Vanetta Winery at the Loft is a tribute to the owner's past even as he looks to the future

click to enlarge Vanetta Winery at the Loft is a tribute to the owner's past even as he looks to the future
Leslie Douglas photos

Located in a building dating back to 1892, not long after the Great Spokane Fire ravaged the city, Vanetta Winery at the Loft is a relative newcomer — pouring glasses and selling bottles from Inland Northwest vineyards in an elevated space above the Tamarack Event House on Sprague Avenue for a little more than a year.

For founder Dave Balsz, Vanetta's wines and its space in the Loft are the current culmination of a long journey not only into wine, but into his own past as well.

A graduate of Mead High School, Balsz has roots in Spokane, but having been adopted as a young child, he wasn't sure where his biological roots lie.

"In 2018, after doing one of those DNA tests, I found my aunt," Balsz says. "I have two aunts and a half-sister, and I found all three of them through my one aunt. I learned about my mom and the rest of my family."

His mother died in 2000, but while the two never met, her legacy lives on through his winery.

click to enlarge Vanetta Winery at the Loft is a tribute to the owner's past even as he looks to the future
Vanetta Winery owner Dave Balsz

"I found out her first name was Vanetta. My mom's father was in World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps and his two best friends were Van and Eddie. So he combined that to create her name, Vanetta."

Vanetta also happens to be a Greek word for "butterfly," the imagery of which appears prominently on Balsz' wines.

"I stole that and used the butterfly for my label. It's a tree finding its roots and a butterfly," Balsz says.

Like his grandfather who first thought up the name Vanetta, Balsz also served in the Army. While he was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, as a young 20-something, a seed was planted that would later grow into his post-service passion.

"Somebody came into the barracks and said, 'Hey, get on the bus. It's going to free alcohol.' Turned out to be wine," says Balsz. "It was right along the Rhine River. The cobblestone streets, the old buildings, the castle just outside the town, the terrace vineyards. It was just all aesthetically pleasing. So that really interested me, but I still wasn't thinking I was going to make wine."

click to enlarge Vanetta Winery at the Loft is a tribute to the owner's past even as he looks to the future
The Vanette Winery at the Loft tasting room

Decades later, after leaving the Army, Balsz enrolled at WSU intending to study animal science. Waiting in line, he flipped through the course catalog, came across WSU's viticulture and enology programs, and realized that was the path he needed to follow.

After graduation in 2016, Balsz began his professional career in the wine industry. His first job was under winemaker Caleb Foster at J. Bookwalter Winery.

As a relative newcomer to the industry, and in part due to space constraints in the loft, Vanetta isn't actually a winery at this point as it does not have its own production facility or vineyard. Instead, under the Vanetta label, Balsz employs his training to curate and bottle wines produced by Columbia Valley wineries.

"I'm already thinking about where and what I'm going to do. I'd like to purchase land to put a tasting room and production facility on, and I would probably have a token vineyard," says Balsz.

For now, Vanetta wines are available in the loft space above Tamarack Event House (formerly known as Tamarack Public House).

Recent Vanetta offerings included bottles of semillon, syrah, pinot noir, malbec, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. Other options for enjoying the ambiance include two No-Li two beers as well as one of their seltzers and a handful of bottles from other wineries in varieties from prosecco to port.

The space itself is comfortable and warm thanks to arched, south-facing windows, and quite modern despite its location in a 132-year-old building. The owners of Tamarack Event House renovated the building before opening in 2014. While it is located above Tamarack, the two businesses operate separately, with Balsz running Vanetta even when Tamarack is closed.

Local art lines the old brick walls and during busier months Balsz often brings in local musicians to perform. With a piano in the corner, live music is always a possibility for customers who feel inclined to play.

Through Vanetta Winery at the Loft, Balsz has worked to cultivate a passion that took decades of service abroad and a lifetime of finding his roots to discover.

"No matter where I was at, I would always think of Washington state," Balsz recalls. "In Iraq, Bosnia, Germany, Korea, all those different countries and even the other states, I always thought about Washington."

Harold Balazs: Leaving Marks @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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