Greg Martinez leads an exciting life, and winemaking only adds to the layers of intrigue.
Martinez, who owns Holmes Harbor Cellars on Whidbey Island with his wife, Theresa, is a Navy pilot and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who also has flown big commercial jets.
After growing up east of Los Angeles, Martinez was a food science major at Cal Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
He flew jets for Northwest Airlines before it went bankrupt and these days is based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island near Oak Harbor, where he flies a Growler -- a fighter jet whose primary mission is electronic jamming. In 2010, he spent nearly three months in Afghanistan.
"As a reservist, I train students," he said. "Occasionally, we are asked to augment a squadron."
Theresa, a scientist in Seattle, took care of the winemaking while he was overseas. He returned the first week of September, just in time for harvest.
The Martinezes make about 1,500 cases of wine, growing from the 550 cases they produced in 2006 when they launched Holmes Harbor. They named the winery after the harbor they have a view of from their winery in the town of Greenbank.
Martinez brings in grapes from the Yakima Valley and Lake Chelan, as well as from some of the top vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. He has used fruit from Les Collines and Spofford Station for a few years and last fall began bringing in grapes from famed Seven Hills Vineyard.
Holmes Harbors' labels are a watercolor painting created by an area artist. The painting is a panorama that spans five of Martinez's wines, so putting all the bottles together reveals the full artwork.
Here are four Holmes Harbor Cellars wines we've tasted in recent weeks. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or call the winery at 360-331-3544.
Holmes Harbor Cellars 2009 Teragré Red Etude, Washington, $37: This is Greg Martinez's signature wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah that is rich and delicious. This opens with aromas of raspberry jam, fresh mint, black licorice and oak, followed by plump flavors of raspberry juice, ripe strawberry, boysenberry and plum, all backed with ripe flavors and round, sweet tannins. Enjoy this big red with grilled flank steak or a rich Italian dish.
Holmes Harbor Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $31: This is one of the best and most intriguing Cabernet Sauvignons we've tasted this year. The grapes come from top Walla Walla Valley vineyards, and Greg Martinez's winemaking prowess shines in this bottling. It starts with aromas that remind us of a blueberry Pop-Tart, masala chai, mint, plum and pomegranate. On the palate, it offers flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate and boysenberry. It's a muscular, big-shouldered wine with rich flavors and a lengthy finish. Pair this with venison, lamb chops, ribeye or lasagna.
Holmes Harbor Cellars 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $28: For this alluring Merlot, Greg Martinez uses grapes from Les Collines Vineyard -- just north of the Oregon border -- and Spofford Station -- just south of the border. It tempts with aromas of black peppercorn, boysenberry, smoked bacon, mint and cherry, then delivers flavors of dark chocolate, cherry syrup and raspberry. It's all backed with fine-grained tannins and has a line of minerality running through the aromas and flavors.
Holmes Harbor Cellars 2009 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $30: The grapes for this superb Syrah are from Les Collines, a vineyard near the Oregon border that is owned by Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge fame. This wine opens with aromas of dusty cranberry, raspberry, plum and some alluring sizzling bacon notes. A rich entry leads to flavors of wild plum, blackberry, ham and a hint of oregano. Enjoy this with lamb chops, sweetbreads or a steak topped with sautéed mushrooms.
-- Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.