Founded in 2021, Dossier is a Walla Walla, Washington-based wine brand owned by former NFL wide receiver Sidney Rice and real estate broker and developer Tim Lenihan.
Rice is a South Carolina native and had a successful seven-year NFL career as a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. He put down roots in the Seattle area after retiring from the NFL in 2014, after his team's victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Following his football days, he has become an active investor and entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest.
Lenihan grew up in Yakima, Wash., and lived in Walla Walla during his college days. Returning to the area to join the wine industry was always his dream. The duo released Dossier's inaugural wines this year, including a Syrah, rosé and Sauvignon Blanc, all sourced from vineyards in Walla Walla and Yakima Valley. Additional wines, including a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux-style blend, will be released in 2023. Rice and Lenihan hired Billo Naravane, owner and winemaker of Rasa Vineyards, to help them realize their vision for a luxury brand and are already planning to build a winery and tasting room in Walla Walla in the near future.
The duo sat down to chat with Wine Spectator associate editor Aaron Romano on how they linked up and where they found a shared passion for Washington wine.
Wine Spectator: Where did each of your interests in wine start?
Rice: I was drinking wine when I was drafted in 2007. At least, I thought I was. I was drinking a ton of Moscato and thought I was some sort of wine connoisseur! Then, a few years ago, I realized there is much more to wine. Once COVID hit, I started drinking more wine, and Tim started to bring some stuff over. Since then, I've gone down the rabbit hole, [drinking] all different varietals and regions.
Lenihan: I graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla. My job in the evening was at 26 Brix, arguably the first big high-end restaurant in town. That's where I got introduced to the wine world. At that time, a lot of the wineries there were starting up. After I left in 2005, I moved to Seattle and worked at the Waterfront, which is now called Aqua by El Gaucho, one of Chad McKay's restaurants. I'd go back [to Walla Walla] every couple of months as a consumer, but always do something related to wine.
Sidney, have you since become more of a collector?
Rice: I'm definitely still exploring. I'm more of a taster. It's kind of hard to collect these wines. I have a few bottles tucked away in the cellar, like a few early '90s [Domaine de la Romanée-Conti] La Tache, some 2000 Margaux, and a few others. I'm using them for celebrations. After our first event for Dossier, we popped a bottle of DRC Echezeaux 1998.
How did the two of you connect?
Lenihan: We initially met to discuss some of my development projects, but then COVID hit and, like everyone else, I was on social media a lot more. I saw Sid posting photos of Napa Cabernets on his Instagram, and I suggested that while those were great, he should try some Washington wines. We got together a handful of times talking about wine and tried tons of different Washington wines.
What drew you to partner to start this brand?
Lenihan: Sid said, “I would love to create a label,” to which I replied, “I've always wanted to do that ever since I left Walla Walla.” We both realized that we each brought some amazing ideas, partnerships and skill sets to the table that would work well together to develop a winery. The wine world is super-competitive, so we wanted to determine how we could differentiate ourselves. Since the beginning, we were aligned on wanting to create the best versions of Washington wines we could.
What's behind the name, Dossier?
Lenihan: A dossier is essentially a collection of information or documents that is put into one central file. We are taking all kinds of information and thoughts from our team and our community of supporters and then putting out what we feel is the best wine based on all those conversations. It's a very collaborative environment that allows us to grow and change within the wine world. No one person at Dossier makes all of the decisions.
Sidney, you mentioned your interest in wine began early into your playing career. Were you the only one drinking wine?
Rice: I had one teammate in Minnesota, Visanthe Shiancoe. He was our tight end. All he drank was wine. So, we'd go out to nightclubs, and everybody would drink tequila and vodka, and he'd have his glass of wine.
I didn't drink a ton of wine when I was playing. But the evolution is still pretty interesting. Starting off with Moscato. And then I would only drink Chardonnay after that. And then with reds, it was Rosa Regale and some of the sweetest wines that you could imagine!
Then I started getting introduced to other wines with a little more age. Some of the wines I was tasting, I had yet to develop a palate for at that point. But as you find more wines you like, you're more likely to venture into more things. So fortunately, I have some really good friends who love wine and know a ton about wine. And it's been awesome exploring.
What has been your experience as you started to explore Washington wines a little bit more?
Rice: Tim was the catalyst for that. I was drinking some wines and started posting them on my social media. And then a lot of people began just sending me tons of different wines. So, I ended up tasting over 300 bottles of wine that people sent me. Tim was saying, 'Hey, you got a lot of Napa,' and he started bringing over a lot of Washington State wine.
How did you chose Billo Naravane of Rasa as the best winemaker to translate your style of wines?
Lenihan: We interviewed a handful of winemakers, including local Washington winemakers and Californian consultants. Through those discussions, we felt that Billo would be our best partner. His winemaking style really spoke to us and matched the vision we had and the types of wines we wanted to create. But we also gave him carte blanche, and he's always approaching us, asking if we're up for trying something different.
How active are you in the winemaking decisions?
Lenihan: We always do the tasting blends with him. But that's all of us, including our general manager and all the tasting room staff. Exploring the vineyards has been an amazing process for us. People within the farming community know Billo, so when he comes to them with a very specific project, they want to be involved.
What types and styles of wine can consumers expect from Dossier?
Lenihan: When we first started this, it was wanting to compete with the best in the state for Cabernet. The flagship is our Bordeaux blend. But a lot of the demographics that we're selling to are looking for wines that they want to be able to open up and have it just be rocking right out of the gate.
One of the big things for Sid and I was ensuring that the brand didn't give an exclusive feeling. Some amazing wines are out there. But some wines and experiences should also allow anybody to be involved with the winery.
We always use the words balance and finesse. When we showed Billo some of the wines that we loved, that's what they all had. You can create something that is crazy, kind of over the top. But can you also create wines with finesse?
What's on the horizon?
Lenihan: Getting a tasting room up and running on Main Street in [Walla Walla]. And then, about two and a half years from now, a winery will be ready for us. And over time, we'll probably start opening up other tasting rooms across the state. So, there are very specific markets that we're going after in the next five to 10 years.
Rice: Eventually, we want to get [the wine] into the Seahawks' stadium. I already have the contact there and am looking forward to doing a tasting. They have something cool where they can provide these wines for their suite members.
With many celebrity wine labels out there, how do you ensure you're not just another brand with a famous name attached to it that fizzles out?
Rice: Quite a few people are putting their names on stuff, and then that's it. You don't hear from them after that big press release. But Tim and I are actively involved in everything that goes on. We wanted to create something different, sexy, appealing and approachable for everyone that wants to get into wine and learn more.
I'm still a youngster in the game of wine. But I want to bring more people into this world. So, we're hands-on, and I'm in it for the long haul. We're trying to create amazing customer experiences with what we're building.