Friday Feature – Wit Cellars: Nothing Half-Witted About These Folks
Really there’s nothing coincidental about it. Wine brings people together and creates a connection. Each time I sit down to write about our Friday Feature winery, I have similar feelings – “I really love these guys.” Or, “This is an amazing story.” And honestly, each time it has been an authentic and tangible feeling; a familial sense of comradery, passion, pride and for a shared love of life. It’s an industry filled with people doing what they love and hoping to express that passion through their work, and one in which I find it very easy to make very personal and real connections.
That said, when I say I really liked the folks at Wit Cellars in Prosser, Washington, it was as authentic as most, but also at a whole different level. My first interaction was with one of the three owners, Cat Warwick, at a tasting in the Prosser tasting room. The tasting room is a small retail space with an umbrella-lined outdoor patio along an industrial frontage road in Prosser. Honestly, it was not what I was expecting at all, but I had already been to several area wineries, even in the neighboring wine regions, and every single one told me I needed to visit Wit Cellars. I’m not exaggerating either, Every. Single. Winery. Obviously, it was a place I needed to see for myself.
Having not experienced a tasting in a retail space that I have ever really enjoyed, I’ll admit, I was reluctant going in; but as I approached the bar, I was welcomed by Cat and was in for an experience I was not expecting. Initially the tasting went as is typical: here are the offerings, descriptions of each, etc. But then, as I began to ask questions, Cat and I really began to talk. At first it was the wines, where the grapes are cultivated, how the wines are made, which ones are the favorites, and so on. But then, it fast became like a conversation with a great friend. We were talking life, passions, favorite wines. We swapped recipes, laughed, and I mean really laughed, at each other’s stories and we even cried.
As for the wines? Some of the best I tasted on my trip. It’s no wonder everyone recommends Wit Cellars.
We’re in It Together
So how is it that a winery with beginnings only as recently as 2015 has long-established Washington winemakers singing its praises? Who are these Witty folks and where did they come from? Wit Cellars was started by three friends, each of them with extensive experience in the wine industry. Cat, Flint Nelson and Gina Adams-Royer had all worked together for years, but when the winery with which they were employed changed ownership, they opted to strike out on their own.
“It was scary, so scary,” said Cat. “But the pros outweighed the cons and we knew we had to just close our eyes and jump off the cliff together. It wasn’t worth not jumping.”
Flint and Cat are the winemakers. Flint had always enjoyed blending art and science and found that wine offered a way to combine his passions, while also making something that is a part of so many of life’s celebrations and joys. Cat also enjoys the blend of art and science, but she is also drawn to wine for its social aspect. She loves the tasting room, talking with guests, other wine makers and generally being around other passionate people. Wine gives her the opportunity to combine it all without a single day of routine. For both, it’s all about the experience. As for Gina, she came to wine a bit later in the game, after a successful career in real estate. First, she poured wines in a winery in Woodinville, Washington as a favor to a friend. From there she became the tasting room manager and eventually opted to move to Prosser to be close to family and work with a family friend. That family friend was Flint Nelson, and since then Flint, Cat and Gina have formed a bond not unlike that of tight-knit siblings.
So, when the three amigos set out to form their own winery, they sat down to come up with a name. They knew they wanted three letters for the three friends and within literally seconds, they had the name Wit Cellars and a logo crafted on a napkin. Wit was a play on wisdom, witticism and of course it could also stand for “We’re in it together.” It was the perfect match for the high values, morals, tight bond and sense of humor of the team and for their desire to connect people and create experiences. And that is exactly what Wit Cellars has done alongside some very high-quality wines.
Although Wit Cellars does not have their own vineyards, they are well-versed in the Washington State AVAs and know who the best growers are, what the best vineyards are and even which vines within the vineyards will produce the quality grapes they want for their wines. Their philosophy is simple: start with the best raw materials, collect grapes from the best growers on the best vineyards, down to even the best slopes and from there use only 100% French oak and ensure everything that goes into a bottle is great – even if it means giving away product they are not completely satisfied with.
As for the grapes, they are selected from Ancient Lakes, Wahluke Slope, Painted Hills, Olsen Vineyards, and throughout Yakima Valley. Each farmer is a trusted grower, a friend. They know all the pioneers of Washington State viticulture and those best at their art. These are grapes sourced from friends and the wine is a way to share the art of those friends. Flint, Cat and Gina do not take that burden lightly. It is their mission to present that art, those grapes, at the height of their potential from Pinot Gris to Malbec. In most years, Wit Cellars produces a variety of wines form Chardonnay, Riesling and Sparkling to Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, GSMs, Bordeaux blends and Super Tuscans. However, the star of the show year over year is the Cabernet Franc. No matter which wine you try, you will be certain that it was made by an expert winemaker, not afraid of experimentation, not afraid of aiming for perfection, not afraid of the craft – or even if they were afraid, they were willing to take the leap. The passion is evident in every wine and every sip. (Make sure to try the 2015 Cab Franc – if you can find it – and the trio recommends any wine from the 2016 harvest.)
You Must Visit Wit Cellars
Count me among the many people that will tell you, you must visit Wit Cellars if you’re in Washington wine country. Truly. Don’t miss it. Most likely you’ll get to meet an owner in the Prosser tasting room, or one of their very well-versed and equally hospitable tasting hosts in the Woodinville location (due to open in an expanded space in 2019). And most of all, you’ll get to taste wines made with an experience in mind. Flint, Cat and Gina each know it’s all about that human connection; from selecting the best grapes from their close old friends, to sharing the best of what they produce with their equally close, new friends. Their wines reflect the expression of their belief in both art and science and their passion for a great life story, friendship and human connection. And while their wine clubs, named Quick Wit and Half Wit, suggest wisdom versus ignorance, there is nothing, not a single detail that is not painstakingly crafted and thought out at Wit Cellars. There is simply nothing half-witted about Flint, Cat or Gina. Quite the opposite.
So, I’m here to tell you, just as I was told over-and-over again on my Washington State wine journey, make sure you visit Wit Cellars. (Winetraveler tip: And if you want a good cry, ask them about the tiny ornament gracing the Prosser tasting room. I guarantee you won’t leave without a goosebump and tear.) Wine lover or not, you’ll have an unexpected and very memorable experience with Wit.
(Winetraveler bonus tip: Make sure to check out the “Pillow Talk” wine. Flint is married to Katie Nelson over at Columbia Crest and as you can imagine, winemaking is a hot topic even if at different wineries. “Pillow Talk” is a nod to that intimacy and ultimately, shared passion for making amazing wine!)