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Liberty Lake Wine Cellars’ 2011 vintage cabernet sauvignon wins Diamond of the Decade at 2021 Seattle Wine Awards

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Liberty Lake Wine Cellars recently added to its list of awards and recognitions when its 2011 vintage of cabernet sauvignon was named a Diamond of the Decade by the 2021 Seattle Wine Awards.

Liberty Lake Wine Cellars is owned by Mark and Sarah Lathrop, who purchased it from its founding owners, Doug and Shelly Smith. The 2011 wine was made by the Smiths.

“That wine had never been sent in to get scored,” Mark Lathrop said.

The winery’s 2018 cabernet sauvignon was given its second double gold medal in the competition. The first double gold medal came in the 2020 Washington State Wine Awards.

The Lathrops, who met at Eastern Washington University, both loved wine. They booked wine tasting vacations and were members of wine clubs.

“I’ve always been a fan,” Lathrop said of wine. “It’s time in a bottle. It’s a captured year, captured history. Obviously, I like how it tastes.”

The couple dreamed of owning a business together, but didn’t expect it to be a winery. They discovered Liberty Lake Wine Cellars in 2009 and became wine club members in 2011. In 2015, they learned the Smiths were considering shutting down the business.

“We couldn’t let that happen,” he said. “Three months later, we owned the winery.”

Lathrop worked under Doug Smith for a year before setting out on his own. Since then he’s continued the winery’s tradition of winning awards. Lathrop said he likes being able to make so many different varieties from the same grapes.

The winery uses hand-picked grapes grown mostly in the Red Mountain area south of Richland. Lathrop is so dedicated to the idea of using only the best quality of grapes that he drives down and picks them up himself.

Liberty Lake Wine Cellars uses a nonintervention style of wine making, Lathrop said.

“We actually don’t filter in any way,” he said. “We don’t have additives. If you don’t start with the best (grapes) you can get, you can’t make wine that way. You have to science it up.”

The winery produces 13 different varieties, usually 200 cases at a time.

“We do small lots of a lot of things,” he said. “We like variation. We want to have something new for our club members.”

There’s also variety between batches of the same wine, because he doesn’t adjust acidity.

“It’s using the best fruit you can find and get access to,” he said. “I’ve waited years to get access to some of these.”

The winery moved to its current location at 23110 E. Knox Ave. in 2017. The larger space allows the winery to make about 2,500 cases of wine a year, up from the 500 cases a year in the old location.

“There just wasn’t enough room to store the barrels,” he said of the old location.

Their wines are aged between 18 and 20 months in barrels. Lathrop said he’s just beginning to phase in new barrels, all made of a different variety of oak.

“I’m using a lot of hybrid barrels, which is a mix of American Oak and French Oak,” he said. “When you toast it, it releases sugars. As a vessel, it allows a little bit of oxygen in over time.”

The winery struggled through the pandemic when they couldn’t be open for tastings, Lathrop said. He made sure his employees were vaccinated and opened in a limited way in February. The tasting room is now fully open.

“Our tasting room sales are up 140% over this time last year,” he said. “That’s the revenue we were missing last year.”

The winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, the Golden Ticket, is set to be released in August. The blend used to be called Bud Burst, but the name conflicted with Budweiser beer.

“We had to rename it,” he said.

Lathrop is also working to expand the areas he can ship wine to. The winery currently ships to Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada, Colorado and Montana. That list should expand in the coming months, Lathrop said.

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Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com

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