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The story of Syncline Wine Cellars is not just one of fine wine. It is also a love story. James and Poppie Mantone were working at LaVelle Vineyards in the Willamette Valley when they met, fell in love, and decided to start a winery together. In 2001, the couple relocated to the Columbia Gorge and started their new venture – Syncline Wine Cellars. Ava Mantone (pictured in middle) joined the winemaking team in 2004.
Syncline is located in Lyle, Washington, just off the Lewis and Clark Highyway and within view of the winding Columbia River. The winery is situated on a sprawling farm where dogs and turkeys roam the grounds. Syncline is named after a geological formation near the winery known locally as the Coyote Wall Syncline, a series of cliffs rising up from the Columbia River.
The winery’s first offering was in 2001 – seventy-six cases of Celilo Vineyard Pinot Noir. Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah were added in the next vintage. It was around this time that I was first introduced to Syncline’s wines. The first I tried was the Subduction Red, at the time a Cabernet-based blend. Two things impressed me about this wine. The first was the careful touch shown in the winemaking. The second was the excellent price point (I also loved the artsy blue-green labels with the image of a fish). While the winery has since decided to focus on Rhone varietals and has phased out using Cabernet and Merlot (and also gone with a more traditional, white label), the focus on high quality wines at reasonable prices has remained. The Subduction Red in particular, while now a Rhone-style blend, is consistently a standout for the price.
Winemaker James Mantone brings to the winery a background in microbiology and organic chemistry. Mantone shows a restrained touch, going easy on the oak and letting the grapes speak largely for themselves. The results are elegant, food friendly wines with focused fruit aromas and flavors. Syncline uses fruit from excellent vineyard sources including Coyote Canyon, Milbrandt, Celilo, and Destiny Ridge vineyards. Syncline also has a small estate vineyard, Steep Creek Ranch, located next to the winery. The vineyard, which is on the eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA and is farmed biodynamically, had its first estate bottling released earlier this year.
While the Mantone’s have only one acre of their estate vineyard planted, they are planning to expand the site in the future. On a recent visit to the winery, James discussed plans for planting on the south-facing slopes near the winery. The land is angled and rocky, sure to create a number of challenges when planting and farming the land. Due to the rocky terrain, James does not expect they will be able to plant in a traditional, uniform way. “You need to redefine your idea of what you want a vineyard to look like,” he says. The Mantones expect early ripening Rhone varietals to be the focus of these plantings.
In addition to his work at Syncline, James Mantone is also one of the winemakers working on the Grand Rêve project. Look for his Collaboration VI in future Grand Rêve releases.
Syncline Wine Cellars produces approximately 3,000 cases of wine annually.
Syncline Wine Cellars Cuvee Elena Columbia Valley 2007 $35 Rating: *
Fairly closed on the nose when first opened with wild blueberries and currant. As it opens up, still restrained but the blueberry becomes more expressive. Beautifully polished on the palate with abundant smooth fruit, herbal streaks, and barely a trace of oak. An elegant wine that needs time to open up. 70% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Carignan, 2% Cinsault, 2% Syrah. Northridge, Coyote Canyon, and McKinley Springs vineyards. 14.3% alcohol. 275 cases produced.
Syncline Wine Cellars Roussanne Horse Heaven Hills 2008 $22 Rating: *
Pale golden colored. A faint, elusive nose when first opened with light tropical fruit. Over time, the nose develops with spice, mineral, and creek aromas. Richly textured on the palate with an exceptional mouthfeel and a beautiful finish. 100% Roussanne (Alder Ridge and McKinley Springs vineyards). 14.2% alcohol. 300 cases produced.
Syncline Wine Cellars Subduction Red Columbia Valley 2008 $18 Rating: +
Fairly light in color. An aromatic nose that is initially Grenache-driven with red fruit, particularly raspberries, strawberries, and red currant, along with a dusting of earth. As it opens up, violets, berries, and traces of game emerge. A light bodied, acid-driven wine that dances along the palate. A slightly saline taste. Almost shockingly restrained with barely a trace of oak. Loses a bit of its rhythm about 2/3 of the way through but comes back together. Lingers a bit tartly on the finish. A lot of wine for the money and a perfect wine to pair with food. 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 24% Cinsault, 12% Mourvedre, 9% Counoise, 4% Carignan. Aged in 5-10% new oak. 14.1% alcohol. 1,770 cases produced. Recommended.
Syncline Wine Cellars Subduction White Columbia Valley 2008 $18 Rating: +
Pale straw colored. An engaging nose with spice, apple, and floral notes. Tart, crisp, and acidic on the palate. Sometimes the blend seems to come off and sometimes it doesn’t. Pair this wine with the right food to cut down on the acid, and it will shine. 42% Chardonnay (Celilo Vineyard), 30% Roussanne (Alder Ridge), 28% Viognier (Coyote Canyon). 13.7% alcohol. 385 cases produced.
Where To Buy On-line: Winery, AvalonWine.com, MadWine
Where To Buy Seattle Area: City Cellars, Pete’s, Fremont Wine Warehouse, Esquin, West Seattle Cellars
Where to Buy Near You: Leave a comment if you see these wines in your area.
Samples provided by winery.