Great Northwest Wine: Bullocks bid goodbye to Eye of the Needle Winery

Going, going, gone! That’s the attention-grabbing subject line for one of the final mailings from Eye of the Needle Winery in Woodinville. On Sunday, Bob and Lauren Bullock said farewell to their longtime supporters and customers when they closed the doors to their Warehouse District winery for the final time.

“We’re hanging up our medals,” Bob Bullock said. “We’ve pretty much checked all of the boxes of what we want to do.” For consumers and critics, that news brings some sadness. During a recent seven-year stretch, Eye of the Needle Winery earned six Platinum Awards from Wine Press Northwest magazine.

Last year, the nonvintage Eye Red Wine, a blend led by cabernet sauvignon, earned a best-of-class award at the Cascadia International Wine Competition and a spot on the Seattle Times list of Top 20 Northwest Wines for Under $20. “I told Lauren, ‘It’s time,’ ” Bullock said. “We’re OK, and with the world the way it is right now, let’s just not do this anymore.”

Achieving 11,000 cases

Bullock grew his nest egg on the wholesale, distribution and restaurant sections of the wine industry, so he knew how to play many of the angles he would encounter as a winery owner. His business acumen, sense of the Washington wine industry’s strengths and connections to top vintners with a surplus of wine led him to believe the Great Recession had created possibilities.

“I’d spent much of my life in distribution, and in the downturn of 2008, I found an opportunity,” he said. “Thank goodness for the negociant business model.” He and Lauren purchased finished wine, blended those lots themselves into a “bistro program” and began with 440 cases in 2009.

They targeted “the Sunday-through-Thursday drinker” and operated under the classic worst-case scenario of anyone opening a winery. “Well, if we don’t sell it all, then we’ll have some great parties for our friends,” Bullock recalls. They soon earned many more friends. Bullock loves to talk about wine, and he and Lauren are as approachable as the wines they’ve offered.

He combined his knack for selling with quality lots of wine secured from skilled winemakers he knew well. His Columbia Valley vineyard sources included the likes of Red Willow, Gamache, Stillwater Creek, Dineen and Milbrandt plantings on the Wahluke Slope and in the Ancient Lakes.

Those winemakers Bullock worked with behind the scenes trusted him not to violate their nondisclosure agreements, and that mutual trust paid off. The Bullocks methodically grew Eye of the Needle into an 11,000-case brand. They sold most of their wines for bargain prices throughout the Puget Sound, expanding into six states and Canada.

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