Owner/Winemaker, Damsel Cellars – Mari Womack
How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
Wine wasn’t something I was exposed to until I was in my 20s. I began working in restaurants in Seattle and met industry people who introduced me to wine and especially wine and food pairings. After several years in restaurants, a degree in landscape design and horticulture, and selling residential real estate, I found I had some time on my hands and I came out to Woodinville to volunteer in a winery. After working in the tasting room at Obelisco, I volunteered with Baer Winery during harvest and once I saw the production side of winemaking, I was hooked. I knew I wanted my own winery but given my limited experience I knew I’d need to lean on the industry to help me. I ended up connecting with Darby English, as he needed a tasting room manager and I needed someone to teach me how to make wine. I worked as his assistant winemaker until 2015 where I was able to simultaneously develop Damsel Cellars.
How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
What excites you the most about the wines you’re making?
As the wine industry continues to mature in Washington state, I’m really excited about the quality of the grapes we’re growing. I’m constantly learning new things from each vintage and that continues to deepen my excitement for the industry.
What is your favorite part about the Washington state wine community?
One of the things I love the most about this community is the “no rules” attitude of winemaking. I feel like there is a youthful exuberance and playfulness to winemaking which allows us winemakers to make really delicious wine.
What excites you the most about what the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
The industry continues to develop a standard of excellence in research and education, and I’m excited to see what the next generation will bring. I’m seeing more focus from the industry on transparency in our winemaking and agricultural practices. Long-term sustainability has been an ongoing priority and I think that will continue to advance further.
Your favorite wine and food pairing?
Marsanne and spicy Thai food, or a GSM and a crusty baguette with salted butter and thinly sliced prosciutto.
Vineyard Manager, Stillwater Creek – Ed Kelly
What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing? How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
I first became interested in vineyards and grape growing while working for the California Department of Food and Agriculture as a mycologist in 1978. My work often took me to wine country in Napa Valley to inspect diseases in plants. After a series of years of speaking with growers, I became interested in the vineyard industry and returned to UC Davis to study viticulture. After completing my degree, I began my career in vineyard management and consulting in 1981 where my work eventually led me to join Stillwater Creek Vineyard as director of vineyard operations in 2011.
How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
I have been growing grapes in Washington since 2011 when I became the director of vineyard operations for Stillwater Creek Vineyard.
What excites you the most about the grapes you’re growing or the techniques/equipment you’re using?
One of the most intriguing aspects to me is that I can grow award-winning grapes from varietals ranging from Chardonnay all the way to Petit Verdot. I am constantly amazed that both cool season and warm season grapes can do so well at the same site despite all the weather extremes. I also love seeing how the varying winemaking styles across different wineries we work with and to taste all those different nuances in the finished bottle.
What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington wine community?
I love the positive interactions that occur between the vineyard and wineries, as that greatly assists me in adjusting grape growing techniques. I also love the number of wineries that have been popping up in recent years and how well they all work together to learn from and support one another.
What do you think the future holds for Washington wine? Where are we headed or what trends are we seeing?
I believe that our future is headed towards continued greatness. I still think we are mostly unknown as a region around the world, but I think that our reputation for producing world-class wine will only become more prominent in years to come.
Your favorite food and wine pairing?
I think my answer is “yes”. I enjoy a variety of different food and there is such wonderful diversity available in Washington wine where there is always the perfect wine to pair with whatever you happen to be eating.
Assistant Manager, Stillwater Creek – Dennis King Bonilla
What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
My parents have been working at this vineyard since the year it was planted and continued to work here for 20 years before they eventually retired. I started working in the vineyards in 2010 when I was in high school and worked there until I left for college. Once I graduated, I returned to Stillwater Creek and told Ed Kelly that my dream was to do exactly what he does. He encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree, which I successfully completed and returned to work at the vineyard as assistant manager.
How long have you been working in this capacity?
I am going on my third year as assistant manager, but I have been working at this vineyard since 2010.
What excites you the most about working in the vineyards?
I enjoy all the different components involved with vineyard work and how it all weaves together. Soil science, grapevine health, weather, economics, employee management, etc…
What is your favorite part about being a part of the Washington wine community?
I love how supportive everyone in this industry is with one another. If I ever have questions and need to reach out to the industry, I always get the assistance I need. I also think we are incredibly fortunate to have mentors we can learn from. I feel incredibly thankful for Ed Kelly who has guided me and challenged me over the years to help me achieve my goals.
What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I think as an industry, we have learned a lot about grape growing in Washington over the years. I feel as though the more experience we can obtain from trials and errors every vintage, it’s going to contribute to healthier vines, quality grapes, and ultimately better wines.
What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
Weather has an incredible effect on the growing season. The wine they drink one year may be completely different the following year due to various weather patterns.