Syncline Wine Cellars
Producers: James & Poppie Mantone
Located in: Lyle, Wash.
Supplying PCC since: 2004
Try Syncline Subduction Red
How do you capture wind, rain, sun, a few millennia of geology, the boldness of the wild, wild West and the elegance of the Old World in a barrel? James and Poppie Mantone of Syncline Wine Cellars will tell you that it’s not rocket science. Their wines let the vineyard tell the story of a place, a moment in time — and maybe a little magic.
At PCC, you’ll find great wines from all over the world, made by people like James and Poppie.
Making great wine is a lot of things. Depending on whom you ask, it’s everything from art to alchemy, zin to Zen and beyond. But it isn’t rocket science, as James and Poppie Mantone will tell you — and they ought to know. (It’s just not possible to make wines like theirs without having plenty more than a clue.)
Having had the pleasure to hang out a little bit with James and Poppie at the winery, in the vineyard, tasting wine and just plain shooting the breeze, I’m convinced that they’re right — it really isn’t rocket science, or brain surgery, or astrophysics, even. It’s at once far more complex and way simpler than that. It’s the place where science, inspiration, vision, tradition, confidence, humility, art and love all meet.
The notion of a rendezvous or an intersection offers an appropriate metaphor for Syncline. From dirt to geography to weather to winemaking philosophy, it’s a place where an array of diverse, sometimes dissonant forces intersects, intertwines and ultimately harmonizes. The result? — a fugue that would make Johann Sebastian Bach proud.
An elegantly constructed fugue is more than just a collection of themes, of course. There’s also an element of transformation, as simple themes develop and evolve. Likewise, Syncline is the fruit of that sort of change, not unlike the unique geology that surrounds the winery.
Following the gravitational pull of winemaking and the promise of the frontier way out (north) west, James left the landlocked heartland in 1995 with degrees in Organic Chemistry and Microbiology and found himself reincarnated as a “cellar rat” in Oregon. Meanwhile, the wine muse was also luring Poppie westward to Oregon from Massachusetts, academia and several years of world travel (not necessarily in that order). In 1997, their paths crossed and ultimately intertwined amid the Bacchanalian frenzy of crush.
Wildly in love, the two were soon married and set out to begin a new chapter — a winery of their own. With a shared affinity for the wines of France’s Rhône Valley and a strong belief in the potential of growing Rhône varietals in Washington’s Columbia Valley, they hung out the proverbial shingle on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. The rest is, as they say, history. But one need only open a bottle to discover that this isn’t just the next episode for Poppie and James, but a indeed a new direction for Washington wine in general.
With delicious as a starting point, James and Poppie’s wines shave shown an amazing evolution in structure, style and elegance with each successive vintage as they gain experience and a growing intimacy with each of the varietals and vineyards on their palette. The wines’ resulting success has enabled — and necessitated — the winery to move to larger facilities, just a few miles away in Lyle, at the easternmost edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA.
In addition to an earth-friendly, energy-efficient winery, Syncline now has a biodynamically-farmed estate vineyard, with one acre currently in production and a significant portion of a 20-acre parcel just north of the winery due to be planted in the coming year. It’s a singular site, influenced by a variety of geological and climactic forces. This stretch of the Gorge sits at the point where the mountains of the Cascade Range and the rainy, Pacific Northwest maritime climate transition to arid desert, bordered to the south by the mighty Columbia.
The wines are a striking reflection of that intersection of forces. They’re also a stylistic alliance of bold, brilliant Washington fruit character with Old World-inspired balance and elegant structure.
While climate and geology are key components of great wine, style and elegance are the fruit of the hearts, minds and vision that aid and abet their metamorphosis into wine. It’s “the vision thing” and an alliance of science and soul that puts Syncline at the frontier of Northwest wineries. For although Washington has attained world renown largely making wines based on a California model, Syncline and a handful of other forward thinking winegrowers are re-inventing Washington wines — allowing the Columbia Valley to express its own, singular character.
“ We try not to let winemaking get in the way of the wine ” — James Mantone
Poppie’s literate lexicon of experience provides depth, breadth and complexity tempered with a well-traveled, worldly sensibility. James allies the rational and analytical skills of his background in the sciences with an artist’s appreciation for texture and nuance — as well as a keen pragmatism that keeps the process of making great wine free of both ego-driven and idealistic distractions. “We try not to let winemaking get in the way of the wine,” he says matter-of-factly.
When you open a bottle of Syncline, that depth of character is evident. It’s also readily apparent that nothing is the product of chance, from the luscious wine that fills your glass to the closure that seals the bottle. Wines made for earlier drinking are sealed “en screwcap,” while those for longer aging are sealed using a state-of-the art glass cork, an effective and elegant means of avoiding any compromise in the wine.
But perhaps the best metaphor for Syncline is in James’ and Poppie’s two daughters, Ava and Naomi — ineffably lovely, curious, growing, evolving works in progress, opuses of love.