Woodinville’s Guardian Cellars

An odd couple is making criminally good wine

The husband-and-wife team of Jerry Riener and Jennifer Sullivan is not that of your average winemakers. Riener’s a cop. Sullivan was the crime beat reporter for The Seattle Times. 

In the beginning Sullivan and Riener weren’t exactly a perfect pairing. “We didn’t get along very well,” admitted Riener. “We hated each other,” clarified Sullivan. “Jerry was one of my first sources. It was clear he couldn’t stand reporters.”

“I thought she was pushy trying to get information,” said Riener. “I didn’t trust her.”

Over time, the trust grew, and evolved into something more. They became friends, and three years later began dating. They’ve been married for five years and have a 2-year-old daughter.

The wine bug, thanks to her husband, bit Sullivan, too. He fell in love first with wine because of … a forklift. “I have a love of equipment,” he said. “Tractors, trucks, and such. I worked as a cop in Lynnwood and drove every day to my home in Redmond, so I would cut through Woodinville and I would drive by this one winery, Matthews Cellars, but there weren’t any signs out front so I didn’t even know what it was, but there was a forklift out front.

“Then one time I see a semi out front and a lot of people, so just out of curiosity I pulled in to see what was going on. I found out they were a winery so I offered to help out, just volunteer,” he added. “I showed up the next day and continued to offer help, and that’s how it all started. At the winery my first love was not the wine; it was the forklift. Once I got to drive that around I wouldn’t leave the place. I was volunteering there about 40 hours a week for about two years.”

By 2004, Riener started his own winery, Guardian Cellars. “A lot of people have this belief that wine-making is based upon palate, and your senses and the romance of it all,” said Sullivan. “But a lot of it is chemistry; it’s a lot of science. Jerry and his assistant winemaker, Joel Wright, are total wine geeks, and they know what they’re doing when it comes to making the magic happen.”

The name of the winery, and all of their wines, is tied to his law enforcement career. “There’s Gun Metal, Alibi, Chalk Line — named after Riener’s years in homicide,” Sullivan said. “The Rookie was the very first wine we ever made.” He added, “We also have one called Confidential Sources, which was actually named after Jennifer’s and my police/reporter relationship.”

Having full-time jobs on top of running a winery and raising a family means putting in a ridiculous amount of hours per week to keep everything going. “Between my police work and the winery, I’m working over 80 hours a week at the minimum,” Riener said. And Sullivan works six days a week as well. It’s one of the reasons she recently left the newspaper. “The winery is about to grow. We’re opening a second tasting room. We’ll now be open seven days a week. This is a great opportunity,” she said.

The cop and the crime reporter; unlikely partners in wine, and yet it all comes together so neatly. Surely there had to be some bumps along the way. “I think everybody has a winery disaster story,” said Riener, including him. Spoiler alert: It involves a forklift. “Using the forklift I decided to try carrying more barrels than can fit through the garage door. I promptly took out the door, the framing, the sheetrock, not to mention two barrels of wine,” he remembered. “As the barrels fell, I watched it happening like it was in slow motion, and knew there was not a thing I could do about it.

“A single bottle of wine on the ground looks like a crime scene, now multiply that by 600. That’s my disaster,” he said. Guilty as charged.

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