binNotes | a wine blog
Red Thread™ Exclusive | Damsel Cellars
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
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“I don’t damsel well. Distress, I can do. Damseling? Not so much.”
― James Patterson, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars wine maker, dispays her wine making handiwork.
Damsel Cellars hand-crafts premium Washington State wines.
Damsel Cellars Syrah combines elegance and power into a wine of finesse.
Welcome to the Red Thread™.
A writer’s job is to listen.
This means allowing wine growers, wine makers, and wine regions a place to say their say on the page.
The Red Thread™ chronicles stories about wine, the red thread that binds us all.
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A winemaker’s story is a true hero’s journey, involving obstacles, an occasional mentor, and the ultimate reward – wine. Details may vary, but never the storyline. Today Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars in Woodinville, WA. shares her story with in the Red Thread.™
I know Mari through her affiliation with Darby Winery, where she runs the tasting room and serves as assistant wine maker. But savoring Mari’s own wines calls to mind a comment our instructor at BIVB in Burgundy sometimes made.
“Ah, yes,” he would say.”This wine captures the personality of the wine maker.” If the remark ended with a sly smile, one knew the wine maker was a woman.
Mari’s wines capture her personality – equal parts elegance and strength. Attending her recent Release event, it’s easy to understand why many consider her a rising star in the Washington wine scene.
NOTE: Mari’s 2012 Damsel Cellars Syrah recently garnered 91 pts. in Wine Enthusiast.
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b/N: Who or what brought you to the world of wine?
MW: My path to winemaking was not a straight line. I began working in restaurants in college and was introduced to some lovely wines and wine/food pairings and a whole new world opened up.
I caught the wine bug and began doing research on my own, attending industry tastings and starting the process that eventually led me to where I am now. I continued to work in the restaurant business and wine was always an interest, but it was relegated to the sidelines until 2011, when I decided it was time to find out what really goes on in the wine business.
First, I began volunteering in tasting rooms in Woodinville and during crush. Soon after, I was hired by Darby Winery to manage the tasting rooms. The one condition of employment I had for Darby was that he would teach me how to make wine.
b/N: Tell readers a little bit about the history of Damsel Cellars. How did it evolve, and what makes it unique?
MW: Damsel Cellars is a project that is still in its infancy. I’m very interested to see how it’s going to evolve. My main goal with Damsel currently is very simple: make great wine that people want to buy and enjoy.
I’m still honing my craft and there are so many variables that go into the process of winemaking. I’m constantly learning and the evolution of Damsel will be directly influenced simply by me getting smarter and better at what I do.
b/N: You currently make wine under three different labels. What, if any, differences do you see in your approach at Damsel Cellars vs. working with your brother at Rivalry or as assistant winemaker at Darby Winery? How do you juggle it all during crush?
MW: I think the major differences between working with the different wines (Damsel, Rivalry & Darby) is really about who is making the final decision during each step of the process.
Damsel, I feel, is really my baby and the purest expression of my style as a winemaker. Rivalry is a wonderful collaboration with my brother and we make decisions together and as the assistant to Darby, he’s definitely calling the shots and I’m helping to execute his vision for his wines.
b/N: Do you consider yourself more old world or new world in your wine making style?
MW: My process isn’t really new or old world. I think there are benefits to learning new techniques and continuing to keep up with the advances of the industry, but wine has been around for a very long time and there is a beauty to simply letting the wine do what it’s going to do with minimal interference.
b/N: Does the concept of terroir influence your wine making at all? Where do you source your grapes? Do you have any favorite AVA’s or vineyards?
MW: I think there are very distinct differences in the grapes coming from the different AVAs in Washington State. I’m specifically intrigued by the nuances in Syrah from the various AVAs. I’m currently sourcing fruit from Boushey Vineyard (Yakima Valley) and Stillwater Creek Vineyard (Wahluke Slope).
My first goal was to find amazing fruit to work with and doing that meant finding great vineyards. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of fruit from both Boushey and Stillwater Creek. I feel going forward I would love to pick up some Syrah from Walla Walla and if there is a little extra Cabernet Sauvignon from Discovery Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, I’d be very happy to work with that fruit.
b/N: Do you have any wine region(s) or wine maker(s) that inspire(s) you? If so, why?
MW: I’m around winemakers in Woodinville that are constantly inspiring me. Not only are many of them making delicious wine, they are happy to share their knowledge and experience with the sincere goal of elevating Washington wines. It’s a creative and competitive environment, but competitive in the best sense of the word.
Praise for a Washington winemaker really helps us all and raises the reputation of wine from our region.
b/N: Any insights on being a woman wine maker in Washington state?
MW: All the women working in the wine industry that I’ve met so far have been awesome. The women I know are driven, hardworking and passionate about what they do. As far as being a woman winemaker in Washington, the goal remains the same – to work hard and make great wine.
bN: What are your greatest challenges as a wine maker at Damsel Cellars?
MW: The greatest challenge for Damsel at this point is growing and creating a brand that endures. After only three (3) vintages, I’m finding that making the wine is the fun and easy part; getting out there and selling it is the greater challenge.
bN: Anything else you care to share?
MW: Wine for me is filled with romance and ritual. There is such a rich history to wine that I wanted to be a part of that story. I love the ritual of opening a bottle of wine, pulling the cork, smelling it, pouring that gorgeous liquid into a big decanter and savoring that first sip…it’s romantic and I love it.
bN: Finally: “If wine making has taught me anything, it’s taught me…”
MW: Wine making is teaching me patience. It’s teaching me to slow down, to observe and to wait. So much of wine is a waiting game and patience has never been my strong suit. It’s a challenge, but I’m learning to give the wine time.
Learn more about Damsel Cellars here.
Red Thread™ | Damsel Cellars | ©2015 L.M. Archer from binNotes on Vimeo.
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Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars
Images: Courtesy Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars.
Note: binNotes sometimes pours for Darby Winery.