Q&A with Natalie Barnes, Winemaker Latah Creek Wine Cellars By Jillian Chandler|Photo By Cory Crawford
Natalie Barnes has been in the wine business her entire life. She remembers climbing over cases in the warehouse and to the very top with her lunch and Barbies in tow. She would play all day amongst those cases. As time went on, she would help her parents, Mike and Ellena Conway, on the bottling line and during events. It wasn’t until college that Natalie’s passion for making wine would manifest. Today, you will find Natalie spending her days at the family business, alongside her father, creating wines for all to enjoy.
Q. When did you know that you wanted to follow along in your father’s footsteps? A. It wasn’t until college that I really started to make wine. At that time, I knew how the winemaking process worked, but I didn’t really know how to make wine. Right before our 2004 harvest, I told him I wanted to be a winemaker. For that 2004 vintage, he took the time to show me how different yeasts interact with the juice, what filtering actually does, and all the ins-and-outs of making wine. I have now been making wine for 19 years!
Q. What inspired you to join the family business that your parents created? A. I went to college with the aspirations of being a physical therapist, but I changed the summer before my senior year. I figured that if I didn’t like winemaking, I could always go to graduate school the following year. But I immediately fell in love with the art of making wine and never looked back. It wasn’t until I spent a few years working with my parents that I realized all of the sacrifices they had made since they started Latah Creek in 1982. My eyes were opened to the full picture of Latah Creek, their philosophy, their love for wine and food, their commitment to the community. Not once have I regretted changing my mind.
Q. What do you believe makes the story, and history, of Latah Creek Wine Cellars so special? A. When my dad started in Washington state as the winemaker for another winery; it was the 18th winery in the state. Latah Creek was the 35th! Now there are over 1,000 wineries! There are many family wineries in Washington, but what I think makes ours so unique is that it really is just us. We do have tasting room staff, of course, but my dad and I are the only ones who do any of the winemaking. Many other wineries have assistants or cellar hands, but not us. We are a rarity, being truly family owned, operated, and the winemakers.
Q. When people hear Latah Creek Wine Cellars, what thoughts do you hope come to mind? A. Delicious wines. Affordable prices. Great, friendly staff. So much fun! We love it!
Q. What do you enjoy most being able to work alongside your father and make wine? A. At first, it was like being a teenager again when they tell you what you can and can’t do. Then it got to a point where I was thinking, “I can do this all myself. Go enjoy retirement, Dad.” But for the past 10 years, the dynamic switched. We really do work so well together that often we know each other’s movements without talking to one another. Now, I can’t imagine doing this job without him. And even though he is 75, I wouldn’t want him anywhere else other than by my side amongst the tanks.
Q. What is most fulfilling to you about the work you do? A. The most fulfilling thing about this job is seeing someone try a wine and loving it. It warms my heart, puts a smile on my face and fills me with joy. Knowing that someone is somewhere enjoying one of the wines I made is amazing, wonderful and absolutely an honor.
Q. After more than four decades of winemaking, how do you see the future of the winery? A. Forty years of making wine has taught us many things, but the biggest is that you can weather almost any storm; just stay true to who you are and you’ll survive. As my parents move out of the business (not happening yet!), there will be some subtle changes, but one thing that will remain is the commitment to producing award-winning wines that are affordable. You’ll probably see some new varietals popping up over the next five to 10 years, and maybe a third generation as my kids graduate college (fingers crossed!). Latah Creek Wine Cellars 13030 E. Indiana Ave. Spokane, WA 509.926.0164 LatahCreek.com