Owen and Kaitlin Thornhill met at a soccer match in Ireland. She was studying overseas for a college semester and he was a local fan of the Cork City Football Club, a Premier Division soccer team in Ireland. And so began a fun and romantic long-distance relationship that ended with Owen being part of the Maryhill Winery team that recently opened the new Vancouver Waterfront tasting room. The now-married couple also just bought their home in Orchards.
From the Dairylands to the Vineyards
It’s not common to hear an Irish accent behind the bar at a Washington winery tasting room. And Owen didn’t start out as a wine expert, either. He grew up in Skibbereen, in West Cork, Ireland where, according to Owen, “having a pint of beer or a cup of tea was more the norm. My uncle had a dairy farm. We were from the farm area that makes products like Kerry Gold Butter and I learned how to milk a cow and drive a tractor at an early age.”
His career and journey from there to Vancouver’s new tasting room was a circuitous one beginning with his dabbling in a range of careers. After a number of years flying back and forth to visit Kaitlin, he decided to immigrate to the U.S. and marry the girl he met at the soccer match.
They were married in Newport, Rhode Island near where Kaitlin had attended college and since jobs weren’t aplenty in that area, the couple came to the Pacific Northwest where her parents lived in Mosier, a small, rural Hood River Valley community. Although the vineyards of the area were attractive, the couple spent some of their spare time visiting craft breweries and tasting local beers. Owen worked a number of jobs, from a wood products factory in Hood River to managing the Killer Burger in Bingen across the river.
But it wasn’t until the burger restaurant closed that the best door of all opened for Owen. “Before Killer Burger, I was an assistant manager in a bagel shop and the former owner told me about openings at Maryhill Winery suggesting it would be a good fit for me,” He explains.
Developing Wine Expertise
So how did this young Irishman with an appreciation for craft beer, become the expert that helps Maryhill Wine Club members choose wines and suggest pairings? Well, Maryhill trains their staff, both with computer-based learning and on-the-job-training. “I started working in the production facility, getting to know wines as I restocked them, and eventually getting to the point where I could be a server and tour guide,” Owen says. “And, after a while, they made me head tour guide.”
Owen has taken to wine. He’s found his niche in the Pacific Northwest and, as he says, “I’d like to study to be a Sommelier.” He’s well on his way, in my opinion, as he could quickly tell me what types of wine I would enjoy with which foods, describes the tastes in detail, and shares where the grapes are sourced. That’s not easy to do since the Vancouver tasting room stocks over 60 Maryhill wines. If you want someone to be your guide through this maze of Washington wines, Owen, who works at the tasting room five days a week, is an ideal person to do it!
“I have about 16 favorites, but if I have to choose one, I’d say the Maryhill Elephant Mountain Vineyards Carmenere from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, which is unique and fairly rare,” Owen says, when asked what his favorite wine is in the tasting room.
He loves meeting the wine club members, most of whom are from Vancouver and Portland. “Since our title is Ambassador, here in the tasting room, I say I’m the Irish Ambassador,” Owen jokes. He became an American citizen two years ago while working at Maryhill. He’s discovered local soccer, has become a member of the “Timber’s Army,” and hopes to get involved in a recreational league in Vancouver.
New Vancouver Tasting Room
“Our Vancouver customers are a little different from what I experienced in Goldendale,” he shares. “There were more tourists there. Here, the tasting room attracts people who want to stop in after work for a glass of wine, a small plate and hear some live music.”
Maryhill Winery, of Goldendale, Washington opened its 4,890-square-foot tasting room in Vancouver in the new waterfront district in April. With a view of the Columbia River and the Grant Street Pier from its expansive patio and steps away from restaurants such as Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar and WildFin American Grill, the tasting room is a great place to end or begin your evening or stop in for a bite for lunch.
When You Go to the Maryhill Tasting Room
To get to the Vancouver Waterfront, head down Grant Street towards Waterfront Way. The area is accessible via C-Tran, and paid parking is available in nearby surface lots. Cyclists and pedestrians will appreciate the easy access from Downtown Vancouver.
Watch the Vancouver tasting room Facebook page for information on live music and special events.
Maryhill Tasting Room
801 Waterfront Way, Suite 105, Vancouver
Monday – Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.