If you’ve been out to visit Owen Roe Winery in the past few years, I can almost guarantee that you’ve met Susan Brown-Aaron and Taylor Boyle. These two powerhouse ladies not only run the tasting room, they ensure that other major aspects of the business run smoothly.
So even though you may meet them while they are pouring you a glass of wine or a tasting, that’s not where their job descriptions end — or where their stories begin.
Taylor was born and raised in Yakima, but after earning a degree in wine business management from Washington State University, she moved over to the west side, where she interned at Woodinville Market Vineyards.
After getting past the lure of the big city, Taylor moved back to Yakima in 2015 for a three-month internship at Gilbert Cellars Vineyard. Although she loved working with and learning from the crew at Gilbert, there wasn’t a full-time job for her there. So when she was offered a position at Owen Roe as a tasting room associate in 2016, she jumped at it.
For the first five years Taylor worked at Owen Roe, she continued to spend her weekends running the Summer Concert Series for Gilbert Cellars. At the end of the day, she got the best of both worlds and the best learning environment she could possibly have.
After moving up the ladder to Wine Club manager at Owen Roe, Taylor was offered her current job as direct to consumer manager, which means she’s in charge of all customer-facing contact, including Wine Club, e-commerce and tasting room sales and customer service. She also manages all of Owen Roe’s social media.
Susan came to Owen Roe via Hood River, Oregon, in 2016, when she took on the job of tasting room lead. With a degree in education, Susan was a professional dancer and taught at the Columbia Gorge Dance Academy for more than 20 years. During her first three years at Owen Roe, Susan commuted between Yakima and Hood River, where she was still teaching five dance classes per day, two days a week.
In 2019, she decided to retire from teaching at the dance academy — and I can guarantee that she is sorely missed by her students and staff to this day.
Susan now lives in Yakima full-time alongside her husband and has fallen in love with the valley we all call home. With two grown children, ages 24 and 27, Susan might not have kids at home anymore, but she is a mom to many of us who are lucky enough to call her a friend.
At Owen Roe, Susan is in charge of all hiring, training and wine education, as well as writing documentation for procedures. She has also taken on managing and creating events for and at the winery.
These two women are just one part of the “Owen Roe family” — a family that began with David and Angelica O’Reilly, who opened Owen Roe Winery with their inaugural vintage in 1999. Their goal was to own and run a family-oriented business — and they did just that from the beginning.
“Early on,” David said, “we pretty much used the nearest talent available and that meant our eight kids — of which four girls dutifully assisted at harvest, sorting fruit, washing down and helping with fermentation and everything else we did.”
He and Angelica, who have been married more than 30 years, ran the business as a partnership until they sold it to Vintage Wine Estates this past year. Even after the sale, though, David is still directly involved in the winery, driving back and forth from Newburg, Oregon, (the family moved back there after selling the winery) to look at vineyards, buy fruit and negotiate, curate and keep relationships with farmers and growers.
David also still holds the title of head winemaker at Owen Roe, but his boots on the ground 24/7 is Jacki Evans, his assistant winemaker. Jacki is not only in charge of quality control, she oversees the production staff.
And when she’s not ensuring the best quality wine possible is being produced at Owen Roe, she’s working on her passion project, Sin Banderas — believe me, you need to try this wine. Jacki, of course, has a right-hand gal, Samantha Mallery, who’s been helping with winemaking and harvest since 2019.
Like many other Yakima Valley wineries, Owen Roe has had to adapt since COVID-19 hit, but now that they have begun to move beyond just curbside pick-ups and virtual tastings, they are focused on opening in a safe and gradual way that still gives people the wine tasting experience they have come to expect at Owen Roe. Their goal is to create even more outdoor seating areas as well as participating in, building and nurturing community-based events.
“During the pandemic we had to move to different platforms to stay connected with our Wine Club members, and we would like to continue to offer Zoom (and other virtual) tastings and ways to stay connected to all of our customers,” Susan said. “We are also working toward re-creating our barrel room experience and Pinzgauer tours, which will give our visitors the opportunity for a more in-depth and educational tasting experience.”
And as we all look toward the future, in business and in our personal lives, it’s important to look at the silver lining that this year has brought to all our lives.
“The pandemic and the loss of life and livelihood brought grief and sadness, but it has also given us time to reflect, to care for others and to be extremely grateful for what we are all so blessed to have,” Susan said. “We at Owen Roe will take these lessons forward and continue to appreciate each other, and our time together, however that might look.”