GROWING UP near the Yakima Valley town of Grandview, young Robert Smasne loved strolling into his parents’ concord grape vineyard, plucking the purple globes and popping them into his mouth. Then he became curious about the grapes on the other side of the fence.
So he sneaked next door and tried them, too. Those grapes tasted a lot different, and that made the young boy think and wonder.
It turns out they were wine grapes from famed Otis Vineyards. Today, Smasne not only is one of Washington’s top winemakers, but he also is working with those very vines.
After graduating from Washington State University, Smasne went to work at Covey Run Winery, where he had the opportunity to be around the legendary winemaker David Lake at Columbia Winery. One of Lake’s favorite Yakima Valley vineyard sources was Otis Vineyard, next to Smasne’s parents’ place.
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In 2001, Smasne went to Walla Walla, where he made wine for Amavi Cellars. But the Yakima Valley was never far from his soul. He returned in 2004 as winemaker for Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser and two years later moved on to focus on his own brand, Smasne Cellars, launching with just 75 cases of wine.
Today, Smasne produces more than 15,000 cases under various labels, including Smasne, Farm Boy and Farm Girl. His wines are widely distributed and available on both sides of the state at his tasting rooms in Woodinville and Kennewick. He’s also the winemaker for Northwest Cellars in Kirkland and Upland Vineyards in Sunnyside.
In 2013, Smasne made it all the way home when he began crushing grapes from Otis Vineyards, including cabernet sauvignon grapes that were planted in 1956. The vineyard was purchased last year by the father-son team of Tom and Sean Tudor, who are launching Tudor Hills Winery with Smasne’s help.
And now Smasne’s little boy, Konner Ray, is the curious son. The first-grader and his older sister, Kaitlin, already have wines named after them. He loves roaming through the vineyards of Eastern Washington with his dad, hanging out in the cellar during harvest and wondering why some grapes taste differently than others.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.