By Steve Guntli
It’s the end of the road for the Dakota Creek Winery, and owners Ken and Jill Peck are going out on a high note.
The Pecks announced they are closing down the winery, located at 3575 Haynie Road, after 11 years in business. Ken said he plans to keep the winery open until the last of their stock is sold.
The Pecks opened Dakota Creek Winery in 2005. Ken decided to start the business to keep him occupied after retiring from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), where he worked for 32 years.
“I think I didn’t quite understand the concept of retirement,” Peck said. “I spent about a year doing all the stuff you wait for retirement for, like painting the house and cleaning the yard, and then I got bored.”
Ken had been making wine for several years as a hobby, and on a whim he started researching how to run a commercial winery.
By 2005, the winery was up and running. Ken worked mostly by himself until about 2009, when Jill retired from her CBP job and joined him fulltime.
Ken said the company remains profitable and isn’t going under; retiring now was always part of the plan.
“When you start a business, it’s like going into Iraq: you have to have an exit strategy,” he said.
Since wine making is such a time-intensive prospect, the Pecks crushed their last batch of grapes in 2012, and are currently selling the last of their 2011 and 2012 vintages. They saved their finest grapes for one last batch of wine. Aptly called “Finale,” the red wine is a blend of the best grapes from 2011 and 2012, and will serve as the winery’s swan song.
The support of the local community has been essential for the winery’s success.
“When we were first building our business model, we were counting on 70 percent of our sales to come from retail centers and only 30 percent from the winery,” he said. “In reality, about 95 percent of our sales have come from the winery itself, and that’s because local people come in to visit and bring their friends.”
Dakota Creek Winery will continue to operate until its stock is depleted. Ken said he has about 118 cases of wine still in stock, which he estimates will last until late May. During that time, the tasting room will still be open from 1 to 5 p.m. every Thursday through Saturday, when customers can buy bottles directly or do a tasting. Dakota Creek wine is also available through local supermarkets, such as Haggen and the Safeway on Sunset Drive in Bellingham.
Ken and Jill will sell the winery and the property, but plan to remain in Blaine. In the meantime, the couple has a travel trailer and plans to take short road trips to see the country. Ken’s brother also owns a winery, Yellowstone Cellars and Winery in Billings, Montana, and Ken will take short trips out there to lend his brother some of his expertise.
“It’s been such a wonderful experience,” Ken said. “We’ve really enjoyed the people, and the customers have become our friends. But it’s time to give this retirement thing another shot.”