Change in winemakers at Washington’s Swiftwater Cellars

By on November 22, 2014
Swiftwater Cellars is near Cle Elum, Washington.

Swiftwater Cellars in Cle Elum is one of Washington’s premier destination wineries, thanks to a tasting room, restaurant, concert venue and adjacent Suncadia resort and golf course. (Photo courtesy of Swiftwater Cellars)

CLE ELUM, Wash. – One of Washington’s premier destination wineries has made a change in its cellar.

Linda Trotta has departed as head winemaker for Swiftwater Cellars, and the Watts family has promoted Andrew Wisniewski to head winemaker.

Trotta arrived at the Central Washington winery near Suncadia Resort in June 2010, three months before the winery opened to the public. Her talents quickly helped Swiftwater’s wines become noticed in the eyes of consumers and critics alike.

“Linda is one of the most insightful winemakers I’ve ever known,” said Dan Berger, a Sonoma County wine writer who has followed Trotta’s career for the past 25 years. “She can envision both dramatic wines as well as age-worthy wines and get them into the same bottle. Her wines are sensational.”

From Sonoma to Swiftwater Cellars

Swiftwater Cellars is near Suncadia Resort in Central Washington.

Linda Trotta recently left Swiftwater Cellars after more than four years as its head winemaker. (Photo courtesy of Swiftwater Cellars)

Trotta grew up in Southern California in an Italian family that always made wine at home. She attended the University of California-Davis as a math major, “but a couple of quarters of calculus changed my mind.” She ended up majoring in fermentation science at the school’s famed wine program, then jumped into the industry after graduation.

In 1989, Trotta landed a job at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma and spent the next two decades earning a reputation as one of the Golden State’s most talented winemakers.

In 2010, she got the itch to try something new and set her gaze northward, landing at Swiftwater, which had made its first three vintages with consulting winemaker Tony Rynders.

With a beautiful winery, tasting room, restaurant and concert venue adjacent to the tony Suncadia Resort, Trotta enjoyed an ideal situation.

“I went into it thinking it could be a three- to five-year gig or a long-term gig,” Trotta told Great Northwest Wine. “The goal was to get the brand established and to learn about Washington fruit. I’m having a blast working with this fruit. I’m committed to finding the right opportunity to stay and keep making some fun wines.”

During her tenure, Trotta built Swiftwater into a 4,500-case winery with 14 different wines, including Riesling, which she hadn’t made in California.

“(Swiftwater) didn’t have a Riesling when I started,” Trotta said. “I told them I wasn’t going to move to Washington and not make Riesling.”

The result was the No. 9 Riesling, which has earned high marks, including a double gold and best of class at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This didn’t surprise Berger, who co-founded the International Riesling Foundation and invented the Riesling Taste Scale.

“It became evident when I tasted her Swiftwater Riesling that she was able to take a winery that had no history and turn it into something that was world class,” he said. “That didn’t surprise me a bit because that’s her style. She’s very talented.”

Trotta is living in Ellensburg and plans to launch a winemaking consulting business unless a full-time opportunity that strikes her as the right fit comes along. She’s also on the board of directors of the Washington Wine Technical Group and is going to lead a half-day session on tannin management during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers convention in February.

Wisniewski steps up at Swiftwater Cellars

Andrew Wisniewski is head winemaker at Swiftwater Cellars.

Andrew Wisniewski worked in Oregon’s Dundee Hills before coming to Washington two years ago. He is the new head winemaker at Swiftwater Cellars. (Photo courtesy of Swiftwater Cellars)

Wisniewski, 28, is bringing his global winemaking experience to Swiftwater. The upstate New York native got his winemaking start in Florida, of all places. After three years there, he landed a harvest job in 2008 at Stoller Family Estate in Oregon’s Dundee Hills.

After that, he spent seven months making wine in Australia and New Zealand before returning to the Northwest.

“It was a pretty intense year,” he said.

After working for Stoller head winemaker Melissa Burr for about five years, he came to Swiftwater two years ago as assistant winemaker. He said his time working with Trotta has been invaluable.

“She is an amazing winemaker and an amazing person,” Wisniewski said. “I learned about having patience, having an even keel and knowing when to pull the trigger. She helped me to understand and embrace the nuances that Washington has to offer.”

This year, Wisniewski was able to begin bringing in Syrah from famed Yakima Valley grape grower Dick Boushey, and he is excited to see what that will bring.

“He is an amazing grower.”

Wisniewski admitted that moving from downtown Portland to Cle Elum was a bit of a culture shock – especially for his wife, but they have adjusted to small-town life.

“Plus it’s easy to zip over to Seattle.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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