Marysville’s own Dalton Union winery has seen success far surpassing what owners Dale and Tonya Mabry could have expected. But a love for wine-making and wine-drinking, and a knack for hospitality, have turned this couple into the county’s connoisseurs.
Dale has been making wine himself for 25 years, and grew up watching his grandpa make it at home.
“Wine when Grandpa made it was kind of a loose term. He believed the more alcohol that was in it and the sweeter it was, the better it was,” Dale said. “But the whole process has always kind of fascinated me and I’ve always dabbled in it here and there.”
“Dabbling” turned into producing small batches for their friends and family. The couple made their first wine, “Summertime,” because Tonya wanted a wine that tasted like a green apple martini. After that, they produced a Christmas wine, to gift to their loved ones.
It turned out the wine was hit. Their friends wanted to buy more.
“We started looking into what it would take to legally sell it,” Dale said. “I figured there was a garage permit of some kind, just so I could make wine and sell it to my friends, not to make a bunch of money. I was tired of giving it away at that point.”
“It’s only fun giving it away for a little while, then it’s not fun anymore,” he said with a laugh.
The couple started going through the process of getting a license from the federal government. Then, they opened up a small tasting room on their property. Once they opened to the public, Dale said they never could have predicted how well they’d do.
“We had a three year plan, just in the back of our heads to expand out here if it ever took off. We didn’t know how it would do,” Dale said. “We thought in three years, maybe we could expand out into the barn a little bit.”
It only took three months for them to realize that expansion would need to happen immediately.
Since opening their large, expanded tasting room, the winery’s success has ballooned. Every weekend, the place is packed with people.
“Last week, people came in the door and we were sitting them with strangers, because there were no tables,” Dale said. “After ten minutes, I looked over and said ‘They’re not strangers anymore!’”
This success isn’t only due to the couple’s ability to turn strangers into friends. Dalton Union’s wines have gotten quite a bit of buzz, from everyone from first-time wine drinkers to Napa Valley natives.
“The reaction has been consistent. People are used to going to a winery and tasting five or six different wines and finding one or two that they really like,” Dale said. “But the feedback that we get here is: ‘I like them all.’”
Since it takes about five years to get a vineyard up and running, Dalton Union currently sources their juice from all over the world. But they hope to have a vineyard of their own soon.
“We’ve got juice that comes from Argentina, Australia, Washington and California, but we’re very picky about the ones that we sell,” Dale said. “If it doesn’t pass the test of ‘Can we see ourselves sitting around a fire or sitting around a pool or sitting on the deck and enjoying this with our friends?’ then we won’t make it anymore.”
Kinship and community seem to be the markers by which the Mabry’s measure the success of all their endeavors. Community of all kinds is very important to them: community with friends and family, community with patrons of their winery and community with other wineries in the area.
“We have four wineries in Union County, currently. A lot of people don’t know that,” Dale said. “And the more wineries the better. It’s better for the wineries and the county because people don’t drive long distances for one winery.”
“It’s just been a fantastic experience working with everyone,” he said.
Another highlight for Dale through this experience has been sharing his knowledge of wine with new wine drinkers. To him, helping people find out what they like and understand why, is hugely rewarding.
“They’ll come in and say ‘I don’t really know anything about wine’ and they’ll have that insecure approach,” Dale said. “They’ll say ‘So, what’s a good wine?’ and that’s the easiest question to answer: What do you like? If you like it, it’s a good wine. It doesn’t matter what’s on the label or what anybody else thinks. If you like it, it’s a good wine.”
Another key ingredient in the winery’s success is the passion of the people behind it. Dale and Tonya love to make wine, but most importantly, they love to make it together. The winery’s name is inspired by their own union, with the D-A-L from his first name and the T-O-N from hers. When they can’t work together, it’s just not the same, they say.
“One of the best moments is when you look around the room and see people enjoying something that you’ve made together,” Dale said. “It’s a lot of work, but to see that work become other people’s enjoyment, that’s a kind of continuous gratification.”
Tonya recalls their grand opening as a particularly challenging and rewarding day. “You never know what to expect. You try to get the word out and you hope that a lot of people will show up, but you just really never know,” Tonya said. “We thought we could handle it, but it was crazy. We could barely keep up, but people came out and had a great time and it was successful and we pulled it off and we did it together. Those are the highlights.”
Despite their success and clear gift for running their business, the Mabry’s maintain that they’re just like anybody else.
“One of the lines Dale likes to use is: ‘We’re just a couple of hillbillies from Logan County.’ Which is the honest truth,” Tonya said.”We weren’t trained in Napa Valley. We’re not experts in anything. We’re just a couple of normal people who enjoy wine and enjoy people. We enjoy this experience and having this experience with other people. To us, that’s what it’s all about.”