As Michael Townshend arranges bottles of sparkling wines behind bottles of whites, his father Don announces he'll begin pulling out the reds. After all 29 bottles are arranged across the bar, both stand back in disbelief at the number of wines in front of them, each with a story behind it.
Townshend began his first vintage in 1998 and opened Townshend Cellar in 2001 with a small tasting room at 16112 N. Greenbluff Road. Townshend Cellar's tasting room has now moved a few miles up Greenbluff Road, and though the tasting room briefly moved out to the Spokane Valley Industrial Park where production has taken place for the past five years, it reopened at the Green Bluff location in June.
Don's interest in winemaking began in the Tri-Cities, when he was selling commercial air conditioning in the '90s. He began making fruit wines out of any basically any fruit he could find. Quickly realizing how expensive each bottle would need to be to pay for the amount of labor put into it, he shifted his focus to red wines.
These days, Townshend's two sons — Brendon and Michael — grew up helping bottle and label the wine. Though both left Spokane for college and received engineering degrees, Michael describes their transition into working with their father as natural and what they had always loved doing.
"We were basically the little bottling guys growing up," says Michael. "We'd sit in the living room helping put on the labels and we'd take trips over to the Tri-Cities with my dad all the time."
With Michael in charge of the tasting room and wine club, Brendon — though currently in Qatar with the Air National Guard — runs marketing and sales.
Townshend Cellar gets most of its grapes from Willard Farms in Prosser, though Don says he has always been open to using any kind of grape he can find to make a new varietal he hasn't tried yet.
Michael describes his father as a mad scientist, crediting the length of Townshend's wine list — including vintage reds, red blends, desserts, whites and sparkling — to Don's eagerness to experiment. Both are proud to still run Townshend as a family, but also excited to work with other people equally passionate about quality wine.
"From the beginning really, we've wanted to make really excellent wine that anyone could afford to drink," says Michael. "We want to be accessible with stellar wine at a reasonable price."
Erik Manz is transitioning into the role of head winemaker, with his knowledge of making sparkling wine — a labor-intensive wine when carbonation isn't forced — in the traditional Champagne method. Currently bottling around 20,000 cases a year, Townshend uses 2,500 225-liter oak barrels to age its wines. Though distribution reaches across Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, Don plans to continue focusing on keeping a strong presence in Spokane.
Michael's favorite part about the tasting room is that people can try any of Townshend's 29 wines. Though it may be tempting to taste some of Townshend's most popular wines — T3, Vortex and Red Table red blends — Michael encourages people to try others because most of the wines in the tasting room aren't distributed anywhere else. Michael plans to keep the tasting room open year-round, offering six complimentary tastings and the $5 fee beyond those waived with the purchase of any bottle.
Townshend Cellar's Wine Club provides wine enthusiasts a way to try specialty releases without stopping into the tasting room. Costing only the price of the wine, Wine Club membership includes four shipments of three bottles yearly, discounts and access to events such as the recent All Paired Up ice cream and wine event that's a collaboration with Sweet Annie's Artisan Creamery.
"I don't want people to feel intimidated by the wine or the experience of the tasting," says Michael. "It's fun to pour for people that don't play a part when they walk in and are just here to experience, enjoy the wine and learn about it." ♦
Townshend Cellar • 8022 E. Greenbluff Rd., Colbert • Open Fri-Sun, noon-5 pm • townshendcellar.com • 238-1400