950’s merger of two towns, with “Freewater” promising exactly that in olden days—live here and get free water.

Since 2015, it’s been the seat of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. Situated entirely within Oregon, the appellation is nested within the designated, larger Walla Walla Valley AVA. The Freewater soil series forms the foundation of an agricultural region originally known for its peas. Freewater soil contains cobblestone-rich, basalt gravels from the nearby Blue Mountains, deposited by the Walla Walla River.

The promise of those heat-conducting, well-draining cobblestones continues drawing prominent wineries, among them Force Majeure Wines, Rotie Cellars, Watermill Winery, Zerba Cellars and Ducleaux Cellars.

Founded by Toby Turlay and Chris Dukelow (Ducleaux is a play on his name), Pacific Northwest locals who met on more than a decade ago, their journey is benchmarked with serious wine made by lighthearted folks.

Ducleaux Cellars specializes in Rhône varieties Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne and Mourvèdre, producing 1,500 cases a year with grapes grown on their 10-acre estate. Their vineyard is farmed Salmon-Safe and sustainable. They also purchase fruit from heavy-hitting vignerons, including Les Collines and RiverRock Vineyards. Wines are crafted under the tutelage of Charlie and Lacey Lybecker at Cairdeas Winery in Lake Chelan.

The two run a highly personalized, yet professional, tasting experience. Ducleaux wines are named after their journey as a blended family with six kids between them. All successfully “launched,” the children brought an abundance of chaos, love and luck, and now brings together an empty-nested couple who play well together.

They make visitors feel connected with their lives. Free-range chickens roam the crush pad, as do vineyard dogs, an elderly cat. A pool sits next to their 1921 Craftsman farmhouse. A well-appointed guest house is available for wine club members, and wine names like I’m Already Sorry, Anarchy, and Love & Chaos suggest they want everyone to feel the lightheartedness of their journey as well.

Turlay, the matriarch in their aptly-labeled wine, says the region called to her after all their six kids flew the coop. She is the self-described “odd lady who brings popsicles and energy bars in a basket” to the vineyard stewards working scorching summer days.

How they Met

When the couple first met, their Match handles had telltale names TT Redwine 39 (hers) and Helmsdown 65 (his). Turlay remembers thinking, while reading his profile with the four + kids box checked, “Way too many. Possibly a one-night stand.” Dukelow also thought, “Well, at least this could be a one-night stand…”

Even before going on their first date, little did they know a wine name was born: One Night Stand.

Turlay grew up in in California and Florida, then Portland and Seattle; Dukelow in Washington’s Tri-Cities. She was in medical device sales while he worked in finance at a Seattle tech startup.

Dukelow’s inspiration with wine began at a Seattle French restaurant where he often lunched with clients. This was his first exposure to premium wines, but it wasn’t enough to activate his dreams into winemaking. “With winemaking just starting in Red Mountain, I became enamored with the perceived lifestyle of the rural winemaker.” When Dukelow’s company sold in 2011, he embraced the opportunity to explore more education and other possible careers.

Humble beginnings

That same year, Dukelow bought one-quarter ton of Cabernet Franc, “the hardest grape to ripen in one of the coldest years,” he recalls. No matter what they did to the juice, every barrel sample revealed incorrect fermentation. They dumped it and both he and Turlay hit the books at the Northwest Wine Academy in Seattle. Dukelow worked under noted Master of Wine Yashodhan “Billo” Naravane of Rasa Vineyards and, in 2013, they made 70 cases of wine.

A 2018 lecture by Sabrina Lueck and Tim Donohue of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College fascinated Turlay— she quickly enrolled in the program. The first time they toured their property, located in the Rocks District, Turlay spied a muddy white baseball partially buried in the field. She dug it up and only had to show it to Chris, who instantly knew the symbolism. Dukelow knew the quote “Build it and they will come,” made famous by Kevin Costner in his favorite movie “Field of Dreams.” Their winemaking journey continued with the purchase of the land.

Living together, working together

While some might assume it ideal to work and live full time with a spouse, the reality can be different. In the case of Turlay and Dukelow, while they enjoyed their time together, they didn’t agree on everything. By 2019, they found they couldn’t agree on much of anything.

The couple decided to establish a firm division of work roles. Admitting she has a more refined palate, Dukelow suggested they make Turlay the winemaker and he form a supporting role for her, thereby strengthening the chain of command. They could still live their passions, but at the proverbial end of the day, Turlay had the final word.

With Turlay at the top and Dukelow as cellar rat, he focused his creative hand to projects, sometimes without the boss’ blessing. These, called “I’m Already Sorry,” are where he thrives. For example, Dukelow’s 2021 project was an extra ton of Dolcetto, allowing him to make 50 cases of Pétillant Naturel, the perfect pairing for Sunday brunch.

The wine names and varieties

The duo has a zest for language and a whimiscal flair for naming wines. Along with those wines mentioned above, Ducleaux Cellars selection includes:

Raucous garnered 90 points from James Suckling in 2022 and is a red blend that “pairs with anything after a long day of kids.” Dukelow says the name refers to how shell-shocked Turlay was with six roaming around, five of whom were teenagers all at once.

Anarchy is a balanced blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre; lush and velvety meets spice and umami. The couple joked that this wine resembles the realization that their Costco bill was so large feeding eight people, they decided they either needed to invest in a cow or make wine.

Love and Chaos is a Bordeaux blend pairs perfectly with anything off the grill, red sauces, smoked meats and cheeses, and friends around the fire.

Mes Amis, their Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot captured 92 points from Suckling in 2022 and honors the many friends who form their village.

Ducleaux’s 2020 Syrah, dubbed the “Velvet Hammer,” was aged in neutral French oak barrels to let shine the minerality and fruit character of The Rocks AVA.

Call Sign is a Pétillant Naturel honoring Turlay’s dad, a career Naval Aviator, who was given the call sign “Champagne One” for his love of Champagne.
From pain and tragedy emerges triumph and remembrance

On a serious note with serious heart, one wine, called Jordyn, is named for Dukelow’s daughter who died following a courageous journey with brain cancer.

Ducleaux’s white blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne has achieved Double Gold from the Oregon Wine Awards in both 2018 and 2019. A portion of the sale of every bottle of Jordyn supports pediatric brain tumor research at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

What’s Next

We can expect more “I’m Already Sorry” projects, and as Turlay notes, “There are a lot of I’m Already Sorries in the backyard…”

“A new wine called ‘I’m Really Sorry,’ will continue the project theme, using the crazy yields of 2022,” says Chris. And, because the couple met on Match, it only makes sense they recognize that integral part of their journey with wine. The 2021 Syrah will be used for this fun venture— each has taken a ton from River Rock Vineyard to make their own wine. The back labels will contain excerpts from emails they sent each other when they first met.

Ducleaux has more acres to plant as they continue their journey. Also, an actual tasting room instead of a garage is on the horizon. Perhaps the most exciting future is to be a part of this sleepy little Oregon town with a history living out its promise as a true winemaking capital of the world.

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