“All my life I have been driven to create,” winemaker Tom Stangeland of Cloudlift Cellars says.

Stangeland started out his career as a chef in the early eighties. At the time, he thought it didn’t seem like a good career path, noting the distinct lack of today’s ‘celebrity chefs.’

“It was a path to burn-out and alcoholism,” Stangeland says. “At least that’s how it appeared when I met the older chefs around me.”

Instead, he became a fine furniture designer and maker. “There was a lot less stress involved and wood does not go bad nearly as fast as a piece of fish,” Stangeland quips.

Stangeland says of his interest in wine, “I spent a trimester in Avignon learning the glories of Grenache and the less forgiving Mistral. It began there.”

Years later he enrolled in the South Seattle Community College’s wine production program. He subsequently completed the program in 2007 and made his first wines in 2008. The 2009 wines reviewed below are his first commercial release.

The story of Stangeland’s path to starting a commercial winery is one many winemakers will be familiar with.

“I started on my own making three barrels – the legal household maximum – but quickly realized that was not enough. It wasn’t about quantity; it was about varietal selection, vineyard selection and barrel profiles,” Stangeland says. “The only way to explore all the options was to go beyond the minimum. And of course once you make all that wine you have to do something with it!”

Cloudlift Cellars is located in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. The winery is named after a design element that appears in most of Stangeland’s woodwork. All of the wines sampled below are notable for their restrained use of oak and lower alcohol levels. To wit, none of the wines saw more than one-third new oak and none of them come in at 14% alcohol. The wines are all lightly aromatic with tart fruit flavors.

Cloudlift Cellars produces 400 cases annually with the goal of growing to 1,000 cases in the coming years.

Cloudlift Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2010 $17
(Decent) Pale lemon yellow. A moderately aromatic wine full of smoky toast, spice, and grass. The palate is tart with juicy, full fruit flavors and grapefruit-like acidity. Bacchus Vineyard. 13.8% alcohol. 60 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Cloudlift Cellars Updraft White Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $17

(Decent/Good) An aromatically intriguing wine that shows vanilla, herbal notes, straw, wood spice, lemon, and light buttery notes. The palate has tart, grapefruit-like acidity and a fleshy, full feel with abundant dried fruit flavors. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Bacchus and Dionysus vineyards. Barrel fermented and aged 7 months. 13.9% alcohol. 80 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Cloudlift Cellars Panorama Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $25
(Good) Very lightly aromatic with red fruit, herbal notes, red vines, and spice. The palate is soft and understated, full of herbal notes, red fruit, sweet spices, and soft tannins. A tart, wood spice filled finish. 56% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc. Arianses, Snipes, Horse Heaven vineyards. 13.6% alcohol. 77 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Cloudlift Cellars Halcyon Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $24
(Good) Very, very lightly aromatic with herbal notes, cherries, and spice. The palate is soft and tart with textured fruit flavors. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 12% Cabernet Franc. 13.5% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Cloudlift Cellars Ascent Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $23

(Good) Lightly aromatic but with appealing floral and red cherry notes. The palate is light bodied with soft fruit flavors and a tart finish. An enjoyable, easy drinking wine. 72% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.7% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Cloudlift Cellars Cloud 2 Red Table Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $24

(Good) Lightly aromatic with herbal notes, black currant, and rose hips. The palate is light bodied, soft, and tart with abundant tart cherry flavors. 13.7% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.