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Wednesday, June 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Old-World-style reds are focus at new Craftsman Cellars

Margo and Greg Shelman, owners of Craftsman Cellars at Kendall Yards pose for a photo on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at Craftsman Cellars in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Margo and Greg Shelman, owners of Craftsman Cellars at Kendall Yards pose for a photo on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at Craftsman Cellars in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

He’s the craftsman and winemaker. She’s the “all other.”

Husband-and-wife Greg and Margo Shelman opened their Craftsman Cellars tasting room six months ago in Kendall Yards, where their focus is on Old World-style reds aged in new French oak.

There are five of them.

Let the couple walk you through a tasting, starting with Mattawa Red, a 50-50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, or – as Greg Shelman puts it – “a blend between Bordeaux and Rhone. The cab is Bordeaux. The syrah is Rhone.”

At $32 per bottle, it isn’t Craftsman’s least expensive bottle, but it is its top-seller. It pairs well, Greg Shelman said, with steaks.

The craftsman trusts his palate.

“Wine either tastes good to me or it doesn’t,” he said.

Many don’t. That’s because, he said, “I’m able to pick out the flaws.”

Greg Shelman makes wine the way he likes it: red, by hand, low tech. He relies on the power of gravity versus electrical pumps and uses a traditional, cold-soak method, in which “all of the wines go through an extended maceration period prior to adding the yeast.”

With that process, he said, “You get more extraction, more color, more all-around flavor. And everything is treated very gently with the aim of preventing oxygen.”

Syrah, perhaps the second-most popular seller at $35 per bottle, is his wife’s favorite. “I like the tannins in it,” said Margo Shelman.

It pairs well, Greg Shelman said, with “more hearty meat dishes, Italian dishes, spaghetti.”

Next up: the “happy accident” of a blend of merlot and pinot noir. The grapes – 85 percent merlot and 15 percent pinot noir – were fermented together after Greg Shelman didn’t get as much merlot as he had wanted.

“I wanted a ton and a half,” he said. But he only was able to buy about a ton that year. So he made up the difference with the other grapes.

Now, his limited edition wine sells for $42 and, Greg Shelman said, “has a really unique taste. It doesn’t taste like merlot. It doesn’t taste like pinot. It’s one of a kind.”

Rounding out the tasting menu are pinot noir – $29, “earthy,” cold-soaked for 10 days – and cabernet sauvignon, also $29. The pinot noir is the winemaker’s favorite from his 2013 collection.

But, “cab is my favorite” varietal, he said. “To me, it’s what wine is meant to be” – well, almost. This particular vintage, he said, “is not quite what I’m after. I’m after a bigger cab, and hopefully we’ll get there in the next year.”

Try all five in 1-ounce pours for $10. The tasting fee is waived with a bottle purchase. A flight of three 2-ounce pours of wines is $12. Wine by the glass is available for $8 to $11.

Wi-Fi is free. Capacity is 40. First Fridays, there’s usually live music. And the Shelmans want people to feel at home and linger in the 750-square-foot space, where the atmosphere is warm and rustic. The floor is stained concrete. Walls are the color of butter.

Customers can order cheese and crackers for $7; cheese, crackers and olives for $9; or bring in their own food, such as pizza from Veraci, an across-the-street neighbor in Kendall Yards. Cheeses include Cougar Gold, Dubliner and asiago.

Book clubs receive a 20 percent discount when they hold their meetings and order wine and cheese at the tasting room, which officially opened Nov. 5. However, the winery was founded 2 1/2 years before that, in May 2013. And Greg Shelman’s fascination with wine dates back even further, to Thanksgiving 1965, during a family trip to Napa. He was 14.

He couldn’t drink, of course, but he could smell the corks, and that was enough to pique his interest. Still, it took decades before he pursued his passion.

Greg Shelman went to Washington State University to become a pharmacist, which he was for about five years in Twisp and Lind. But that career path didn’t last long.

“He’s a farm boy,” his wife said.

He’d rather be building, crafting, creating, making, doing. He’d rather be working with his hands.

So he opened a furniture store in downtown Spokane, where the couple moved in 1985 after a year-and-a-half-long experiment of living in California.

They’ve been married for 44 years come July. He was born and raised in Ritzville. She was, too, but grew up in Othello, Pasco and Spokane and considers herself a daughter of the Inland Empire.

She worked in the insurance industry. He specialized in arts and crafts, mission and craftsman-style design. The image of a famous mission-style rose adorned his business card for his shop, which was located in downtown Spokane from 1994 to 2002.

Now, that same motif serves as the inspiration for the logo for Craftsman Cellars, where production hovers around 550 cases per year.

The 2014 vintage, slated for release this year, will be about 575 cases. So will the 2015 vintage, set for release in 2017. Greg Shelman said he might eventually expand, maybe up to 1,000 cases.

“But I wouldn’t see us getting any bigger than that,” he said, noting he isn’t interested in accumulating a library of wines.

The grapes for his first two vintages – 2013 and 2014 – came exclusively from Mike Thiede’s estate vineyards at Gingko Forest Winery on the Wahluke Slope. The 2015 vintage comes from Kamiak Vineyards and nearby Burgess Vineyard, northeast of Tri-Cities in the Columbia Valley. And, “We’re thinking about Yakima Valley for the next year’s crop,” said Greg Shelman, who buys about 9 tons of grapes per year.

He returned to WSU in 2003 for its then-new viticulture and enology program. Before starting his own winery, he interned at Hogue Cellars in Prosser, then worked for three years at Arbor Crest Wine Cellars in Spokane.

He did most of the work on the new tasting room for Craftsman Cellars himself. He built the bar and completed all of the other woodwork in the winery, including light fixtures and the pergola.

The couple’s two adult children are both involved, helping with bottling, the annual crush and maintaining a presence on social media, including Facebook. The winemaker and his wife can often be found behind the bar at the tasting room.

These days, they age each wine a minimum of two years.

But, “in the future, I’d like to approach three years in the barrel,” Greg Shelman said. “It’ll be brand new French oak every year.”

Said his wife, “We’re just getting started.”

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