Liberty Lake Cellars matures along with its hometown

COURTESY OF LIBERTY LAKE WINE CELLARS
Courtesy of Liberty Lake Wine Cellars

L

iberty Lake Wine Cellars has had deep roots in its community from the start, having been established the same year Liberty Lake became an incorporated city.

Founders Doug and Shelly Smith started the winery in 2005 as a boutique lakeside operation, but in the years since, current owners Mark and Sarah Lathrop have grown the winery into something much bigger.

The Lathrops, who met while pursuing MBAs at Eastern Washington University, say they started off as wine club members but decided to take on the winery in 2016, when they heard the Smiths were retiring.

"We'd developed a friendship with Doug and Shelly, and we'd been looking for something we could do together," says Mark Lathrop. "It was one of those opportunities that just kind of fell into place."

By 2017, the couple had moved the winery into a newly built, 4,300-square-foot production facility and tasting room at 23110 E. Knox Ave. The winery has five part-time employees, and all production takes place on-site, including crush, fermentation, barrel aging, bottling and storage.

"I do most of the wine production, and Sarah runs front of the house," says Mark Lathrop. "We've grown production from 500 to 2,500 cases annually, and 2021 production is slated at 2,700 cases depending on harvest."

click to enlarge COURTESY OF LIBERTY LAKE WINE CELLARS
Courtesy of Liberty Lake Wine Cellars

Liberty Lake Wine Cellars specializes in red wines, with the majority of their grapes sourced through the Red Mountain AVA, south of Richland.

"It's one of the smaller AVAs in the state, but it's also the hottest, so it offers good grapes for making those big, bold reds," he says.

While the winery specializes in red wine, it also offers a chardonnay, a riesling, and a rosé, under the label Tahija, which takes its name from Sarah's family.

Lathrop says that since taking over the winery, the couple has added production of new varieties including malbec, zinfandel and gewürztraminer.

"We just released our Bordeaux blend and petit Bordeaux in late August, and have plans to release the malbec and the carménère this November," he says.

With so much variety, the couple says there's no one wine that's the definitive customer favorite; instead, there's usually something for everyone.

"We source many varietals from Red Mountain, and try to keep them rotating through the tasting room," says Sarah. "Our philosophy is letting people who come in try something new every time."

Lathrop says all of Liberty Lake Wine Cellars' wines are all made dry, which means they pair well with savory dishes.

"Sweet wines go better with desserts, but red with herbaceous or savory flavors like ours add more to the zesty dishes," he says. "Red wines also cut fatty dishes well, so we make a good steak wine for sure."

click to enlarge COURTESY OF LIBERTY LAKE WINE CELLARS
Courtesy of Liberty Lake Wine Cellars

Lathrop says one thing that sets Liberty Lake Wine Cellars' wines apart from other wineries is referenced in its tag line "Red Mountain Unfiltered," which refers to the fact that it doesn't alter its wine during the production process.

Rather than just relying on grapes, some wineries adjust the acidity of wine with additives. Lathrop prefers to let the grapes shine. "We choose very specific pick dates and haul our grapes at just the right time so we don't need to use additives to get the wine to taste as expected. Most larger wineries aren't able to be that selective; but if you're able to do it that way, the fruit does most of the heavy lifting."

In addition to crafting wine, the couple say supporting and interacting with their community is an important aspect of owning the winery. "Part of our goal when we created the new location was to make it a space for the community," says Sarah. "It's a small town, so we know pretty much everyone, and we enjoy being involved."

As EWU grads, the couple say they particularly enjoy teaming up with the EWU alumni association for events and scholarship donations.

Sarah's currently serving as treasurer of the Spokane Winery Association, a group made up of 20 different area wineries. "We participate in the winery association's events, including the annual Holiday Wine Festival, which takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving," she says. "This year that's also the weekend we plan to release our new wines."

Mark Lathrop says that the winery's connections to the community were part of what helped support the business during pandemic-related closures.

"Our wine club in particular is a big driver for our business, and we owe them a big thanks," he says.

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