Father/daughter duo creating a family legacy By Jillian Chandler|Photo by Victoria Belle Photography Mike Conway has been in the business of wine since 1972 (that’s half a century!). After a short stint in the Air Force, he would go on to work for some big wineries in California in their microbiology department. One thing led to another, and he found his way to Washington state in 1980, alongside his wife Ellena, and became the first winemaker in Spokane and went on to establish the 35th winery in the state in 1982.
On the day Mike and Ellena made the decision to start Latah Creek Wine Cellars, they found out they were pregnant with their daughter Natalie. “So really, the winery and I are both their babies,” smiles Natalie Barnes.
Fast forward 22 years to 2004, when Natalie decided to change her focus in college from physical therapy to winemaking. When the harvest rolled around that year, Mike showed Natalie a behind-the-scenes look at winemaking. “I had helped in the past with pumping wine from one tank to the next, or bottling, but I didn’t partake in the nitty gritty of it. For the 2004 vintage, he showed me the differences in the yeast we use for fermentation, tasting the juice as it ferments and the subtle flavors you can pick up on, and so much more. Just a few months later, I was hooked. I had fallen in love with the art of winemaking.”
Natalie graduated college the following spring and has been working full time winemaking with her dad ever since, making them the first father/daughter winemaking team in the state; the 2022 harvest marked her 18th year as a winemaker.
“I didn’t realize, until recently, the special bond you get when working so closely with your parents,” shares Natalie. “There is a nearness you experience when working alongside them. The lovingness they raised you with becomes integrated into your workday. The thought of working alone amongst the tanks and not having my buddy there to talk with is sad, so I cherish every moment I’ve got with him! And my mom too!”
When it comes to the future of Latah Creek Wine Cellars, it holds much the same, according to Natalie: “We will continue to make delicious award-winning wines at affordable prices. We will continue to make small lots of Reserve Reds, striving to educate fellow wine lovers on different varietals they may not have heard of. We will continue to treat all of our customers like family, because that’s what they are. And my dad and I will continue to make wine together until he chooses to step away—which I don’t think he’ll ever do. He started this winery, nurtured it, and watched it grow to 41 years old!”
As she looks back on the years working side by side with her father, Natalie reflects on the important lessons he has taught her that she will always carry with her. “To let the fruit speak for itself. Don’t cover up the natural flavors of the grapes, as that is what makes the wine spectacular. Don’t be suckered into trends, as they come and go—but you need to remain. And lastly, whether you get recognition or not, know that you make incredible wines that people love—use that to fuel your passion.”
In the meantime, Natalie’s younger daughter Paige has grown more interested in the family business—especially after a recent trip to Italy, exploring generations-old family wineries. “It really stuck with her, as she listened intently to each family’s story, what a family business means and the legacy that’s passed on from generation to generation,” shares Natalie. “I spent last summer with her by my side, watching me filter, bottle, clean, and much more. It made my heart soar.”
Natalie, Mike and Ellena invite you to stop by and taste the love and dedication that’s poured into each Latah Creek wine. And be sure to sign up for their newsletter and visit their website to find out details about their 41st anniversary celebration in July.
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 13030 E. Indiana Ave. Spokane Valley, WA 509.926.0164 LatahCreek.com