If anyone was born to make wine in Washington, it might be Robert Smasne.
Smasne has been around vineyards since he was a child, munching on wine grapes and becoming intrigued by their flavors.
Smasne is a fourth-generation Yakima Valley farmer. Carl Smasne, his great-grandfather, emigrated from Czechoslovakia more than a century ago and settled near the town of Grandview. Carl's son Chuck had eight children, one of whom is Robert's father, Ray, who continues to farm in the valley today.
"Some of my favorite moments have been spent on the family farm with my grandfather and father, who tell stories of how it used to be," Robert said. "I especially remember my grandfather telling the story about the introduction of the idea of a grape harvester and how the farmers laughed at the idea of a machine that picked grapes."
In 1998, Robert started at Covey Run Winery in nearby Sunnyside, working with such top winemakers as David Lake, Flint Nelson and Kerry Norton. In 2001, he headed to Walla Walla, where he worked as assistant winemaker at Pepper Bridge Winery and head winemaker for its second label, Amavi Cellars. In 2004, he returned to the Yakima Valley as winemaker for Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser, before converting a Grandview warehouse into his winery in 2006.
Today, Robert is one of the busiest winemakers in Washington. His own brands include Smasne Cellars, RobertO, Smasne Reserve, Farm Boy, Farm Girl and 1/2 Ass. He partners with soil scientist Alan Bussaca on AlmaTerra, Teres and WSU Museum of Art labels.
If that isn't enough, he also is the winemaker for Upland Estates, Skylite Cellars, Bartholomew Winery, Northwest Cellars, Berg Family Cellars and Challenger Ridge. Combined, he makes 35,000 cases of wine per year.
"There is no other region in the world I would rather make wine from," he said. "This area's meaning to my family runs deep in my soul and in my wines."
Smasne has two Washington tasting rooms: in Kennewick and Woodinville. AlmaTerra has a tasting room in the Columbia Gorge town of Bingen, Wash.
Here are some of Smasne's recent wines. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the winery directly.
Smasne Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Aligoté, Snipes Mountain, $18: A popular variety in Burgundy, Aligoté is not widely planted in the Northwest. Smasne crafts it in a bone-dry style and loads it up with accents of citrus, almond, banana bread, honeycomb and allspice.
Smasne Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: This wine is superb, with aromas of blueberries, molasses, black currants, raspberry jam and saddle leather, followed by delicious flavors of dark roast espresso, sweet and ripe cherries, dusty blueberries and cherry cola. Tannins, acidity and fruit all line up for a beautifully balanced red.
Smasne Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Chardonnay, Snipes Mountain, $20: This is a delightful drink with aromas of toast, pear and cotton candy, followed by flavors of lemons, Asian pears, butterscotch and pineapple. It has a fair bit of oak to back the ample fruit and acidity.
Farm Boy Wines 2008 Bunk House Red, Columbia Valley, $16: Here's an affordable blend of Primitivo, Syrah, Grenache, Malbec and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of juniper, root beer, cinnamon, black currant and white pepper, followed by a smooth entry of plump blueberries, blackberries, plums and loads of chocolate. It's all backed with supple tannins and a hint of vanilla bean in the finish.
Farm Boy Wines 2010 Upland Vineyard Viognier, Snipes Mountain, $14: This is one of the best Viogniers we've tasted this year. It opens with that orange Creamsicle aroma we adore, along with notes of mangoes, cream soda, lime and pineapples. On the palate, it shows off flavors of cling peaches, honeydew melon, lime, honey and mangoes.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.