Lodmell Cellars wine blends earth, water and family
By DEE HITCH
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
April 11, 2012 · 12:47 PM
This is a continuation of a series about former Mercer Islanders who went on to become winemakers and/or winery owners. They are: Chris Howell, winemaker, of Cain Vineyard and Winery of Napa Valley, graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1970; Craig Leuthold, winery owner of Maryhill Winery in Goldendale, graduated in 1974; Leslie Lind Balsley, winemaker and owner of William Church Winery in Woodinville, graduated in 1976; Nina Buty Foster, winemaker and owner of Buty Winery in Walla Walla, graduated in 1993; and Anna Schafer, winemaker and owner of aMaurice Cellars in Walla Walla, graduated in 1997. All of these winery “kids” still have parents living on the Island.
Andrew Lodmell of Lodmell Cellars attended West Mercer Elementary, North Mercer Junior High and graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1982. Carol Lodmell, his mother, taught 25 years on Mercer Island at both Lakeridge Elementary and South Mercer Junior High, and still lives on the Island. Andrew’s two nieces now attend Islander Middle School and Mercer Island High School.
Andrew was a star athlete during his school years on Mercer Island. At North Mercer Junior High, he played basketball, football, wrestled and was on the track team. In eighth grade, he began ski racing at White Pass and competed throughout the Northwest. In track he held the record for the 440 and also did pole vaulting, long and high jumps. At Whitman College in Walla Walla, he continued ski racing — both Nordic and alpine. Since Andrew is still a skier, you can find Lodmell Cellars wines in Sun Valley!
While attending Mercer Island schools, Andrew spent summers with Miles, his dad, in Walla Walla. The vineyards were planted in 1990, about 30 miles from Walla Walla by the lower Snake River in the Columbia Valley appellation. However, the family’s farming roots go back much further. Andrew’s dad worked on Rick Small’s wheat farm. Small, one of the legendary wine pioneers of Walla Walla, is the owner and director of production of Woodward Canyon Winery. Besides the winery and vineyards, the Lodmell family still grows wheat and corn. Grapes are also sold to other wineries. Andrew is the fourth generation to keep the farming within the family.
“Nature is an important part of my life,” said Andrew. “I live and work with nature and enjoy experiencing it. Mother Nature is my boss. What I like about farming and winemaking is the idea of working with nature. My skills can enhance the final result, but at the end of the day, I am working in harmony with nature and constantly adapting and learning from the infinite variables that nature provides.”
Andrew’s sister, Kristie Kirlin, is the mother of Andrew’s nieces, who are currently attending Mercer Island schools. She is intricately involved in Lodmell Cellars. While listed as co-owner and general manager, she is the behind-the-scenes facilitator. As in all small businesses, and especially family wineries, everyone lends a hand. For the first three years, all the bottling was done by hand. She was there. She does public relations, washes barrels, does the unglorified grunt work, and was the smiling face of Lodmell Cellars while pouring at Taste Washington in the first week of April.
The latest highlight in the Lodmell Cellars odyssey is the opening of its tasting room, located in the venerable Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla. Carol Lodmell, Andrew and Kristie’s mother, attended the gala ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Lodmell wine label, which features a whimsical snake, is etched into the window of the tasting room. The snake drawing honors the Snake River, which meanders by the vineyards. Mrs. Lodmell said that when the tasting room is closed, the light shines out onto the sidewalk, where the outline of the snake can be seen.
“It wasn’t planned that way,” said Mrs. Lodmell, “but it looks so cool at night.”
Water rights are a constant concern in Eastern Washington. Modern environmental issues constantly impact water rights. Although the Snake River flows near the Lodmell vineyards, river water cannot be used because of the salmon access aquifer. It took Andrew five years of applications to get the water rights permit to access water from the Wanapum aquifer, which is sourced mostly from the Blue Mountains.
When the Lodmells drilled their well to access the aquifer, a small amount of water from the Snake River leaked into their well water. Plugging that leak cost an additional $15,000 to the well cost. The state of Washington routinely tests the Lodmells’ water to make sure that no water from the Snake River is being used.
Andrew was discussing the makeup of Sublime, his red blend, which is 50 percent merlot, 30 percent carmenere, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. I told him that blending bewilders me. I have been to four blending seminars: two at Novelty Hill in Woodinville, one at Hogue Cellars in Prosser, and one at Conn Creek in Napa Valley. When my blend is done, I am never confident. When Andrew is blending, it is an ordeal of several days. Teeth are not brushed. Wines are tasted several times a day. In 2005, he started a blend with 8% cabernet franc and ended up with 2 percent.
Lodmell wines can be ordered online and through their wine club.
The Lodmell wines that are available are:
• 2007 Estate Merlot: $33
• 2008 Sublime (merlot/carmenere/cabernet sauvignon): $24
• 2010 Saignee (a rose of merlot/cabernet): $18
• 2010 Sauvignon Blanc: $18
Don’t miss the 11th annual Savor Sexy Syrah at Salty’s on Alki on April 17 from 6-9 p.m. This is a benefit for Fare Start. Reservations at (206) 937-1600.
If you go
Visit the new Lodmell Cellars tasting room in the Marcus Whitman Hotel at 6 West Rose Street in downtown Walla Walla.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, in season, and 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday, off-season.
To learn more, contact Lodmell Cellars at email@example.com, (509) 525-1285 or (206) 409-4395.
Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist Dee Hitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.