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Lesson learned
Popular winery started out as teaching project
The owners of Karma Vineyards at  1Lake Chelan can certainly put their award-winning sparkling wine to good use now that they've turned a simple lesson for their kids into a thriving business that seems to show no limits for further growth.

It must feel pretty satisfying to toast Karma's success with their own award-winning 2011 Brut.

Nine years into their business venture, Bret and Julie Pittsinger are producing top-rated wine, serving up high-quality gourmet cuisine in their 18 Brix restaurant and hosting 250 major social events every year. Karma has become a preferred destination for event planners both here and in Western Washington as word has gotten out that Karma not only has great wine and food, but well-designed facilities as well.

"It's all been word of mouth and longtime relationships," explains Julie, adding that a lot of effort went into building those relationships. It's a textbook lesson in business for the Pittsingers' son and daughter, who really were the impetus for creating the Karma enterprises. The name Karma, in fact, comes from the kids' names -- Karle and Matthew -- and everything got started when the Pittsingers bought a vineyard to help educate their children.

"'We wondered how we were going to teach them about the value of work and money," Julie remembered. The vineyard and its chores gave the kids a sense of responsibility and Julie went all in by getting her own viticultural degree from Washington State University. Although Bret has his own demanding job presiding over the 131 employees of an ag-related company in East Wenatchee called Van Doren Sales, he is a wine aficionado and hobbyist. The vineyard was running, the grapes were growing. But Julie remembers she had a strong urge to actually do something with the grapes she had grown, rather than just sell them. "You get attached to them," she said, smiling. "We're thinking we gotta make something of these guys."

Everything came together in 2007 with the launch of the Karma Vineyards winery at their scenic South Shore location. While Bret stayed at Van Doren, Julie took the reins of the winery and today manages 23 employees who work at the 72-acre winery in Chelan and 10,000-square-foot bottling facility in Entiat. The winery employs two chefs and two winemakers in addition to several other specialists that help bring the whole package together.

The winery property is impressive, not only because of its scenic location but because of the way it was designed. The main tasting area in spring, summer and fall is a delightful patio adjacent to the wine bar which is located in a restored pickers cabin that was built in the 1940s. Nearby is a huge underground room called The Cave, where many events are held and where tasting and dining occurs in the colder months. The very rural-looking property has an amphitheater and, of course, colorful vineyards, all overlooking Lake Chelan.

Notably, Karma Vineyards has focused most intently on producing sparkling wines, and their 2011 Brut was rated the No. 1 bubbly in the Pacific Northwest. In a commitment to the true French traditional method of making bubbly, the Pittsingers researched and found a French winemaker with over 30 years of experience. Over the years, he has collaborated with current winemaker Craig Mitrakul to produce outstanding bubbles consistently.

Karma's latest venture is the brand-new Bad Granny Apple Cider, a product that is made with 100 percent Washington state apples and, remarkably, has only 6 grams of sugar and 30 calories per 12-ounce can. Alcohol content is 6.9 percent.

"We wanted to do something edgy," Julie explained. "It's a different product. It's in cans so it travels easily and you can take it outdoors with you." Look for it to start showing up in various retail outlets including supermarkets, potentially Costco and even in other area wineries.

The Bad Granny cider is just one example of many future possibilities for Karma. Julie, who is not one to rest on her laurels, is willing to try new things -- and one suspects many more new things will be on the horizon.

(Karma Vineyards is located at 1681 South Lakeshore Road, Chelan, and is on the web at www.goodkarmawines.com. For more information, please phone (509) 682-5538).
PHOTOS: Staff at Karma Vineyards have helped build major hospitality business
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Lake Chelan lodging
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