When visitors step into the tasting room at Bivouac Cellars in Chelan, Wash., they might detect hints of the owners’ story. The images of a stag and an edelweiss on wine bottle labels and, of course, the winery’s name, are among them.
But what they probably don’t know are the owners, Col. Kevin Smith, USA (Ret), and former Lt. Kris Smith, USA, met and spent 14 years in Germany or that it was during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011-12 that Kevin Smith solidified his plan to one day own a winery.
“I had been making small-batch wine at home for several years,” he said. “While deployed, I gave myself the task of determining whether I wanted to have a winery or not. I filled two or three binders with information and knowledge I can refer back to now. I’m a person with a short attention span, but winemaking just stood with me.”
He credits that to its similarities to his military career in logistics.
“I worked in a lot in units that opened theaters. … It was very exciting work because it wasn’t cookie-cutter,” he said. “It was a very dynamic and flowing environment and having to adapt. Winemaking it like that. You work through problems, it’s not always the same, and you have to adjust and figure out the chemistry or logistics side.”
He retired from the Army in 2018 after 32 years, and he and Kris moved to Chelan, an area that grows nearly 30 grape varieties.
He expected it to take close to a year to get his foot in the door in the local wine industry, but almost immediately, he got a job as an assistant winemaker at a winery about an hour away, putting the wheels in motion on his plan.
“I learned the business side and the process,” he said. “That opportunity really set me up to do something else. One thing led to another, and Kris and I opened Bivouac Cellars in 2022.”
He said that what makes their winery unique is “it’s more of a full-body experience than just the wine."
“Kris and I are in the tasting room,” he said. “We have no employees. Our tasting room is very, very unique. It’s a basement space that you enter into through an alley — kind of like a speakeasy.”
He said their winemaking also stands out. “We’re very simple but effective … and concentrate on the fruit. That simple, almost pure process comes through in the wine glass.”
Their Syrah/Malbec is a blend Smith said he hasn’t found elsewhere in Washington.
And although the job is not without its challenges, he said it’s the work-life balance that makes it all worthwhile.
“In winemaking, you can shape it anyway you want to shape it,” he said. “Kris and I want to do things other than work, so the winery allows us to do that.”
He encourages other servicemembers who are considering their next career after the military to also take that balance into account.
“You’ve spent a career taking care of other people’s business — nations, units,” he said. “If you’re refiring into another career, why not do something you love? Design your retirement with balance. Don’t just dive into something. Be very thoughtful about how you go forward, so this life is a life that you want to live.”