Va Piano Vineyard

A few Gonzaga alumni share their journeys into the field of fine wines and micro-brews.


’96 Justin Wylie – Va Piano Vineyards, Walla Walla, WA
Major: Marketing
The Story: I studied abroad in Gonzaga-In-Florence in 1995-96 and, needless to say, that sparked an interest in the Italian wine-making culture. When I came home, I started making home wine, and in 2000, I bought a piece of land in Walla Walla and planted my first vineyard. In 2005, the winery was built and has been growing ever since.
Favorite Va Piano Wine: Les Collines Syrah, because it’s made in Walla Walla.

’89 Russell Bevan – Bevan Cellars, Santa Rosa, CA
Major: Marketing
The Story: After graduating from Gonzaga, I had a corporate job for 20 years. I met my wife, Victoria, and we moved to Minneapolis where I wrote a wine column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. We started hanging out with a bunch of winemakers and learning some of their principles. Our passion eventually led us to buy a piece of property in Bennett Valley, close to where I grew up. Before we knew it, we were growing our first batch of grapes and magically, Bevan Cellars was born.
Favorite Bevan Cellars Wine: They’re all like my children: I can’t pick one distinct favorite!

©Earl Harper for Dru Bru

’05 Dru Ernst – Dru Bru, Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Major: Civil Engineering
The Story: I worked for an engineering consulting firm for 10 years before I started Dru Bru. Right after I started my engineering job, I visited a high school friend in California who was a talented home-brewer. I was really impressed by his beer, and this started my home-brewing path. The longer I was at the engineering firm, the more I learned that I was different than my peers. I longed for more person-to-person interaction, and I was distracted by (and more passionate about) my brewing. After regular positive feedback from friends and family on my small-batch recipes, my wife ‘05 Sara Giuffrida and I decided it was time to start Dru Bru. I wouldn’t have changed my engineering experience, though, because that’s where I learned a lot of the methodical processes and complex problem-solving I use now in my business. Also, my mentor at the firm ended up being one of my original investors.
Favorite Dru Bru Beer: I really enjoy beers that are hoppier or have German influence, so a couple of my favorites that we make are Hop Session and German Kolsch.


Other alums in the wine, beer and spirits business include:

Barrister Winery, Spokane — Mark Lipsker

Grixsen Brewery, Portland — DJ Moxl

Seattle Distilling — John “Paco” Joyce

Stoup Brewing, Seattle — Brad Benson


By Kourtney Schott (’18)

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