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GF native brings California connection

Chris Ryan founded Bailarin Cellars winery in 2014, but the Grand Forks native actually spent years hating the stuff. That is, until he met his wife, Amanda Ryan. "My early experiences with wine in college were terrible, so I thought that I didn'...

Bailarin Cellars wine in Happy Harry's on Tuesday Oct. 9. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald
Bailarin Cellars wine in Happy Harry's on Tuesday Oct. 9. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald

Chris Ryan founded Bailarin Cellars winery in 2014, but the Grand Forks native actually spent years hating the stuff.

That is, until he met his wife, Amanda Ryan.

"My early experiences with wine in college were terrible, so I thought that I didn't like wine," he said. "But (Amanda) exposed me to good wine and showed me how interesting it can be."

Had he not met Amanda in 2013, he probably never would have jumped at the opportunity to open Bailarin Cellars, he said.

"Wine was certainly a big part of our courtship," he said. "We'd go out to eat and have a glass of wine with dinner, and I was learning so much about wine."

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This week, Happy Harry's Bottle Shops stocked shelves in its Grand Forks and Fargo locations with six different Bailarin Cellars wines. The bottles range in price from $24 to $48.

"We got a bottle to (Happy Harry's President) Hal Gershman, and the rest was easy," Ryan said.

Doing what you love

Chris and Amanda Ryan met on a blind date that was set up by mutual friend, Brianne Suacci Sylvia. Sylvia works with Ryan in his primary business, Shamrock Surgical, a medical device distribution company. Sylvia also works with Ryan as the business director of Bailarin Cellars and was a key person in the inception of the winery.

In 2014, Sylvia's father, John Suacci, decided to stop making wine for the winery he had started with his friend, Andy Carciere.

Sylvia mentioned to Ryan she was sad her dad was going to stop making wine. This got Ryan thinking that he, Sylvia and others could form a new company to pick up where her father had left off.

With harvest underway, the group quickly decided to purchase grapes from Suacci and continue making wine in the style that he did.

"So when we started, we were a new winery but not starting from scratch," Ryan said.

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Bailarin Cellars wine is made in Healdsburg, Calif., in a custom crush facility. Most of the grapes used are Russian River Valley grapes.

"We're unique because we've got this fantastic Sonoma County wine, but our tasting room is in Sacramento," Ryan said.

Bailarin is Spanish for "dancer," he said. The name is meant to represent doing what you love. When the friends divided up what parts of the business they wanted to be responsible for, it was mostly based on what they liked to do. For Ryan, it was managing the team and the investors.

'Obvious choice'

Ryan was very interested in getting his wines into his home state and his hometown, Happy Harry's CEO Dustin Mitzel said.

"When it came time for us to spread our wings and sell outside of California, North Dakota was an obvious choice," Ryan said. "And I knew Hal Gershman from delivering his papers."

Ryan joked he must have been mostly on time delivering papers because it didn't leave a bad opinion about him.

"He was still open to Bailarin, or maybe it's just that the wine is that good," Ryan said of Gershman.

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Happy Harry's tries to support local brands, Mitzel said. Bailarin is based outside the state, but Ryan's ties to Grand Forks make it something the bottle shop wants to sell.

When looking for products to sell, Happy Harry's always looks at quality and then price, Mitzel said. The fact that Ryan is a Grand Forks native is just "the cherry on top of the sundae."

Four of the six Bailarin Cellars wines that Happy Harry's stocks are rated above a 90 out of 100 by Wine Enthusiast.

"That is an incredible honor for a young winery," Mitzel said. "Scores above 90 are like getting an A-plus in school, and to have more than one wine scoring above 90, they're getting a 4.0 in the wine world right now."

Local ties

Ryan said getting his wines into his hometown is just another reason to come home. Ryan graduated from Grand Forks Central in 1997.

"My senior year was the year of the flood," he said. "It was a really crazy time."

His father is Casey Ryan, a doctor and former president for Altru Health System. Ryan's parents are investors in the winery. He said his family was another reason to get Bailarin wine into Grand Forks.

Ryan said there is "no question" growing up in Grand Forks and North Dakota had an effect on his work ethic.

"People work hard in North Dakota," he said. "You have to shovel just so you can go to work, which out here (in California) is a concept that not many can even understand. I think there are many things that may seem like a challenge (about living in North Dakota), but they're actually a blessing."

Ryan said he misses his family and hockey when he's not in Grand Forks.

"I am very much obsessed with North Dakota hockey," he said. "I miss playing and I miss following the Sioux. The Ralph is really a special place."

He said he is excited for people in his hometown to try the wine, especially family and friends who previously had no way of getting it.

"The cost of shipping a single bottle of wine from California to North Dakota is over $20, just shipping," Ryan said. "So it really was cost-prohibitive."

Now they can just walk into Happy Harry's and grab a bottle off the shelf, he said.

"I'm looking forward to partnering with Happy Harry's," he said. "It's a great fit."

Related Topics: HAL GERSHMAN
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