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10 Washington winemakers to watch

By Duane Pemberton & Sarah Bagdon

Here’s a list of 10 winemakers who don’t have a huge public persona (most of them prefer to stay quiet) but there are reasons why you should familiarize yourself with them and their wines as soon as possible!

In no particular order, here are our picks:

Jon Martinez – Maison Bleue 

Jon is the new, “unofficial”, master of Rhone wines in Washington – this relatively “new comer” to the industry here has turned the heads of critics and wine lovers with Rhone varietals that really do compete on a global scale.

Robert Smasne – Smasne Cellars 

Robert’s family has a background in farming and agriculture, they have have lived in the greater Prosser/Grandview area for decades. His dedication to his craft and the ability to source amazing fruit from Upland Vineyards in the Yakima Valley have him well on his way to being a fan-favorite.

John Bell – Willis Hall Winery 

John is one of the more soft-spoken, Yoda-like winemakers in our state. His wines clearly speak for themselves – as they are all hand-crafted in small lots at a winery that is literally ran from his home.

Craig Mitrakul- Karma Wines/Crayelle Cellars / 

Craig’s philosophy of making food-friendly, age-worthy wines have really gone under the radar for the most part. He was hand-picked by Washington State winemaking veteran, Charlie Hoppes to work for Saint Laurent years ago – he recently moved from there to Karma as well as started his own label called Crayelle Cellars.

Doug Roskelley – Tero Estate 

Doug has a huge heart for people and equally for wine – his passion took him to the sleepy town of Milton-Freewater Oregon (which is still in the Walla Walla AVA) where he acquired Windrow Vineyards – one of the oldest vineyards in that region. His wines have received critical acclaim and Tero  has no problems selling out every vintage.

Nicolas Quille – Pacific Rim 

You may know the brand but its winemaker, Nicolas, is one of the most “below-the-radar” dudes I know of when you consider all the wine his team makes. His passion for elevating Washington Riesling continues to astound the critics and he has the awards to back it all up.

Richard Funk – Saviah Cellars 

Richard is a “good ol’ Montana boy” who still loves fishing and hunting – his laid-back demeanor makes guests to his winery feel welcomed – he’s like a bowl of home made Mac n’ Cheese with Bacon and truffle oil. He uses a combination of fruit from his own vineyards as well as top vineyards in both the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVA.

Marie-Eve Gilla- Forgeron Cellars 

Marie-Eve is a sweetheart of a woman if ever there was one. This French-born,  American winemaker keeps her heritage of enthusiasm for life and wine very much alive in producing some of the best, yet largely unknown wines, in Walla Walla.

Dean and Heather Neff – Nefarious Cellars 

Here’s a setup for the phrase: “Wonder twin powers, activate” if I’ve ever seen it! Dean makes the reds and Heather makes the whites – and they’re all damn tasty! Her whites are crisp with good acids and body to them while Dean’s reds are full-bodied with good tannin and acids – they should be able to age quite well over 10-15 years.

Shane Collins – Tsillan Cellars 

Shane is one of the friendliest folks in the business who makes stellar whites and reds that have a good sense of terroir and character. His wines are very affordable and ones that I know will make many wine-lovers very happy.