Meet Some of Washington's Top Wine Makers

Photo Courtesy of Sweet Valley Wines
The state of Washington is home to an impressive breed of winemaker. Many have spent years, even decades, in other parts of the world, honing their craft. They come back to Washington because they realize the potential. The relatively uncrowded arena allows the creative some elbow room and freedom to experiment. Their love and respect for Washington grapes, and their willingness to accept the challenge of hailing from the United States’ number two producer (in numbers only), fuels their desire to succeed.

Here, we introduce you to some of Washington’s top winemakers. Some are names you’ll recognize and others are not—at least not yet. What they have in common is that they have all tasted glory and have goals for the future.

Charles Smith, K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines

Named Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine in 2009, and Seattle in 2010, Charles has a no-non-sense approach to making wine and marketing it. His palate-pleasing line of K Vintners varietals sport fun names like Boom Boom Syrah, Kung Fu Girl Riesling, and The Velvet Devil Merlot. “I want to make better wine, and do things I haven’t thought of yet,” Charles says. “I don’t really have a specific next goal, but I do want to continue to do my part to bring awareness, both nationally and internationally to Washington wines—both as high-end, world-class ‘trophy’ wines, and as solid, everyday drinking wines. And perhaps I do have another trick or two up my sleeve...”

Aryn Morell, Tenor Wines, Matthews

Aryn was hired in 2007 as winemaker for not one but two labels: Matthews and the top-tier Tenor Wines, which saw its debut that year. “Our goal for Tenor is to produce exceptional single varietal wines, and a reserve blend, 1.1.” Judging from the accolades he has already received, Aryn is on the right track. “I still want my wines to have a signature, regardless of which consumer is buying, and that is wines that are fruit-driven with more focus on aromatics, refined tannins, and a denser texture that is youthful and fresh. I have begun a few projects to feature a single vineyard, something that is harder to do well than having access to multiple sites. There seems to always be ways to keep the creative juices flowing.”

John Bookwalter, J. Bookwalter Winery

As president and head winemaker, John continues to focus on bringing the bright, vivid, ripe red fruit flavors forward that Washington tends to offer. Some of his methods include giving red wine wines less time in new oak; discontinuing the racking of wines; moving to topping barrels only; using lees more, and staying on the lees up until bottling if possible; and moving all of the French oak barrels to thick stave from thin stave, and also to all tight-grained forests. White wines remain bright and aromatic with balanced acidity. “Frankly, we are picking our white wines at lower brix to produce this style of wine,” John says. “Our goal is simple: to pro- duce the finest Washington wines available, at any price point from $10 to $100.”

Wendy Stuckey, Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Hailing from Australia’ s Barossa V alley in 2007 to join Chateau Ste. Michelle as white winemaker, Wendy contends that Riesling grown in this state is unique. “ We have access to many different vineyards, allowing us to produce a diverse range of styles, including a Dry Riesling, Eroica (off-dry), Harvest Select (sweeter style), Botrytis dessert wines, and Ice Wine—each showcasing a different fruit pro- file,” she explains. “My goal is to make Riesling that attracts wine consumers to the variety, and to get them to realize that Washington Riesling is a wine that can be enjoyed with or without food.”

Josh McDaniels, Sweet Valley Wines

Born in Walla Walla, Josh has lived in the area his whole life, aside from time spent studying in Argentina. He started making wine at the eye- brow-raising age of 15 and couldn’t legally taste his own wine for six years. “I love Walla Walla and completely believe in the quality of the winemaking and its potential,” Josh says. Recently, he and his fiancée bought a small vineyard there. “My next goal is to continue in my pursuit of quality winegrowing—and then winemaking. I want to be the best,” Josh says. “My dad said ‘You have to play to win,’ and that’s what drives me toward my goal.”

John Freeman, Waterbrook

Napa Valley–raised, John was destined to be in the wine industry. After 12 years in the Napa Valley, John moved to the Walla Walla Valley in 2003 and went to work as assistant winemaker at Waterbrook. He was promoted to winemaker in 2005. “My goal at Waterbrook is to produce the best bottle of wine for the lowest possible price,” John says. “At the same time, we want to continue to grow the awareness of Washington wine, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.”

Linda Trotta, Swiftwater Cellars

Linda’s winemaking efforts have been lauded by industry experts over and over again. When she made the decision to move from Sonoma, California, to Washington, Linda was motivated by the opportunity to gain experience working with fruit from a different region and terroir. “Swiftwater Cellars provides the opportunity for me to work with some of the most renowned vineyards in the state,” Linda says. “At Swiftwater, I make it my goal to apply my more than two decades of winemaking and wine growing experience to achieving the owners, the Watts Family’ s mission of producing some of Washington’s finest wines. ”


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Jim Page, Page Cellars: Refining production to create premium wines at average prices

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