LIBERTY LAKE, Wash. — A sign behind the tasting bar at Liberty Lake Wine Cellars reads #RedMtnUnfiltered, and what winemaker Mark Lathrop managed at Great Northwest Wine’s Platinum Awards was unprecedented.
Lathrop entered the 2021 Platinum with seven of his wines that had won a gold medal during the previous 12 months. All seven went on to receive a Platinum — a 7-for-7 performance unparalleled in the 22-year history of the judging. He credits Red Mountain growers with the fruit that went into six of those seven Platinum winners.
“That was pretty shocking news,” Lathrop said. “I knew the ’18s were good when I was sending them in, but that’s only my third vintage. That was a pretty good email to get, especially when I was deliriously tired at the end of crush. It tells me that, ‘Yeah, I’m on the right track.’ ”
And it might make those 2 1/2-hour trips to Red Mountain seem even shorter for the self-taught winemaker who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and makes wine in the Spokane area. Part of his exploration of Red Mountain stems from his days as a club member at Liberty Lake Wine Cellars. In January 2016, he and his wife, Sarah, purchased the winery from Doug and Shelly Smith.
Since then, the CFO of West Star Industries with an MBA from Eastern Washington University has filled his spare time with reading and researching winemaking techniques to slowly reach an annual production of 2,500 cases.
Wisely, Lathrop, 43, has placed his confidence in some of the Northwest’s top viticulturists. They include Damon LaLonde, Marshall Edwards, Kiona’s Scott Williams and vineyards such as Red Heaven, Scooteney Flats, Heart of the Hill, Ranch at the End of the Road and Candy Mountain. Each is a site of renown that the Smiths were not buying from.
“Damon was responsible for setting us up with a mix of clones out of Scooteney that have served us very well,” Lathrop says. “And ’18 was the first time we were able to source by clones rather than just by variety.”
The fledgling winemaker, Liberty Lake’s customers and judges — particularly those at the Platinum — have been wonderstruck by the delicious results.
The honor roll reads:
Double Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $36
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Reserve Syrah, Red Mountain, $44
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain, $38
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Tahija Candy Mountain Vineyard Sangiovese, Candy Mountain, $26
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Heritage Reserve Red Wine, Red Mountain, $45
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Red Heaven Vineyard Tempranillo, Red Mountain, $38
Platinum — Liberty Lake Wine Cellars 2018 Heart of the Hill Vineyard Carménère, Red Mountain, $40
In a remarkable bit of history, the top wine from the inaugural Platinum in 2000 was a Kiona Vineyards 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Williams family grapes on Red Mountain.
And for geographical context, Candy Mountain is the next land formation east of Red Mountain, close enough for the Tri-City hiking community to dream of establishing a trail about five miles long that would link the two American Viticultural Areas.
Lathrop continues to stand by that “RedMtnUnfiltered” sign. Liberty Lake wines have been sourced from Red Mountain — albeit from different sites — nearly from the time when the Smiths launched the winery in 2005. And Lathrop doesn’t plan to start filtering his wines, either.
At this point, the largest lots Lathrop works with are 200 cases. Most are smaller, which means the wines will stay hand-crafted. As a result, at least a few wines now in the cellar at Liberty Lake would seem poised to go Platinum in a year or two.
“I don’t think anything that’s happened is going to change our minds,” he said. “After the 2018 vintage we locked in on multi-year contracts, only now there’s a lot of pressure on me not to mess this up.”
- Liberty Lake Wine Cellars, 23110 E. Knox Ave., Liberty Lake, WA 99019, LibertyLakeWineCellars.com, 509-255-9205