by Christina Kelly & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & arolyn Lakewold went from playing professional fast-pitch softball to teaching English at the community college level to winemaking, all with the precision of an athlete -- the timing, the nuances and the determination it takes to be the best at what you do.

"That's exactly what I want to do -- be the best, make the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the state," says Lakewold, 44, originally from Spokane but now settled in Olympia. "Like anything else I do, I don't want to strive to be ordinary. I want to be the best."

The petite athlete and avid fly-fisherwoman is well on the road to hitting her mark in the Northwest wine industry. Rather than making a plethora of wines just out of the starting gate, Lakewold has steely-eyed her target and focused on just those two varietals -- Cabs and Merlots. She shrugged off the idea of starting with a white wine while making her reds (to generate money, since white wines takes less time to get to the market). She has even avoided the temptation to branch out to the popular Syrahs produced in Washington state, or other varietals, despite the fact that she is an enthusiast for other grapes.

But her training as a fast-pitch player and coach taught her to focus, focus and focus -- and in this case, the wine will come and it will be good. She hangs onto the wine longer than many winemakers: She's just now releasing her 2002 Cabernet and Merlot. Both wines are loaded with the depth that comes when you handcraft and nurture a wine.

Lakewold attended Eastern Washington University to play varsity softball. But she was injured during her first year and ultimately finished her degree at the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Her grandfather owned a large farm just east of Spokane near the old Opportunity exit for many years, and Lakewold still has relatives living in the Spokane area.

In the 1990s, Lakewold played professional fast-pitch ball, commuting from Olympia to Canada. Still struggling to figure out how she wanted to make her mark in life, Lakewold studied for a master's degree in English at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and began teaching English as a Second Language at South Puget Sound Community College, where she also coached softball and basketball for women.

It was at this pivotal time in her life when she met her life partner, Fred Goldberg, a partner in the Foss Tug Company in Seattle. Lakewold had been teaching at the community college level for about 12 years and said she was feeling burned out.

"Wine was always a lifetime passion, but I never had time to pursue it," Lakewold says. "I decided to take a year off and see where it would lead me."

She and Goldberg headed to the south of France, where they rented a place to spend the summer. As it turned out, they have continued to retreat to southern France ever since.

"Fred always said to me that I talked so much about wine that I should consider doing something about it," Lakewold recalls. "I remember coming back one year and calling Doug McCrea [who made wine in her area], and offered to become a cellar rat."

For two years, Lakewold worked for McCrea, learning everything she could from the skilled "Master of Syrah." Surprisingly, when she decided to open her own winery, she chose not to make a Syrah, but rather used the skills she learned from McCrea to produce Bordeaux-style blends.

She never went back to teaching English.

In 1997, she and Goldberg, who had become her companion and champion, planted a couple acres of Pinot Noir in the Olympia area -- mostly for show, but as a reminder that they were going into the wine business. Lakewold wasn't going to make just any wine -- she was going to make wine with an attitude.

In 1998, she and Goldberg built the winery, and make their first wine in 1999, with a commercial release of 2001. During that time, Lakewold hooked up with Bob Andrake, another winemaker in the Olympia region. Andrake began winemaking a few years before Lakewold and was willing to share equipment with the fledging winemaker.

"I was suspicious at first, because she never drank martinis, and never had more than a glass or two of wine," laughs Andrake, who makes terrific, muscular wines from Washington vineyards. "She needed a sounding board, and we both realized that if one of us breaks down, the other could help. It's been a good relationship."

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