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Despite the Washington wine industry’s continual growth, it remains an unusually small community. Spokane’s flagship Barrister Winery is further proof that there is never more than two to three degrees of separation between any two wineries in the state.

Our story begins when Greg Lipsker was attending Gonzaga University in Spokane. There he would receive both his B.A. and M.B.A. before going on to study law at Georgetown University. While Lipsker was at Gonzaga, Myles Anderson – now co-owner of Walla Walla Vintners – was Dean of Students.

As has been the case for numerous winemakers throughout Washington, Anderson’s love of wine was inspirational. Lipsker started out taking a wine appreciation class. “That’s what really got me excited about wine,” Lipsker says.

Flash forward to when Lipsker met fellow attorney Mike White through a mutual acquaintance. While both practiced law, they shared a much deeper bond as well. “We were wine drinking buddies,” Lipsker says.

At first Lipsker and White’s love of wine was focused solely on the consumption end of the wine business. That changed in 1997 when their two families went on vacation to Nelson, British Columbia. Unfortunately, no one had brought wine along (one has to wonder if B.C.’s archaic wine laws played a role in this story). They stopped by a wine store in town and left with a kit to make five gallons of Zinfandel. “We made five gallons in Michael’s laundry room,” Lipsker says.

The following year they made their first wine from grapes. Here Lipsker’s connection with Myles Anderson would prove crucial. Lipsker had assisted Anderson three years earlier with the legalities of setting up Walla Walla Vintners. Now Lipsker would get his first grapes from Anderson, who would also go on to help the duo identify top fruit sources from throughout the state.

At first Lipsker and White started out small. In 1999 they came back from the Walla Walla Valley with a prized possession – 700 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon from one of Leonetti Cellar’s estate vineyards. However, in 2000 their production increased substantially when they received 1.5 tons of grapes at their garage. “More than we could drink,” Lipsker says. “More than our friends could drink,” White adds. They realized that there was only one way out.

That same year they sent four bottles of their homemade wine to the Indianapolis International Wine Competition. They won three golds and a silver medal. It was confirmation that they were on the right track.

Barrister Winery was bonded in 2001. The name seemed an obvious choice given their mutual profession. The winery started out making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. However, when they were looking for their first wine to release in 2003, the Cabernet Sauvignon needed another year of age. The Merlot also needed some additional time. They needed something else.

“Neither Greg or I were big Cabernet Franc fans at the time but we sure loved the fruit,” White says. When they were blending the Cabernet Franc, they found an important ingredient. “Cabernet Sauvignon lit it up,” Lipsker says. While a somewhat unusual choice for an inaugural release, they decided to release a varietally labeled Cabernet Franc. The wine has subsequently become a signature wine for Barrister. “It has almost a cult-like following,” Lipsker says. Fruit from Chelle den Pleasant in the Prosser area and Weinbau Vineyard traditionally make up the bulk of the wine which is consistently one of Washington’s best Cabernet Francs.

Barrister is located in downtown Spokane. The 25,000 square foot brick building was built in 1906 and was formerly the site of a wholesale auto parts store. White says that when they first bought the facility in 2004 it was, “an area in transition.” While the area surrounding the winery is currently under a good deal of construction, Barrister has become a focal point. The winery boasts a pretty tasting bar as well as a large space for events. They also show Gonzaga University away games on a large projection screen.

In a unique twist, more than 21,000 trains pass by the winery each year, giving the barrels a gentle vibration. Lipsker and White believe it has played a role in the winemaking process. “Our wines are train settled,” White likes to joke. On any visit to the barrel room – an underground, single stack facility – one is sure to feel trains rumbling by.

While the trains may have something to do with the winery’s success, no doubt Lipsker and White’s passion and commitment has played an important role as well. “We are passionate about wine,” White says. No doubt that passion is inspiring the next generation of winemakers.

Barrister Winery makes 4,000-5,000 cases annually.

Barrister Winery Riesling Columbia Valley 2009
Rating: + (Good) An aromatic wine with pineapple, peaches, and mineral notes. Bone dry on the palate with a big blast of acidity along with citrus flavors. 14.1% alcohol. 136 cases produced.

Barrister Winery Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2007 $25
Rating: * (Excellent) A very aromatic wine with licorice, cherry, caramel, and mint. The palate has abundant chewy red fruit flavors. 86% Merlot (Dwelley Vineyard), 9% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.8% alcohol. 271 cases produced.

Barrister Winery Rough Justice Red Wine Columbia Valley NV $20
Rating: * (Excellent) Abundant blackberry, spice, and red and black fruit. Dry with a big lick of fruit and a firm backbone of tannins. 43% Merlot, 26% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.8% alcohol.

Barrister Winery Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2008 $27
Rating: * (Excellent) A perfumed aroma profile with sweet herbal notes and black tea, along with cherry and spice. Absolutely delicious fruit flavors accented by dry tannins. 88% Cabernet Franc (Chelle den Pleasant, Weinbau), 12% Cabernet Sauvignon (Bacchus, Seven Hills, Weinbau). Aged 17 months in French (70%) and American oak (70% new). 1,200 cases produced.

Barrister Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor Vineyard Columbia Valley 2007 $33
Rating: * (Excellent) An alluring, aromatic wine with layers of complexity marked by blackberry, herbal notes, floral notes, licorice, and chocolate. On the palate, a big, bold, gripping wine with abundant fruit flavors and dry tannins. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Syrah. Aged 20 months in French (75%) and American oak. 15.2% alcohol. 210 cases produced.

Barrister Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2005 $35
Rating: * (Excellent) A beautiful, perfumed wine with licorice, spice, and red and black fruit. A big, intense, extracted wine full of delicious fruit flavors. Alcohol shows through a bit at times. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 95% Artz Vineyard, 5% Seven Hills. 15.8% alcohol.

Barrister Winery Syrah Bacchus Vineyard Columbia Valley 2007 $25
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark and inky in color with purple at the rim. Abundant floral aromatics along with orange peel and black fruit. A big wine with tart, citric acidity, a textured mouthfeel, and firm tannins.

Barrister Winery Syrah Bacchus Vineyard Columbia Valley 2005 $NA
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Gorgeous aromatics of game, black fruit, bittersweet chocolate, and black tea. Rich, intense blackberry flavors on a wine with a textured mouthfeel. A long, lingering finish. A wine to linger over. 90% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.