Meet Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars

All roads may lead to wine, yet many of us take different paths before reaching that destination. Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, did not take a direct route to crafting wines. How did this damsel – who is clearly not in distress – reach her goal of developing her own brand while traveling a route with various twists and turns? Read on to learn how her experiences along the way influence her adept winemaking.

Mari Womack, Damsel Cellars Owner and Winemaker

Mari worked in restaurants while going to college in her 20’s, and developed an appetite for food and wine pairing. Her studies were rewarded with a degree in landscaping and horticulture. Then things took a turn, steering her toward working in Woodinville tasting rooms and volunteering during harvest. That path eventually led to a position as Assistant Winemaker at Darby Winery.

While at Darby, Mari processed 85 tons of grapes per year for four years affirming, “Repetition makes you an expert.” During that time she also worked on developing her own brand. In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country.

Today, that restaurant background informs Mari’s food and wine pairing focus and a desire to craft food friendly wines. That degree in landscaping and horticulture provides a focus on the right plant in the right place. The result is a keen sensibility when sourcing grapes. Even going into her eighth vintage Mari admits, “I’ll never know all there is to learn about wine.” Regardless of the path taken, I think most people in the wine industry say the same thing about themselves. After all, that’s part of wine’s allure.

The Wines of Damsel Cellars

The lineup at Damsel Cellars focuses on fun and youthful wine with great acidity. Fruit is procured from high quality growers such as Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyards. It’s no wonder these wines are selling out! On the day of my visit the tasting began with a delightfully fruit forward Chardonnay. Then an easy drinking Red Blend, a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blend aptly named the Fates, and the Stillwater Creek Syrah were poured.

Crafting varietally specific bottlings was the initial plan for Damsel Cellars. Then, in 2015 some anticipated grapes were damaged resulting in less Grenache and Mourvèdre than anticipated. Co-fermenting the two and adding Syrah to the blend was the solution. “Syrah is my favorite and I think everything can be improved by Syrah,” declares Mari. It was completely randomly fated, hence the blend, The Fates. Matured in all neutral puncheons, the fruit expresses itself beautifully. It wows with an old-world character and conveys the classic savoriness inherent in wine grapes from Boushey Vineyard.

I received a sample bottle of the Malbec to taste at home. The wine comes across as much softer than typical Washington State Malbec. Its brambly fruit flavors make it a terrific match for my Berry Barbecue Sauce atop roasted chicken breasts coated with a smoky spice rub.

Visit Damsel Cellars

In 2017 Damsel Cellars moved into its own facility located in Woodinville Wine Country. If you’ve been to Woodinville you know this Washington State wine tourism area is not the typical wine destination. Rather, what began as a rural and industrial area is now a region densely packed with tasting rooms. About a half hour drive from Seattle, the location is much closer to city life than the state’s vineyards. Find Damsel Cellars tucked away among warehouses in what is referred to as the Artisan Hill District. The cozy tasting room is housed in the front portion of the winery. It’s a clever repurposing of the space, really.

Woodinville Winery
The tasting bar at Damsel Cellars offers a peek into the barrel room

These are serious wines, yet Mari sets a casual, lighthearted tone for the winery.  The experience conveys her belief that it can be fun learning about wine, especially with a group of friends. So if you enjoy wines with old world character and an intimate tasting room experience, it’s time you visit the Damsel.

Become a Winemaker at Wente Winemakers Studio

Wineries all along the west coast are ready to pour a tasting flight when you walk through the door. What sets one apart from another? An experience that is unique and engaging can totally differentiate a winery. One of the most memorable tasting room experiences I’ve had is a wine blending session at the Wente Winemakers Studio in Livermore Valley Wine Country.

Being based in Seattle, when we plan a trip to California the lure of the familiar wine regions Napa and Sonoma is hard to resist. If only we’d known over the years of our visits to the Golden State that we were missing out on intimate and engaging experiences in other wine regions. Enter Livermore Valley. Just about an hour east of San Francisco in the Tri-Valley Region, I was surprised to find that we were driving past beautiful vineyards on roads with little traffic.

The area is home to Wente Vineyards, the pioneer of California’s number one white grape variety, Chardonnay. Somehow it had escaped me that the majority of California Chardonnay is a Wente Chardonnay clone. I might be living a wine centric life, and yet this 5th generation family winery that is celebrating its 135th anniversary this year has unfortunately eluded me. With multiple tasting rooms, dining options, and event venues, Wente Vineyards is quite an enchanting playground for wine lovers. My time there was spent at the Wente Winemakers Studio. Even within the Winemakers Studio there are several interactive experiences from which to choose including blind tasting, wine aroma discovery, and wine and food pairing. During my visit I tried my hand at the winemaking blending experience.

Not only does the hospitable staff offer a friendly greeting, upon entering the studio wine glasses and notebooks are set up on tables hinting at the tasting experience ahead. Upon being seated, the session begins with an introduction to the history of the winery. Next comes the anticipated tasting of the estate wines and copious notetaking. Although tasting in this setting is more a function to help one determine which wines and how much may be desired in a custom blend, it turns out it is still fun!

Livermore Valley Wine Tasting

The setup of the blending room is remarkable. Barrel heads with spigots line one wall. This is where we pour Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties into beakers in order to create our blend. We then bottle the finished blend, cork it, put a capsule on it, label it, and ultimately take home our personal creation.

Wente Blending

This memorable blending experience at the Wente Winemakers Studio is delightful and the hospitality remarkable. I highly recommend it and look forward to revisiting Livermore Valley. Have you been to the region? If so, head on over to my post on Instagram and share your experience! #LetsTalkAboutWine

Plan Your Visit

Wente Vineyards
Wente Winemakers Studio
Livermore Valley Wine Country
Visit Tri Valley
Black Tie Transportation