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Keeping it reel: Castaway Cellars combines passion for fly fishing with love of wine making

The winemaker’s grandfather keeps watch from the corner, showing off a formidable fish.

The black-and-white image of the avid angler, the late John Jeszenka, holding his catch – an impressive trout – occupies a place of honor, overlooking the bar and exemplifying the spirit of the place.

“It’s fun to be out on the water,” said Shelly Crawford, who grew up in “A River Runs Through It” country where fly-fishing was one of her first loves. She still enjoys the sport – as does her husband and brother, an outfitter who leads guided fishing excursions in Montana, where they were raised.

But now she has a new flame: wine-making, a hobby she’s turned into a business and also pays homage to one of the first activities that captured her heart.

Castaway Cellars, Crawford’s fly-fishing-themed winery, specializes in voluptuous reds. The tasting room opened last summer in the Resort Plaza Shops in downtown Coeur d’Alene. But Crawford commutes from Idaho to Prosser, Washington, to make her wine, sharing a production facility with Smasne Cellars and benefiting from the mentorship of its owner, Robert O. Smasne.

Crawford connected with Smasne through one of her husband’s patients, a relative of the Prosser winemaker. He’s helped her source grapes as well as answer questions.

“I can ask him anything,” Crawford said. “The more I do, the more I learn.”

Crawford and her husband, Scott, a chiropractor, started making wine for friends and family as a hobby.

“We just fell in love with the whole process,” she said.

Then a stay-home mom, Crawford decided to go back to school to study both viticulture and enology at Washington State University. But she wasn’t sure exactly how she was going to put her newfound knowledge to use.

“I didn’t know if I was going to go to work for someone else or if I was going to be a very educated hobbyist,” she said.

It took three years to complete both programs, and she finished in early 2016. By then, Crawford, now 43, had already crafted her first commercial vintage. In 2015, she made four reds with equipment at Pend D’Oreille Winery in Sandpoint. In all, she produced about 500 cases that year.

In 2016, at Smasne Cellars, she made about 1,000 cases made up of six reds, three whites and a rose. And last year, she added a red blend for a total of 11 offerings and some 1,200 cases.

This year, she plans to release a malbec in addition to her other wines. And, she’s hoping to grow production to 2,000 to 3,000 cases in the next couple of years.

“We’ll start small and eventually grow,” she said, noting that in three to five years, she’d also like to have her own wine production facility.

She said she’s grateful for the mentorship and use of equipment at Smasne Cellars. But the trip from Coeur d’Alene to Prosser runs some 200 miles one way. And the Crawfords, who moved to Coeur d’Alene from Missoula in 2006, have their three children: two girls and a boy.

“It can be a little hectic,” Crawford said. “But we just did it for our second year, and it’s doable. I feel very fortunate. It’s been a great experience.”

Crawford learned early on that she’s a fan of reds, particularly pinot noir. She was, she said, the college student who would show up to a party with a bottle of pinot versus a six-pack of beer.

Of course, these days, she recommends her own pinot noir.

“It’s like my baby,” she said. “It’s what I like. I don’t really like super-soft pinot noirs. I like them a little heavier. I want a bit more body.”

Her second favorite varietal: cabernet sauvignon.

Hers “has black fruit, black cherries, soft tannins, a long finish. It’s a nice cab, “ she said, reiterating, “I’m a red drinker.”

Rounding out her reds are merlot and syrah. She also makes albarino, pinot gris, chardonnay and a rosé of pinot noir.

“I’m a big fan of our rosé,” she said. “It’s done in the traditional French style. It’s dry. It’s really light acidic.”

Castaway wines are available at a couple of local eateries: Flame and Cork in Hayden and Hay J’s in Liberty Lake. They’re also available at Pilgrim’s Market in Coeur d’Alene.

Or, wine enthusiasts can try them at the tasting room, where wines are available in flights of three, five or seven samples as well as by the glass. Flights of five or seven can also be paired with chocolates.

Castaway Cellars also offers several menu items, such as baked brie and house-smoked nuts, that pair well with wine. Other noshes include charcuterie, assorted cheeses, a soup of the day, crab-and-artichoke dip, and smoked salmon.

Castaway Cellars took over a suite in the Resort Plaza Shops a year ago come May and spent the summer completing renovations. There was plenty of work to do in the space to convert it to a tasting room.

“It was an indoor golf range,” Crawford said. “It had carpet on the walls.”

That wasn’t the look she and her husband, a co-owner in the winery, were going for.

“We knew we wanted kind of a rustic look,” said Crawford, who has taken her kids fly fishing, but admits the family doesn’t get out on the water as much as she might like these days.

Her logo reminds her of her roots, fly fishing and her grandpa. The image sports a silhouette of a fly fisherman casting his line in a wide loop above his head. It can be found on her wine labels as well as on the front window at the tasting room, which officially opened Aug. 18.

The look is sophisticated but natural with plenty of distressed wood, a copper-topped bar and tufted leather chairs. An oversized chalkboard behind the bar announces the menu.

And, of course, from that shelf in the corner, there’s grandpa, keeping an eye on things, forever showing off his catch.