By Andy Perdue
Kate Morrison thinks she could be on the verge of something big.
For the past year, the Whitman College graduate and her husband, Sean, have been carving out their niche in the crowded Walla Walla Valley wine scene with Something Big Cellars. Morrison, an accomplished musician and graphic artist, designs short-run personalized labels for weddings, for corporate gifts or even for someone looking to start their own winery.
“We saw an opportunity,” Morrison said. “I like the idea of people coming in with an idea and seeing how happy they are when they have a bottle of wine with that idea on the label.”
Kate and Sean Morrison married five years ago, and Sean is part of a longtime Walla Walla Valley farming family. The 25 acres of land south of Walla Walla have been with the Morrisons since 1918, and through the decades they have supported everything from row crops to orchards. In 1994, Dean Morrison — Sean’s dad — planted vineyards just as a new wave of wineries was popping up in the Valley.
In 2004, the Morrisons decided to start making wine. Though the Morrison Lane wines have been critically acclaimed, the label has not gained much traction in an industry teeming with small producers.
Enter the fourth generation. Sean Morrison has worked for several years in the Walla Walla wine industry, including Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Abeja. Two years ago, it was time to come home, so he joined his parents and became Morrison Lane’s winemaker.
Meanwhile, Kate Morrison was searching for her place. She worked at L’Ecole No 41 in Lowden and was also doing freelance marketing and website design. She believed she might be able to help the family business and carve out something interesting at the same time.
When the Morrison family launched its winery a decade ago, they didn’t do a lot of marketing, relying on reviews, repeat customers and word of mouth.
“It used to be you could hang out a shingle,” Kate Morrison said. “But it just doesn’t work that way anymore.”
She helps the winery with marketing and sales. Her in-laws operate the downtown tasting room, while she runs the winery tasting room south of town. It is a shared space between Morrison Lane and Something Big. She has created an art gallery featuring regional talent and brings in musical events.
The latter, especially, plays to her one of her strengths and passions as a classically trained vocalist. A few years ago, she wrote and recorded “Something Big,” a folk-style song. Her husband was the first person to hear the song, and he loved it. So when they came up with the idea for creating custom labels for others, that became the name of the business.
Anyone who wants custom-labeled wines comes to Something Big and works with Morrison. She will help them on the design and often can have something ready in a couple of weeks or less. If the wine is to be sold commercially, she will send the label on to the federal government for approval. If it’s for a private event or personal use, there is no need for additional steps.
The Morrisons then label wine already made and bottled, including Viognier, a rosé and a red blend. For just a few cases — Something Big has a five-case minimum for all orders — they will hand-label the wines. For a bigger job, they might bring in a mobile bottler.
Jet Titus of Walla Walla, an aspiring wine enthusiast and entrepreneur, found Something Big to be just the right fit for him.
“I had an idea for a wine label but wasn’t able to bring it to fruition because of the cost of getting into the business,” he said. “This operation that Kate has started enabled me to get the brand off the ground without having to spend several hundred thousand dollars.”
Titus launched Missionary Cellars with a blend called Sinner’s Red. He started with only 10 cases, just to see where it might go.
“I was able to start very small, trying to create a bit of a following for it and see what happens,” Titus said. “I don’t have a ton of capital wrapped up in it.”
In her first year, Morrison has designed many labels for corporate gifts and weddings. But she is also working with an online grocer in Beijing, China, providing three labels for it. And she is negotiating with a major international musical group to produce something it can sell to its fans.
“For me as an entrepreneur, I needed something to do on my own,” she said. “This is helping us sell more wine.”
And it could just turn into something bigger.