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Wharton: Layton’s grapeless winery

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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jay Yahne checks the progress of a batch of wine fermenting in a 70 gallon flex tank at the Hive Winery in Layton. He makes 30 kinds of wine. The Hive Winery is one of six Utah wineries which are facing hurdles put up by state lawmakers that make it difficult for them to do business.

By Tom Wharton

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jun 19 2013 12:15PM
Updated Jun 20, 2013 12:54PM

Layton • "No grapes were harmed in making our wines."

That might be a strange slogan for a vintner, but it fits Layton’s Hive Winery perfectly. This is a different kind of business.

"Northern Utah can’t grow good quality grapes," said Jay Yahne, who began making wine commercially with his wife, Lori, in 2008. "That’s a big deal because the quality of the grapes gives the wine its quality."

Since northern Utah farmers do grow high-quality fruit and produce excellent honey, they have become the ingredients for the 35 different varieties of fruit wines that the Yahnes produce at a building they also use for their civil engineering firm.

That and the fact that the couple are huge believers in buying local products whenever possible have helped them open a tasting room in Layton where 90 percent of their wines are sold. The winery also has helped keep their engineering company alive during difficult economic times.

Making batches of wine that vary from 10 to 300 gallons at a time, the Yahnes buy their honey from Cox Honeyland in Logan, the red raspberries and black currants from Week’s Berries in Paradise and their red raspberries and black currants and cherries from the Payson Fruit Growers. They also purchase peaches, apples (for hard cider) and apricots locally. Only pineapples, oranges and strawberries come from out of state.

"I’m a firm believer that you enjoy your family as much as you can and keep your job close to home," said Jay. "If you stay close to home, it keeps the money close to home. I buy as much as I can locally. Locally produced food produces local jobs."

Opening a winery was probably not something the Yahnes thought they might be doing when they graduated as civil engineers who specialize in soils from Utah State University. When the economy crashed in 2008, and they began the painful process of laying off most of the engineers that worked for their firm, they realized they needed to diversify quickly.

The couple had produced wine in their home as a hobby for 17 years. So they decided to write a business model and try to begin producing wine in their 9,000-square-foot engineering building.

"If it weren’t for the winery, the engineering business wouldn’t be here," said Jay, who calls himself the rare engineer who is an extrovert.

He said the best part of owning a winery with a tasting room is meeting customers. He says it’s not unusual for people to stop him in a store and thank him for making the wine.

This isn’t to say this is an easy business. Utah is a tough place for a wine maker. While California taxes wine at 20 cents a gallon and Colorado at 35 cents, Utah taxes cost $16. Rules about when and how locally grown wine can be sold make it a difficult business. The average price for a bottle of wine in Utah is $10 when it is $24 nationally. Hive wines sell for between $11.95 to $27.95 a bottle. Utah law allows only tasting five wines in a single visit.

Luckily, the couple has a sense of humor. They are thinking of producing Zion Curtain and Sister Wives wine labels.

The Yahnes are hands-on vintners. They examine nearly every piece of fruit that goes into their product by hand. Jay corked 20,000 bottles by hand until he hurt his shoulder and purchased a small corking machine.

They also have to battle the image of their non-grape fruit wines being too sweet.

"When you think fruit, you think of a syrupy fruit wine that has to be sweet," said Jay. "Most fruit wines are 8 to 18 percent sugar. Our wines are 1.5 to 3 percent sugar. Some are as dry as you can get for those who like wine drier, so it can go with a main course."

Jay said there are no current plans to brew beer, though the hard cider seems to be popular. He said he could see trying making a port or a fruit brandy some day.

For now, the little winery at 1220 W. 450 North in Layton,which is open from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays, specializes in producing Utah wines from Utah fruit.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton

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