2018 Washington Winemaker of the Year


2018 Washington Wine Awards: The Winners

This article appears in print in the August 2018 issue as part of the 13th Annual Seattle Magazine Wine Awards.

Winemaker of the Year

Awarded to a winemaker who is known for the quality of his or her winemaking, for contributions to the winemaking community, and for helping put Washington wines on the national stage.

James Mantone, Syncline Cellars
The Columbia Gorge AVA, spanning the Washington and Oregon sides of the Columbia River around Hood River, Oregon, feels very much like the science lab of Northwest winemaking. Many of the most adventurous winemakers and exciting wines being produced in Washington are emerging from the Gorge. The head mad scientist of that lab earns our title of 2018 Winemaker of the Year: James Mantone.

Mantone’s Syncline Wine Cellars in Lyle, Washington, is the flagship winery of the Gorge; it was launched in 1999 after Mantone spent six years working harvests in the Willamette Valley. At the time, the trifecta of Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominated the Washington wine scene, so Syncline’s direction—focused on Rhône varieties such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, and curiosities like Pinot Noir from the Gorge —was positively countercultural. But Mantone’s timing was good. He notes that Syncline launched just as “many growers were becoming open-minded to trying new things” and moving “from conservative, commodity-style grape growing to adventurous attitudes.” Recent years have seen Mantone introduce a new sparkling-wine label—Scintillation—and there are rumblings of other Gorge-centric endeavors on the horizon. “I look forward to seeing some of Washington’s boundaries further broadened,” says Mantone, and it’s clear he’ll be among the winemakers doing the broadening.