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Elsom Cellars

Eastern Washington grown; Seattle made

It started so innocently. Jody Elsom worked for a California construction company where each office had a gathering space where employees met to talk over issues. Each space contained a wine bar stocked with California wines, bold Napa reds. It was her first introduction to wine (alcohol was forbidden in her family). She traveled to Italy and realized what an innate part of the culture wine is, bringing people together and part of the culinary experience. "It was a whole new world of tasting and building community," Jody recalls.

Jody Elsom

Back at work, she was working on a pharmaceutical facility that was, in essence, a fermentation facility, and she saw the correlation with wine fermentation. Her interest grew. When the economy and construction slowed, she started thinking about what she really enjoyed doing. Turns out, it was wine. WSU was starting their Viticulture and Enology program; she was in their first group. Most students were affiliated with a vineyard/winery to ensure the program met the need. "I completed the two-year program, graduating in 2005," says Jody. "We didn't attend school during harvest season because everyone was working. I went to Italy and volunteered so I could learn the Old-World style of winemaking and culture and bring it home. I worked from Sicily to northern Tuscany. One family liked to remind me they had been making wine before Columbus set foot in America!" Jody was interested in making Bordeaux blends, with a focus on Malbec. "I started working with Alder Ridge vineyard to plant Malbec." 2006 was her first vintage, making Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Four people in the first WSU program were not associated with a winery. After graduation, they formed a co-op with each person buying a piece of equipment to make it more affordable. Each did their own production. That lasted until the viaduct project disrupted their location. Around 2010, Jody moved her winery to Woodinville, where she had grown up. She stayed there until moving to her current space in SoDo in 2014. At the same time, she realized she needed help. She had two babies, had been awarded the contract on a large ambulatory care center for Swedish, was getting divorced, and got breast cancer. "I heard about Rebecca Weber from a friend of a friend," she recalls.

Rebecca graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's in chemical engineering. "I had this wine idea because we have family friends in Napa with a vineyard. I went to Bordeaux and worked at a winery. I loved being hands on, part of the process," she says. "I tried to stick with smaller wineries from start to finish, working in California, then South Australia in McLaren Vale, then Woodinville to work with Bob Betz at Betz Family Winery, then to Austria to learn more about whites and sparkling wines, and back to the Northwest and Betz. Eventually I thought it was time to grow up and get a real job. I went to work at an engineering firm in Federal Way. After a year of working at a desk on projects that never got built, I had to go back to wine! I took classes at South Seattle College. My first Washington harvest was in 2011." Jody hired her in 2014 as winemaker for Elsom Cellars.

Rebecca Weber, 2006 harvest

They like to source grapes from smaller growers; Alder Ridge is their largest vineyard. There they have their own plot of Malbec and also buy Mourvèdre. "We've worked with the majority of our vineyards for years," notes Jody. "Rebecca travels to the vineyards to closely monitor the grapes, but it's great to have a good relationship with and trust the vineyard managers. Malbec is a consistent weave through our blends over the years and our two wines named after my kids have stayed true since we first made them in 2007. Rebecca and I have similar styles and other than the Malbec focus and the kids' wines, I want to give her the freedom to do what she wants and support her creativity."

Rebecca feels reds are more interesting and fun to make. "Whites are in tanks and you're just trying not to mess them up! My first wine here was 100% Malbec. I made a Mourvèdre in 2016 and Grenache in 2017. We switched Syrah vineyards in 2016, moving to Elephant Mountain in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Jody used to make Rosé off and on, now we make it every year, a Rhône varietal with Cinsaut. We make a port-style Malbec, starting with the 2015 vintage; barrel aging for five years. It was released as the pandemic started."

Their Albariño was first made in 2020, with grapes from Dutchman Vineyard in Yakima Valley. "It took some convincing," laughs Rebecca. "We wanted to make a more unique white." "I always say I'd rather have a cocktail than a white wine," laughs Jody. "But the Albariño is an exception, it's so crisp." They'll continue to look for unique varietals that grow in Washington and make them in SoDo, space allowing. "We'd love to make a Grüner Veltliner, but grapes are hard to find in Washington," says Rebecca.

Tasting Room Manager Neal Maertens suggested Rebecca make a vermouth. She scoffed; the process is totally different from wine. "With wine, you want to let them speak for themselves. You can add anything you want to vermouth. We eventually made something that fit all our palates. It's good mixed with bourbon." Jody adds, "We've mixed it with prosecco, and hard cider. I like to add sparkling water and an orange slice."

Collaborating with local groups continues Jody's love of the link between wine and community. "We partner with Seattle Made on a red blend and give them a percentage of sales. They help businesses making products in downtown Seattle," says Jody. "Adventure Uncorked benefits environmental, hiking, and outdoor groups. The Keeper is made in collaboration with Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who designed the label. $15 from each bottle benefits Washington Youth Soccer, some in areas where our grapes are grown. Fifty percent of proceeds from Queer as a $3 Bill Red benefits Three Dollar Bill Cinema.

Make your way to their unique Seattle tasting room/production facility to savor Washington wines made on site and feel good about being part of the community.

Connie Adams/August 2023

Elsom Cellars
2960 4 th Ave South
Seattle, WA 98134

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