Winemaker was inspired by his grandfather: a WWII hero, Nazi hunter and wine lover

by Andy Perdue for The Seattle Times

ANDREW BROWNE OFTEN ponders what propelled his grandfather, a Midwest lawyer, a bona fide World War II hero and a lover of all things French.

Browne, CEO of Precept Wine in Seattle, still doesn’t quite understand all the forces that inspired William Bitner Browne, but he knew he wanted to honor his grandfather, so he created Browne Family Vineyards. The brand, now in its second decade, focuses primarily on Bordeaux varieties.

William Browne grew up on an Ohio farm and graduated from Wittenburg University when he was 20. He was destined for Harvard Law School when he did something perplexing: He moved to the University of Bordeaux. There, he learned French and developed a love for wine.

After returning and graduating from Harvard Law, Browne went to work for a New York law firm run by Bill Donovan, who became head of the Office of Strategic Services (the harbinger of the CIA) during WWII.

Because Browne was fluent in French, Donovan recruited him into the OSS, and he was dropped behind enemy lines before D-Day to work with the French Resistance. He was there for the liberation of Paris and later the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was highly decorated for his service and hunted Nazis after the war.

After Browne returned to Ohio, he practiced law. He brought with him a world view and a love for wine that young Andrew Browne subtlety absorbed. William died in 2003, just as his grandson was starting Precept.

When Andrew Browne launched Precept, the company focused on good quality at fair prices with such brands as Pine & Post, Washington Hills and Waterbrook. Few Precept wines sell for more than $20, and that strategy has been the company’s foundation for success in becoming the state’s second-largest wine producer.

Browne Family Vineyards is different. The bottles are heavier and quietly speak of their quality. The wines often push past $30 retail, though they taste twice as expensive. They come from the company’s best vineyards, and the lineup has grown from three wines to nine, all made in small amounts.

Each is impressive and collectible.

Browne Family Vineyards’ tasting room is on Main Street in Walla Walla, and the wines also are sold in wine shops, restaurants and better grocers throughout Seattle.

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