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Grapes of Justice 

by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ll actions have consequences; just ask a lawyer. For local attorneys Michael White and Greg Lipsker, whose friendship developed over a mutual passion for wine, the action that changed their lives began as a case of mistaken identity -- and the consequences continue to ferment.


"Our friendship took us on a trip up to British Columbia, to visit Ainsworth Hot Springs," White remembers. "We stopped in Nelson at a little shop, thinking it was a wine shop, but it was a winemaking shop. We bought a kit for zinfandel -- you get the juice, the yeast, the container, you put the yeast in the juice and start the fermentation process. There weren't a lot of complications."


The kit produced five gallons of wine that White and Lipsker bottled back in 1998. They sampled it; White's wife pronounced the vintage "not remarkable."


"We tasted it," Lipsker says. "We punished our friends with it."


But they were hooked on the process. Next came Internet research, finding a source for higher quality juice out of California, and a test run of sauvignon blanc. Then they purchased grapes instead of juice. For advice and mentoring, they turned to friends who run Walla Walla Vintners, which led to visiting vineyards with a plan to buy 50 pounds of grapes. Instead, they hauled 600 pounds back to White's garage. The next year, it was half a ton. Their little winemaking hobby had morphed out of control.


"In 2000, we entered four wines in the amateur division of the Indy competition," says Lipsker. "We won three gold medals and a silver, and we thought, 'Hey we must be doing something right.' So in 2001, we decided to become a commercial winery. The plan was thought out just enough to be penciled on the back of a napkin."


The plunge into commercial winemaking required investment, commitment and patience. They found a space, rented equipment and bought their first forklift. They contracted with vineyards, crushed grapes, fermented the juice, bought barrels -- and waited as the first wine aged. "We were winemakers, but we didn't have anything to sell," White says. "We had a two-year wait between our first crush and our first bottle."


During that time, they studied everything from chemistry to cooperage (the art of making barrels). When they bottled the first vintage -- 140 cases of cabernet franc -- Lipsker and White suddenly had to become wine sellers.


"We enjoyed making the wine, but the real issue at that point becomes marketing," says White. "You can make a good wine, but will anybody buy it?"


Lipsker laughs. "Our friends said they liked [the wine], but we didn't know if that was just because it was free."


Their marketing began at Taste Washington, an event that connects winemakers and restaurateurs twice a year. That initial visit to Seattle garnered them a place on the wine lists at the Space Needle and Ray's Boathouse; now Barrister wines are available in eight restaurants in Spokane and six in Seattle, along with many retail outlets.


A couple of years ago, the partners purchased the 100-year-old Hobson Auto Parts warehouse building along Railroad Avenue, adjacent to the railroad viaduct, between Jefferson and Adams streets. From this home they produce mostly red wines -- cab franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and the occasional blend -- along with a small run of sauvignon blanc. Production has multiplied to 1,800 cases this year; next year, they plan to produce 2,500 cases.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & inemaking is a deceptively simple process: Grape juice plus yeast plus time equals wine. But like a lot of equations, this one has plenty of variables. Hidden in those variables lies the winemaker's art.


The first variable is the grapes: "If you have decent grapes, you can make a decent wine," says Lipsker. "If you have really great grapes, the wine will kind of make itself. You just try not to screw it up."


Actually, the art of winemaking begins in the vineyard, long before the winemakers get the grapes. "What they plant, where they plant, how much water, what's the soil type -- it's a whole process," says White "Viticulture practices are complicated, and we rely on the experts to make those decisions."


The partners contract with growers across the Columbia Valley to purchase the output from a certain number of acres. These are not anonymous grapes; the partners know exactly where their plants are. "We contract in the spring and determine what rows we'll actually purchase," says White. "So you'll see rows with 'Barrister Winery' at the end of the row, and those are our plants."


Once the grapes come in, they're destemmed and crushed and then fermented with yeast in big stainless steel tanks. After about 10 days, fermentation is complete -- all of the sugar in the juice has converted to alcohol -- and the juice gets pumped into oak barrels, where it will age anywhere from 16 to 30 months.


More variables arise: Is the oak French or American? What forest does it come from? Is the inside surface "toasted," and to what degree? What type of yeast is best for these grapes? Grapes from different vineyards can have distinctly different character, due to the soil type, the temperature, and even the age of the vines -- these variables constitute the much-touted terroir. Each variable affects how the wine develops, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically.


Part of the winemaker's art comes from blending these characteristics. "There's no right and no wrong," says Lipsker. "It's just a stylistic choice. The vineyard, the kind of oak, the age of the oak, the type of yeast -- those are all decisions."


Each decision is part of the winemaker's art, but Lipsker and White don't care if customers don't share their fascination with the details. After all, does anyone really care how Monet mixed his paint?


"There are some people who like that kind of information," White says. "For others, those details, their eyes glaze over."


While they're happy to receive recognition from the wine industry, Lipsker says sharing the wine with customers over the counter is the payoff. "For us, the most fun thing is when people stand here and say, 'Oh, God, that's good.'"


And it is.

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